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Dan "Nels" Niemi.
22 Feb 2007
"... A Salvadoran national who was in the United State illegally ... "
Dan "Nels" Niemi.
Accused cop killer's pretrial begins
By Ricci Graham
Tom Orloff stepped into a courtroom as the lead attorney in one of the more high-profile cases of the year, when the Irving Ramirez preliminary hearing began at the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse in Oakland yesterday.
It is the first case that Orloff the Alameda County district attorney has handled personally in 10 years.
"I tried probably 25 murder cases," Orloff said. "I'm reviewing cases all the time. It's not like I haven't touched a case or haven't been involved at one level. I wanted to find an appropriate case for me to try for a while, and I felt this case was an important one for law enforcement.
"I came into this office as a trial lawyer and that's how I view myself."
Orloff couldn't have picked a case that will draw more attention throughout the East Bay than the one involving Ramirez, a 23-year-old Salvadoran national accused of the execution-style slaying of San Leandro police Officer Dan "Nels" Niemi.
Niemi, a 42-year-old father of two who lived in Milpitas' Starlite Pines community, was shot and killed while investigating a disturbance call on the 14700 block of Doolitte Drive on July 25.
Ramirez, a Newark resident, is accused of firing seven shots into Niemi, whom he feared would arrest him for being in possession of drugs and two guns, court records say.
Ramirez is being represented by Oakland-based defense attorney Deborah Levy.
Orloff said he won't decide until the conclusion of the preliminary hearing whether to seek the death penalty.
"We will make that final determination after the preliminary hearing," Orloff said. "Right now, it qualifies as capital-eligible, but the final decision (about whether to seek the death penalty) hasn't been made."
Orloff said Dr. Tom Rogers, who performed the autopsy on Niemi, was scheduled to testify yesterday before Ala-meda County Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Horner. "The cause of death is not really an issue here," Levy said. "I don't think (Rogers) will be on the stand that long."
Following Rogers' testimony, the two sides will break until Oct. 17, when the preliminary hearing is scheduled to resume. Levy said she expects Orloff to call a number of key witnesses when the preliminary hearing resumes. The preliminary hearing is expected to take three days, Orloff said.
With evidence stacked firmly against Ramirez, who according to court records admitted to his girlfriend that he killed Niemi, the case is perceived as a slam-dunk loser by many.
But Levy said she doesn't believe that to be the case.
"I think there are some issues that are interesting to me," Levy said. "They're kind of up in the air. I don't think it's the slam dunk the district attorney might envision."
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