’04 murder conviction upheld by high court

Ramon Virola in a Providence courtroom, July 1, 2011. (WPRI-TV)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A Providence man’s murder conviction has been upheld after he appealed to the state Supreme Court for a new trial — based on alleged errors by the judge in his original trial.

Ramon Virola was convicted July 1, 2013, in the murder during an attempted robbery of 23-year-old Christopher Nelson, a graduate of Johnson and Wales University.

Nelson had been watching the 2004 Olympics with friends at his Federal Hill apartment when, according to court documents, Virola and a group of men forced their way in, demanding money. Their target was Nelson’s roommate.

Nelson was shot and killed in the struggle. Precisely who pulled the trigger is unclear. Four other men were charged in the incident with Virola: David Mercado, Lazaro “Casper” Martinez, Martin “Malik” White, and Wayman “Kevin” Turner — all indicted for discharge of a firearm during a crime of violence, and robbery charges.

Virola took off immediately after the murder, going to Arizona, where he lived under an assumed name, got a new girlfriend — Patricia “Vicky” Gallardo — and had a child with her. The relationship became strained, said Gallardo, when Virola, living as “Benny Delgado,” started to be more controlling, demanding to know her comings and goings, and forbidding her from taking his photograph.

In the appeal, Virola said the trial justice should not have admitted testimony into evidence of Gallardo, David Mercado and White, because it was not credible, and more specifically that portions of the testimony by Gallardo was “not relevant” and prejudicial.

“After reviewing the trial justice’s decision, we are satisfied that he soundly exercised his discretion and properly articulated the grounds on which he was permitting the testimony,” the Supreme Court justices said in their decision.

U.S. Marshals had tracked Virola down in Arizona in 2011, arresting him in November, after seven years on the run.

After a judge sentenced to two life terms behind bars, Virola claimed he would later be exonerated due to new evidence recently come to light — that his lawyer had not presented.

As soon as the sentencing was complete, Virola’s attorney said he would file paperwork to appeal the conviction — but then promptly dismissed himself from any further involvement in the case, and gave no reason, citing attorney-client privilege.