Convicted robber, kidnapper sentenced to probation

Ashley Ramos appears in 2nd Circuit Court for her sentencing Thursday. • The Maui News / LILA FUJIMOTO photo

WAILUKU — Saying the victims were “willing to turn the other cheek,” a judge Thursday placed a Lahaina woman on probation for her role in the robbery and kidnapping of a tourist couple at Nakalele Point last year.

Ashley Ramos, 20, had spent about nine months in jail before she was released on supervision in December.

“I accept responsibility for contributing to what was a terrifying nightmare for them come to life,” Ramos said in court Thursday.

The crimes occurred at about 6:50 p.m. March 15, 2017, when a California couple were returning to their rental car after the man had proposed marriage to the woman at Nakalele Point. Police said Ramos and co-defendant Phillip Rosenthal, 37, confronted the couple at gunpoint and stole their belongings, including a $7,500 diamond engagement ring.

Rosenthal allegedly forced the man into a sport utility vehicle while Ramos drove the woman in the couple’s rental car.

Both vehicles headed south on Honoapiilani Highway, ending up at the Kehalani Longs Drug Store in Wailuku at about 10 p.m. Surveillance video showed Ramos in the store with the couple, who bought $1,300 in cash cards that they turned over to the robbers. After being released, the visitors drove their rental car back to their Kaanapali hotel and reported what happened.

Ramos said she didn’t know Rosenthal planned to rob the couple and “was in a position to be manipulated by Phillip due to my meth use.”

“I was getting a ride and drugs from him when he decided to commit these crimes,” she said. “I was scared of him myself.

“I tried to calm him down and talk him into letting the people go.”

Ramos had pleaded no contest to two reduced counts of second-degree robbery and two counts of kidnapping as part of a plea agreement recommending she be sentenced to probation.

The deal was reached based on accounts of Ramos’ intervention to try to help the victims, said Deputy Prosecutor Emlyn Higa.

He said Rosenthal intended to leave the couple in a remote area without their car, but Ramos persuaded Rosenthal to leave the car for the couple.

The victims, who were terrified during the ordeal, also reported that Ramos tried to “put them at ease” while she was alone with them, Higa said.

He recommended that Ramos be sentenced to an 18-month jail term as part of probation because of the seriousness of the crimes.

“Although she may have been coerced into participating to a certain extent, she shared in the fruits of the robbery,” Higa said.

While she was alone with the victims in a store, she told them to give her $500 and not tell Rosenthal, Higa said. “If she didn’t participate in the beginning freely, she took advantage of the situation once she was in it,” he said.

Higa also said Ramos hadn’t been in full compliance with court orders after being released from jail.

She was arrested Jan. 17 for allegedly participating in a theft from Macy’s, saying she was a with a friend who asked Ramos to put merchandise in her bag, which she did. Ramos said she didn’t know the merchandise was stolen.

“Even if true, she is still consorting with people who commit crimes,” Higa said. “She should have learned from the Rosenthal incident.”

In asking that Ramos be spared any additional jail, defense attorney Chris Dunn cited “extreme contradictions” in her life.

Ramos has no prior record, yet became “wrapped up in one of the more extreme, noteworthy cases that’s come around in a while,” Dunn said.

She had something that looked like a weapon in her hand while participating in the robbery, but was “at the same time consoling the victims, helping keep them alive and negotiating their release,” Dunn said.

When her surveillance photo was released, Ramos came forward and gave a statement to police that was largely corroborated by the victims, Dunn said.

He said Ramos, who has little family support, had trouble staying sober after she was released from jail and began using methamphetamine again. She consistently tested positive for drug use while getting treatment and was terminated from an outpatient treatment program, Dunn said.

But then she entered residential treatment in February and has been sober for two months, Dunn said.

“I was using ice and messing up,” Ramos said. “I didn’t accept how bad my addiction was.

“I want to change to show the victim my apology is sincere . . . I want to change to show my family they don’t need to be ashamed of me.”

Ramos asked for a chance to keep the convictions off her record.

Second Circuit Judge Peter Cahill denied the request, citing the seriousness of the crimes.

Cahill questioned Ramos about her two tattoos, including one in memory of her grandfather who raised her and died in 2015.

“If your grandpa were alive, how would he feel?” Cahill asked.

“He would feel ashamed of me ’cause that’s not the way he raised me,” Ramos replied.

The judge asked about Ramos’ other tattoo that says “Only God can judge me.”

“Let me tell you how God would judge you in a different system of law,” Cahill said.

He referred to a passage in the second book of Exodus saying, “Whoever steals a man and sells him shall be put to death.”

“That punishment comes from the person you said that only can judge you — God,” Cahill said. “That’s the punishment that in a different time and maybe a different culture, that you asked for by the person who would impose that sentence upon you.

“You stole a person, you engaged in kidnapping, the penalty was death. Well, we don’t do that today. But you set your own standard. You put it on your body.”

Cahill said he had been inclined to sentence Ramos to prison, which he said he would have done if the victims had asked for that.

“The state is asking today to turn the other cheek,” Cahill said. “But most of all, the victims of your crime, they are the ones who are turning the other cheek here today. They are not asking for you to be sent to prison.

“The reason you’re going to get probation is because the victims of the crime are willing to turn the other cheek.”

Cahill said there wouldn’t be many alternatives to prison if Ramos violates requirements of her probation and returns to court.

“Although your victims may be willing to turn the other cheek, I’m not sure that I’m willing to turn the other cheek twice,” he said.

Ramos was ordered not to consume alcohol or illegal drugs as part of her probation.

The judge also cautioned her after seeing her boyfriend, who is on probation for drug offenses, in the courtroom gallery.

“It’s very easy when people who are using drugs, when they hang out with one another, to be very influenced by each others’ conduct to relapse,” Cahill told Ramos. “You’ve got to be cautious for both of you when you get in a situation where you feed off each other to use drugs.”

Ramos was ordered to have no contact with Rosenthal, whose case is pending.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.