Victim of knife-wielding intruder was a hard worker helping to support his family

By Lou Ponsi

Cesar Ramirez was a trusted employee.

Ramirez, 24, was so trusted he was given the keys to the Volcano Tea House in Garden Grove.

He would let himself into the establishment before it was open to the public.

He spent the morning mopping the floor and cleaning, and preparing the juice bar for the day’s customers.

On the morning of Nov. 14, 2014, Ramirez — described as a hard-working young man helping support his family, and living a responsible life — was tricked into opening the front door, thinking he was coming to the aid of a person in need.

Instead, he was ambushed and stabbed more than 20 times by Robert Gabriel Rodgers.

In a case investigated by the Garden Grove Police Department, Rogers, 23, recently was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of Ramirez.

Rodgers, who was wearing a white dress shirt when the verdict came in, looked down when the verdict was announced.

Rodgers had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

The trial now is in a second phase to determine whether Rodgers was sane at the time of the killing.

The jury found it true that Rodgers laid in wait outside the business, starting at about 9 a.m. — 30 minutes before the tea house was scheduled to open.

Rodgers was wearing a belt around his neck and toting a backpack containing a hammer, hacksaw, bolt cutters, several screw drivers and 14 large plastic bags. He also took pictures of himself with a Polaroid camera.

Ramirez’s routine was to arrive early, lock himself inside and clean the tea house in preparation for opening.

The killer intentionally created a disturbance, perhaps faking an injury, in an effort to lure Ramirez to the front door, the prosecutor said.

When Ramirez unlocked and opened the door, Rodgers immediately lunged at him, and stabbed him repeatedly.

A five-minute surveillance video that captured the violent encounter was shown to the jury.

After stabbing Ramirez, Rodgers dragged the victim to the rear of the tea house and started mopping up the crime scene.

When Rodgers noticed that Ramirez was still alive and was on the floor attempting to reach for a door, he kicked the victim, the prosecutor said.

“It was a cold, calculated murder,” Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Herrera said in her opening statement. “The defendant took the life of Mr. Ramirez, because he was there.”

At one point, Rodgers stopped to brush his teeth and sat down and drank a beverage.

An employee who showed up for work opened the front door and noticed Rodgers in the back.

He motioned for her to come in, but she backed away, and locked Rodgers in from the outside.

Rodgers himself called 911.

Rodgers visited the tea house, at Brookhurst Street and Garden Grove Boulevard, the day before the killing to see a woman who worked there.

Rodgers and the woman knew each other from high school but weren’t close friends, Herrera said.

Rodgers tried to hug the woman, but she backed away.

He then left the business.

The woman was scheduled to work the morning of the killing.

“Mr. Rodgers did not have the required mental state that is necessary to commit first-degree murder,” said Rogers’ attorney, Deputy Public Defender Kira Rubin.

The sanity phase of the trial continues at the Central Justice Center in Santa Ana.