DUI offender was freed from jail, drove drunk hours later and killed a man in Modesto

A Modesto man faces a maximum sentence of 15 years to life in prison after a jury convicted him of murder in a 2014 drunk driving crash that killed a San Mateo man.

Rigoberto Ramirez Aleman, 37, was released early from jail on Oct. 19, 2014, after serving time for a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence of drugs. Aleman was drunk a few hours later, ran a red light in downtown Modesto, and crashed into another vehicle, killing John Bixby, 38.

After hearing nine days of testimony, the jury on Oct. 24 found Aleman guilty of second-degree murder, gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and driving without a valid license, the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office announced in an Oct. 31 news release.

Aleman’s blood alcohol level was 0.19 percent, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent, according to prosecutors. His conviction included an enhancement for causing great bodily injury. Deputy District Attorney Melissa Chichportich prosecuted the case.

Greg Spiering, Aleman’s attorney, said the prosecution’s case did not have the malice required to prove second-degree murder. He said his client did not have conscious disregard, since Aleman was suffering from mental illness.

“He was psychotic before, during and after all of this,” Spiering told The Bee this week. “It wasn’t like he was a bad guy who didn’t care. But he was a sick guy who was responding to his sickness, and he did something horrible with terrible consequences.”

Aleman’s criminal case had been suspended after he was declared mentally incompetent to stand trial. A forensic psychologist in 2015 evaluated Aleman’s mental health, and the court ordered mental treatment to restore his competency.

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Rigoberto Ramirez Aleman Modesto Police Department

Spiering said his client was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and Aleman should not have been released from jail before the fatal crash. He said Aleman should have been sent to receive mental health treatment, but his previous DUI case moved too fast through the judicial system.

Court records indicate Aleman was charged with DUI, driving with a suspended or a revoked license, and child endangerment, as well as drug possession in two separate incidents that occurred a few weeks before the crash that killed Bixby. Superior Court Judge Linda McFadden handled those cases.

Four days before the fatal crash, Aleman pleaded no contest to the misdemeanor DUI charge, child endangerment and drug possession. The charge of driving with a suspended or a revoked license was dropped.

Prosecutors said the judge warned Aleman that he could be charged with murder if he continues driving intoxicated and someone is killed.

Jail sentence

Aleman was sentenced to 90 days in jail and formal felony probation for the 2014 conviction. He had already been in custody when he entered the no contest plea Oct. 15, and he had about a month left to serve in his jail sentence.

With credit for good behavior, Aleman initially was scheduled to be released from jail Nov. 13, 2014.

Aleman instead was released early on Oct. 19, 2014, because of jail overcrowding. A sheriff’s spokesman said at the time that the state’s prison realignment had increased the jail population beyond federal capacity standards, so sheriff’s officials were forced to release some inmates early.

Prosecutors said Aleman left the jail about 11 a.m. and immediately went to his sister’s home, where he drank alcohol over the next few hours. They said Aleman grabbed his sister’s car keys and drove away.

Schizophrenic psychosis

The defense attorney said Aleman experienced massive delusions, including that he had a computer chip inside him and the Mexican government was communicating with him.

“Alcohol and drugs go along with psychosis, because it quells the voices,” Spiering said. “I think that the voices had just overwhelmed him as he was driving down the street.”

The deadly crash occurred about 2:10 p.m. Aleman was driving a Chevrolet Malibu when he crashed with an Audi driven by Bixby, according to Modesto police.

Prosecutors said Aleman was speeding through the area, ran a red light at L and Seventh streets, and drove on the wrong side of road. Bixby had just left his girlfriend’s home when Aleman ran a stop sign at Eighth Street at about 70 mph and crashed into Bixby’s vehicle, according to prosecutors.

Bixby was taken to a local hospital, where he died from his injuries. Aleman suffered moderate injuries and was hospitalized before he was released and charged with murder. Aleman has remained in custody ever since.

Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Rick Distaso, who presided over the trial, scheduled Aleman to return to court Dec. 12 for his sentencing hearing. The court gives families of victims a chance to speak in court about the impact of the crime before a defendant is sentenced.

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Rosalio Ahumada writes news stories about criminal court cases in Stanislaus County for The Modesto Bee, issues related to immigration and immigrant communities and breaking news related to crime and public safety. From time to time, he covers the Modesto City Council meetings. He has worked as a news reporter in the Northern San Joaquin Valley since 2004.