Medical issue delays court hearing in Sunnyvale cold case killing of Karen Stitt

Hawaiian resident Gary Ramirez, 75, was flown to the Bay Area Saturday after he was arrested earlier in the month on suspicion of raping and killing a 15-year-old Palo Alto girl in 1982, police said Monday.

Almost 40 years ago, Palo Alto High School student Karen Stitt was dropped off at a bus stop between El Camino Real and Wolfe Road, following a date with her boyfriend in Sunnyvale in early September 1982.

Ramirez was scheduled to appear in Santa Clara County Superior Court on Monday afternoon for his arraignment but, at the last minute, the hearing was canceled. 

"We were on for arraignment today.  The arraignment did not go forward because of medical reasons," said Barbara Cathcart, a Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney.   The exact nature of the medical issue was not disclosed in court. 

Stitt's body was found roughly 100 yards from the bus stop the following morning. She had been sexually assaulted and had dozens of stab wounds, according to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office.

For decades, the case had no potential leads despite thorough investigations and DNA database runs.

That was until 2019, when a Sunnyvale detective received a tip that led authorities to identify the lead suspect as Gary Ramirez, a former Fresno resident who was residing in Makawao, Hawaii. His DNA matched the blood and bodily fluid samples found on Stitt's body, according to the county's crime lab.

Months of planning between Santa Clara County, Maui and federal law enforcement officials led to Ramirez's arrest at his home Aug. 2. Since then, prosecutors have charged Ramirez and he is expected to be arraigned for kidnapping, rape and Stitt's slaying.

Following his flight to California, Ramirez was booked into the Santa Clara County jail. He will remain in jail, without bail, until the next scheduled court hearing on August 29th. 

If found guilty, Ramirez faces life in prison without parole.

Cathcart said there can be challenges prosecuting crimes so far in the past but her office is confident in its case.  "A cold case is always challenging to prosecute because, as you say, many of the witnesses have become older and sometimes they have passed away. However, in this particular case our main evidence is scientific. So it is DNA evidence," Cathcart said.