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Crime News Breaking News

California Couple Embroiled In 'Love Triangle' Plead No Contest To Kidnapping 3-Month-Old Baby

Authorities say Yesenia Guadalupe Ramirez and Jose Ramon Portillo kidnapped the boy from his grandmother's San Jose apartment because Ramirez told another man that she'd had his baby and he wanted to see the child.

By Jill Sederstrom
Kidnapped Baby Brandon Cuellar

A California couple embroiled in a “love triangle involving elaborate lies and cheating” pleaded no contest Tuesday to what authorities have described as the “bizarre kidnapping” of a 3-month-old baby boy.

Yesenia Guadalupe Ramirez, 43, and Jose Ramon Portillo, 28, pleaded no contest in court Tuesday to eight counts against them, including kidnapping, attempted kidnapping and conspiracy to commit kidnapping in connection with the April abduction of Baby Brandon — after two days of testimony in a preliminary hearing laying out the evidence against them, according to KRON.

As part of the plea, Ramirez, who had been a family friend of the baby’s mother, faces the possibility of up to 14 years behind bars.

Portillo, who investigators said agreed to carry out the kidnapping plan because of his love for Ramirez, is facing up to five years behind bars, KNTV reports.

The pair’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for October 28.

Ramirez’s attorney, Cody Salfen, described it as a “reasonable offer.”

“Given all the circumstances, it was the perfect storm for them to accept the offer,” he told the news outlet after the plea.

Ramirez and Portillo were accused of kidnapping Baby Brandon from his grandmother’s home on April 25 in what the Santa Clara district attorney’s office has previously described as a “bizarre kidnapping” plot.

They had already been charged with three prior attempts to take the child before that afternoon. In one instance, Portillo posed as a Child Protective Services worker and told the baby's mother, Jessica Ayala, that he was there to remove the child, but the family was suspicious and decided to call CPS to check on the claim, according to an earlier release from the district attorney. Ramirez and Portillo also tried to take the baby on two occasions from a Walmart, prosecutors said.

On Monday, prosecutors added a fourth attempted kidnapping charge after discovering the two attempted to kidnap the boy while he and his mother were at church.

On April 25, Ramirez offered to take the baby’s grandmother — who was watching him that day while his mother was at work — to a local Walmart to go shopping. When they returned from the store, the grandmother placed the baby on the bed in her apartment and then went back outside to retrieve the rest of her purchases.

When she came back inside, Brandon was gone.

Investigators spotted a man — later identified as Portillo — in surveillance footage around the time of the abduction walking toward the apartment carrying a baby carrier with a blanket over it. He seen a short time later leaving the apartment with a “noticeably heavier car seat,” prosecutors said.

Investigators found the baby uninjured less than 24 hours later in Portillo’s apartment after they were able to track a vehicle seen in the video footage to Ramirez.

On the stand Monday, San Jose Police Officer Eduardo Reyes said that, at the time of the abduction, Ramirez was in in a “love triangle involving elaborate lies and cheating,” with Portillo and a third man, Francisco Marquez, SF Gate reports. 

Marquez caught Ramirez — who is married to a totally separate man — cheating on him with Portillo but stayed in the relationship. (Marquez was reportedly also sleeping with other people.)

Ramirez had allegedly told Marquez that she had given birth to his child on March 3, and used photos of Brandon to convince him.

The baby’s mother, Jessica Ayala, testified Tuesday through an interpreter that Ramirez — a fellow member of her small Pentecostal church, Iglesia Apostoles y Profetas — began to show up at her house in March to help her care for newborn Brendan, KRON reports.

The baby’s father had recently been sent to prison and Ramirez told her God had wanted her to reach out to Ayala because she was “going through a hard time.”

As Ramirez grew close to Ayala, Marquez began to demand that Ramirez let him see "his" baby. She then enlisted Portillo — who was also in love with her — to help her try to kidnap Brendan.

According to text messages presented in court, Portillo agreed to help.

“Do you want to help me?” she allegedly texted on March 5.

“Of course I want to help you because you are special to me,” he responded.

They made their first attempt on March 14 by having Portillo pose as the CPS worker, according to the testimony. Prosecutors had previously alleged they first tried to snatch the child at Walmart on March 28; they alleged this week that they made the attempt at church on April 2.

The baby's mother, Ayala, testified that Ramirez then took the baby shopping around April 15 and failed to return with him for 24 hours. Ayala called Ramirez's estranged husband when Ramirez wouldn't pick up her phone and he told her that his wife had taken the baby to Sacramento but would be back the next day. Ayala broke off their friendship upon Ramirez's return the following day and told her not to come by again, according to KRON.

On April 23, Marquez moved in with Ramirez and questioned why their child wasn't there; she told him the baby was still at the hospital and would be released on April 25, according to Officer Reyes.

Portillo then tried to kidnap Brandon while he was with his grandmother and Ramirez at Walmart on the morning of April 25, before ultimately successfully making off with him from the grandmother's apartment in the afternoon.

Prosecutor Rebekah Wise said authorities believe that Ramirez had been planning to raise Brendan as her own “permanently.”

Marquez was unaware of the plan and remained convinced that Brandon was his child, even after news broke of the abduction.

According to Van Brande, Marquez called police to ask why his girlfriend had been arrested for kidnapping “his” baby.

“He was very frustrated and confused (when) he contacted police, believing he was the father of this child,” Police Det. Catherine Van Brande said.

She added that there were other men who also believed they had gotten Ramirez pregnant and that she'd had their children.

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