STOCKTON, Calif. – A teen will take the stand against one of the people charged with torturing and holding him captive in a central California home for more than a year, prosecutors said Thursday.
San Joaquin County prosecutor Angela Hayes said that Kyle Ramirez, now 18, will testify Friday against Anthony Waiters.
Waiters, 31, has pleaded not guilty to aggravated mayhem, torture, kidnapping and false imprisonment charges involving the teen, who was 16 when he was allegedly held captive in the home of Waiters' neighbors in Tracy, Calif.
The horrific case made national headlines when the shackled teen escaped by unlocking a chain and climbing over a backyard wall and a fence. He stumbled into a nearby health club on December 1, 2008, covered in soot, sores and scars, with the chain around his ankle, and wearing only boxer shorts.
Waiters is the last defendant being prosecuted in the case. His neighbors, Michael Schumacher, his wife Kelly Layne Lau and the teen victim's then-legal guardian, Caren Ramirez, accepted pleas to more than a dozen felonies on Oct. 8.
The three are each scheduled to be sentenced to 30 years or more in prison on Dec. 6. As part of their agreement, prosecutors withdrew a charge of torture, which could have led to life in prison.
On Thursday, Hayes played for jurors a tape-recorded interview from 2008 between Waiters, his mother, Alice Waiters and Tracy police detective Robert Brandi shortly before Waiters' arrest.
During the interview, Waiters said repeatedly that he didn't know the relationship between Ramirez and the couple, and that he was unaware of the teen's condition. He said he talked to the teen on occasion.
"There was times, I mean, we'd sit and talk about football games," he said. He added that "there was a few times where, I mean, I thought (their relationship) was odd," referring to his neighbors and the teen.
When Brandi asked Waiters about the teen's relationship with Ramirez, Waiters said: "I understood it was probably not the best. But I mean, that once again, I didn't, I didn't poke or prod."
What remains unclear is why Waiters — the last of the four suspects arrested_ didn't accept a similar deal in the case.
"Sometimes defendants want to roll the dice and take their chances in front of a jury, but that has the potential to backfire and things could get worse, especially in an emotional and disturbing case like this," Steven Clark, a Bay Area defense attorney and former prosecutor, said Thursday.
Prosecutors said Caren Ramirez brought the teen to live in the home of Schumacher and Lau in Tracy in summer 2007. The boy escaped more than a year later.
The teen told a grand jury in 2009 that his abusers initially hit him with their hands, then eventually escalated to belts, a mallet, hammer and aluminum baseball bat. He said a razor was used on occasion.
The teen also testified that he was forced to drink alcohol and eat marijuana, and that Waiters once sliced his arm with a knife while Ramirez held him down and Lau watched.
"They just told me to shut up," the teen said.
According to court papers, the teen told detectives that Waiters was "an active participant in his torture."
During the interview played by prosecutors on Thursday, Waiters and his mother sound shocked when Brandi showed them photos of the alleged captive teen.
"Wow," Anthony Waiters said.
"He looks like he's been burned," Alice Waiters said. "Why would a person hold somebody like a prisoner?"
Brandi replied, "That's what we're trying to figure out."