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Suspect charged over fatal California bank robbery shootout

By Jennifer Baires

STOCKTON Calif. (Reuters) - A suspect in a California bank heist in which heavily armed robbers took hostages and engaged police in a running gun battle during a high-speed chase last week was charged with murder on Monday for the deaths of a hostage and two suspected fellow robbers.

Jaime Ramos, 19, is the sole surviving suspect from Wednesday's robbery of the Bank of the West in the Northern California city of Stockton. Two other suspects died during the ensuing police chase and shootout.

Police say Ramos and the other suspects, 27-year-old Alex Gregory Martinez and 30-year-old Gilbert Renteria Jr., were dropped off in front of the bank on Wednesday, and were later spotted exiting with three female hostages held at gunpoint.

The group got into a car belonging to one of the hostages and led police on a chase during which one of the hostages, Misty Holt-Singh, 47, was killed. Police said that at one point Holt-Singh was used as a human shield during the shootout.

The other two hostages, both employees at the bank, either jumped or were pushed from the car during the chase.

Ramos is charged with premeditated murder for the death of Holt-Singh, and murder with special circumstances for the deaths of Martinez and Renteria, and could face the death penalty if convicted. He also faces 22 counts of attempted murder of police officers linked to the chase and shootout.

He did not enter a plea at the arraignment, and was assigned Deputy Public Defender Jonathan Fattarsi, who declined to comment on the case to reporters. Ramos is scheduled to return to court on Aug. 18, and is being held without bail.

Deputy District Attorney Robert Himelblau said after the arraignment that more charges might still be filed against Ramos, and police were searching for the person who drove the suspects to the bank.

The Buick sedan the suspects were seen exiting on surveillance cameras was found abandoned and without license plates on Sunday.

(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh)

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