Utah inmate gets life sentence for stabbing another prisoner to death

A Utah inmate will spend the rest of his life in prison for stabbing and stomping a fellow prisoner and rival gang member to death at the Utah State Prison in 2016.

Ramon Rivera, now 34, pleaded guilty Thursday to aggravated murder, admitting he beat and stabbed 24-year-old Jeffrey Vigil to death while at the Draper prison. A judge then sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Rivera’s plea spared him the death penalty, and prosecutors also agreed to dismiss two other felonies involving having prohibited items in a correctional facility.

Vigil had been in the Oquirrh 1, Section 2 housing unit of the Draper prison for just hours on March 14, 2016, before the fight broke out between the rival gang members.

Vigil was with Ogden Trece. Rivera, a member of the Titanic Crip Society.

Surveillance footage from that day shows Rivera repeatedly stabbing Vigil by a flight of stairs. The two then move to the middle of the common area, where the fight resumes with Rivera kicking and stomping Vigil more than 70 times.

The fight lasts eight minutes before it ends with the two men sprawled on the floor, each lying motionless. They would lie there for 20 more minutes — one awaiting medical attention, one awaiting arrest — before prison guards arrived.

Vigil died at a hospital the following day.

(Photo courtesy of the Utah State Prison) Jeffrey Ray Vigil

Rivera later told detectives he had confronted Vigil before the fight, saying he needed to get himself relocated or he would die.

“Either that or he’s going to kill me,” Rivera told a detective. “One of us is going to die.”

Vigil’s widow sued prison officials after her husband’s death, alleging they knew it would be dangerous to move her husband into Rivera’s unit. State officials settled the lawsuit several months ago by paying the woman nearly half a million dollars — though they did not admit fault or liability when settling the case.

Rivera was set to go to trial next week, but instead resolved his case with a plea. His public defender said in 2018 that Rivera was going to assert some form of a self-defense claim at his trial, arguing the prison created a situation in which a violent outcome was almost guaranteed.

He had been serving a prison sentence after he was convicted of attempted aggravated murder in an August 2009 shooting in Clearfield. Vigil had been incarcerated for a parole violation, stemming from a theft and forgery conviction.

Rivera’s plea resolves the only remaining death penalty case where Salt Lake County prosecutors have filed the paperwork indicating they would seek someone’s execution. Another recent case, involving a man who killed a 15-year-old girl who said she was going to police to report he was having sex with her, also ended in a plea deal and a life sentence.