SAN JOSE -- A 28-year-old man with a history of mental problems was charged Friday with killing his mother and 1-year-old nephew, but in the only bright spot of the horrific family tragedy, a third victim -- Ramirez's 3-year-old niece -- is steadily improving.

In court for the first time, Ruben Ramirez of San Jose looked bewildered in a yellow jail jumpsuit signifying he was being held in the mental health ward. But he told the judge he understood the charges: two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, with each count carrying an enhancement for use of a knife.

If Ramirez is convicted, he would be eligible either for life without parole or the death penalty if the District Attorney's Office seeks it.

Photo of Ruben Ramirez.  (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group)
Photo of Ruben Ramirez. (Patrick Tehan/Bay Area News Group) (Patrick Tehan)

Outside the Hall of Justice after the brief arraignment, veteran homicide prosecutor Matt Braker said Ramirez's mental state is "one of many factors'' that will be weighed in whether or not to seek death.

"There's a lot about the defendant that needs to be found out,'' Braker said.

Ramirez was represented by Deputy Public Defender Kelley Kulick, who made a brief statement after the hearing before Judge Phil Pennypacker.

"Our hearts go out to everyone in the Ramirez family,'' she said. "It's a horrible tragedy.''

The violent family rampage occurred Wednesday at the East San Jose home of the defendant's mother, Yolanda Ramirez, 48. Gabriel Ortiz, 1, also perished.


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The 3-year-old survivor is being treated at a local hospital with her parents at her bedside and is expected to be released within a week, according to a family friend, who asked not to be named out of privacy concerns.

Friends and relatives have started a fund to help the family shoulder the costs of suddenly having to hold two funerals for its matriarch and its newest member.

The surviving girl's father found her Wednesday afternoon at the Viewmont Avenue home. A neighbor who accompanied the father into the home found the bodies of Yolanda and the infant Gabriel.

Relatives have said Ramirez suffered from an undisclosed mental illness, and the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, which has jurisdiction over the home, reported previous police calls for erratic behavior by him. Neighbors were aware of his volatility to the point of being frightened by him.

Ruben Ramirez was initially nowhere to be found when the stabbings were discovered and eventually tracked to San Francisco, where he was taken into custody.

He is being held without bail. His next court date is July 8.

Contact Tracey Kaplan at 408-278-3482. Follow her at Twitter.com/tkaplanreport.

TO HELP

Donations to a fund set up in memory of Yolanda Ramirez and 1-year-old Gabriel Ortiz can log on to the "Ramirez Family Fund" at www.gofundme.com/2y78tc