SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Jurors in the capital murder trial of a former U.S. Border Patrol agent have heard a taped interview in which he confesses to the 2018 killings of four sex workers in South Texas.
If convicted of capital murder, Juan David Ortiz, 39, faces life in prison without parole because prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty. The trial started on Nov. 28 and is set to continue on Monday.
Ortiz, a Navy veteran, was a Border Patrol intelligence supervisor at the time of his arrest in September 2018. Ortiz, who officials have said wasn’t on duty during the killings and wore civilian clothes, is accused of killing Melissa Ramirez, 29; Claudine Anne Luera, 42; Guiselda Alicia Cantu, 35; and Janelle Ortiz, 28.
Each woman was shot in the head and left along roads on the outskirts of Laredo in September. One died of blunt force trauma after being shot.
Juan David Ortiz told detectives in the video played in court last week that as he drove along a stretch of road that the women frequented, “the monster would come out,” the San Antonio Express-News reported. He told investigators he wanted to “clean up the streets,” and referred to the women as “trash” and “so dirty.”
Ortiz’s attorney, Joel Perez, argued in opening statements that investigators had jumped to conclusions, and that his client’s confession was “coerced.” He said his client was “broken” and “suicidal” when he made the confession and told investigators he'd had blackouts. Perez said that Ortiz told the investigators that he was a war veteran who'd been experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder and was unable to sleep and was having nightmares. Perez said Ortiz had been put on “a bunch of psychotic pills."
The ex-agent's arrest was set in motion when a woman, Erika Pena, escaped from him when he pointed a gun at her while they were in his truck at a gas station on Sept. 14, 2018. Pena, now 31, testified that Ortiz would give her money for drugs, drive her to buy them and then they would have sex.
Normally, she said, he was “nice, smart, funny, a normal guy,” but on Sept. 14, 2018, she got a bad feeling after he told her he was the “next to last person” to have sex with Ramirez, who was found slain the week earlier. She testified that he was worried investigators would find his DNA.
“It made me think that he was the one who might have been murdering,” Pena told the jury.
Luera had been fatally shot on Sept. 13, 2018.
After Pena escaped, Ortiz fled from the gas station but was later arrested when authorities tracked him to a hotel parking garage.
In the interview with investigators, Ortiz said that after Ramirez had injected the drugs he's bought for her, she'd passed out and that “angered” him. He said that when she regained consciousness, she became belligerent. Ortiz said that when he stopped so that she could use the restroom, he shot her in the back of the head.
Ortiz told investigators that after picking up Luera and taking her to get “a fix," he told her they should check out where Ramirez's body was found. He said she “started freaking out.” She died at a hospital after being shot in the head.
Capt. Federico Calderon of the Webb County Sheriff’s Department testified that officers who arrested Ortiz knew about the slayings of Ramirez and Luera, and while chasing him after Pena's escape learned that a third body — later identified as that of Cantu — had been found.
Calderon said it wasn't until Ortiz's confession that they learned about a fourth slain woman — later identified as Janelle Ortiz.
Calderon told jurors that the information about a fourth victim was “volunteered” by Ortiz and “surprised us completely.”
Both Janelle Ortiz and Cantu were killed in the hours before Juan David Ortiz's arrest.
Ortiz said on the tape that he’d planned to kill himself that night and that Cantu told him: "Don’t do it. God loves you.” Then, he said, he shot her in the neck.
The trial is being held in San Antonio, in Bexar County, following a defense request to move the trial from Webb County due to extensive media coverage.
The Border Patrol placed Ortiz on indefinite, unpaid suspension after his arrest. When asked last week for an update on his current employment status, a Border Patrol official said the agency doesn’t comment on “pending litigation.”