Baby Brandon’s kidnappers had a bizarre plan on how to take the child away from his family.
Jose Portillo fell in love and began dating his first girlfriend who asked him to commit a crime: kidnap a stranger’s 3-month-old baby.
Portillo, 28, met and fell in love with Yesenia Ramirez, 43, who has an estranged husband and a boyfriend. She managed to convince Portillo that she loved him and he should help her kidnap baby Brandon from his grandmother’s home.
On Monday, a Santa Clara County judge sentenced Portillo to five years in prison for taking the baby on April 25, 2022, and Ramirez to more than 13 years in jail for being the mastermind.
A love triangle between Portillo, Ramirez, and Ramirez’s boyfriend was believed to be the motive behind the crime.
Ramirez befriended Jessica Ayala, Brandon’s mother, at their church when she found Ayala was pregnant.
Police later found Brandon unharmed inside Portillo’s bedroom.
“Thank goodness there was no injury inflicted on the child. This was an extremely dangerous situation,” Judge Nona Klippen said.
According to prosecutors, Ramirez lied to her boyfriend, Francisco Marquez, about giving birth to his son. Ramirez used the pregnancy hoax to make sure Marquez don’t leave their relationship.
She needed baby Brandon to make her lie come to life and planned to keep his as her own.
After Ramirez pleaded no contest last year, she was recorded in a jail call with Marquez where she lied again and said her estranged husband forced her to kidnap the baby and held a gun to her head.
Ramirez publicly confessed to her crimes and she apologized in court moments before she was sentenced.
She read her confession letter in Spanish to the judge and a court interpreter translated it.
Ramirez said, “Last year, I did a series of stuff that was horrible. I planned the kidnapping of a child, a baby. The name of that baby is Brandon. A baby that I loved and took care of. A baby that belongs to a family that I loved and I worried for, a baby that wasn’t and will never be mine. A baby that doesn’t belong to me. I’m sorry for this baby, his mother, father, and all of his loved ones that I have hurt. I am sorry for others that I have manipulated, traumatized, due to my crimes and my actions. I am sorry truly. I kidnapped a baby and I know his family feared that they wouldn’t see their child again. I have spent every night of the past year without sleeping in jail. My thoughts have included profound emotions and genuine embarrassment and guilt. For the first time in my life, I looked deep inside to understand myself.”
Ramirez was still apologizing when Deputy District Attorney Rebekah Wise cut her off saying, “we are way past apologies” and “let’s wrap it up.”
A defense attorney said Portillo is a “simple man” who grew up in an agricultural town in El Salvador. He has a low IQ and is vulnerable to being manipulated and exploited by people like Ramirez.
“Mr. Portillo is a much younger man, which created a perfect storm for these crimes to occur. Mr. Portillo was induced by Ms. Ramirez,” his defense attorney said.
Ramirez’s defense attorney, Cody Salfen, said Ramirez is the victim of childhood physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. She was raped by her stepfather when she was 6 years old and her mother did nothing to stop it.
“Ms. Ramirez grew up in a broken home. She never had a home that she felt safe in. Repeated violence, sexual assault, abuse, by people that her DNA told her to trust for safety — her parents,” Salfen said.
Abuse and trauma results in children lying and manipulating later in life as a means of coping, and regaining control, Salfen said.
“Parents have an innate sense of duty to protect their children. When that threat has a face or name, the innate instinct is to eliminate that threat — eliminate Yesenia Ramirez,” Salfen said.
Salfen said, “Is Ms. Ramirez evil? No. She’s not a psychopath. She is a broken person, but she is not broken beyond repair. She’s worth fixing and she’s worth saving. It’s easy to dismiss a broken Yesania as ‘evil.’ But she is worthy and deserving of redemption. This is not a life case, she will be free someday. Tacking on additional nights and years in a prison cell is ineffective. It’s not a cure, it’s not a method of healing. Prolonged incarceration … further breaks an already-broken Yesenia. It’s counter-productive to justice.”
Judge Klippen said Portillo might have been a pawn in Ramirez’s plan, but he deserved prison time for actively participating in several attempted kidnappings and the kidnapping itself.
The judge also noted that Portillo bought his own disguise when he posed as a CPS worker at the baby’s home during one of the attempted kidnappings.
The baby’s mother, Jessica Ayala, did not attend Monday’s sentencing hearing. Ayala gave the judge a letter urging prison time for Ramirez. Ayala’s letter stated, “We live in fear that she will be free and can try to retaliate against myself and my family. I want my children to be safe in school and at home. I don’t want to live in fear that she will try to do that again. I understand we all deserve a second chance, but my children deserve to live in peace.”
The judge ordered both kidnappers to be taken into custody immediately and report to prison.