Photo: Cuate Santos /Laredo Morning Times File
Testimony during Monday’s hearing revealed new details about the arrest and confession of the former Supervisory Border Patrol agent indicted for allegedly fatally shooting four women and kidnapping another in Laredo during 2018.
Juan David Ortiz was indicted on December 2019 on one count of capital murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, unlawful restraint and evading arrest. The assault and unlawful restraint charges stem from Ortiz allegedly pointing a gun at a woman in his pickup truck. The woman, Erika Peña, escaped from the vehicle and notified a nearby Texas trooper, law enforcement said.
According to online court records, Joel Perez, Ortiz’s attorney, filed two ex parte motions in December and March, respectively, on behalf of his client. An ex parte motion is a sealed record filed with no advanced notice. The motion is only discussed between the court and the party that filed it.
Prosecutors challenged the motions filed by calling Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Abiel Obregon and Webb County Sheriff’s Office Captain of Criminal Investigations Federico Calderon to testify.
Calderon testified Monday that Ortiz’s interview began shortly after 3 a.m. It took approximately 10 hours and ended around noon the next day.
Calderon added that Ortiz was advised of his Miranda Rights and he never requested an attorney, never asked to terminate his interview.
Ortiz didn’t immediately confess, Calderon said.
“We provided restroom breaks, water breaks, asked him if he was hungry, got him snacks and food,” Calderon testified.
Ortiz was agitated during the interview, he said. However, Calderon said that neither he nor Texas Ranger E.J. Salinas had to get aggressive with Ortiz.
Calderon testified that Ortiz was given three restroom breaks and was given Whataburger toward the end of the interview.
Calderon said that Ortiz was advised that a weapon was found.
Calderon read from a transcript of the interview that was conducted:
Calderon: JD, look at me.
Ortiz: It all started…can you please take off these handcuffs? I’m not going to attack you.
Calderon: no problem.
Calderon takes off Ortiz’s handcuffs
Ortiz: Melissa was a friend of mine.
This was the beginning of Ortiz’s confession to authorities about the murders of Ramirez, Luera, Hernandez and Ortiz.
Calderon testified that Ortiz described the location of the bodies, how he killed the women and how the women knew each other from their work.
“He told us about victims we hadn’t discovered yet,” Calderon said. “He confessed he killed four victims by shooting them with a .40 caliber pistol. A government issued pistol with government issued ammunition.”
The third victim was Guiselda Hernandez, who was found under I-35. He later picked up Pena on San Bernardo Avenue up until she escaped.
After Pena escaped, Ortiz returned to his home and started loading up the rest of his weapons in anticipation, Calderon testified. Ortiz went back to San Bernardo and picked up Humberto “Janelle” Ortiz and allegedly shot her like the rest of the women.
“We had not found that body,” Calderon said. “While we were interviewing Ortiz, other investigators went to verify the claims.”
Calderon said that Ortiz’s demeanor was consistent throughout the interview.
Once authorities obtained a search warrant for Ortiz’s home, the search yielded the weapons that he had taken up at the time — an automatic rifle and a pistol that were loaded and accessible in the kitchen and living room area.
“He had a lot of ammo,” Calderon testified.
Calderon said Ortiz requested a picture of his family and that his retirement package went to his wife.
Perez argued that Calderon used language that sounded conditional when interviewing his client.
Perez read transcripts that described Calderon telling Ortiz that Webb County District Attorney Isidro Alaniz was at the substation and if he wanted a good word put in for him, that Ortiz should say whatever he felt comfortable saying.
“Whatever you feel comfortable telling us, just help us show the DA you’re cooperating,” Perez read from the transcript.
Obregon testified that on the night of Sept. 14 and 15, 2018, he received the “Be On the Lookout,” or BOLO, with the description of a white Dodge Ram and license plates along with the suspect’s driver’s license photo while patrolling the area. Additionally, the BOLO carried with it a warning that the subject could be armed and dangerous.
Obregon added that he saw Ortiz going into a Stripes convenience store located on the corner of Jefferson Street and San Bernardo Avenue.
“(A trooper) made contact with the subject,” Obregon said. “By making contact, I mean he saw the suspect going into the store. He called backup. I was maybe two blocks away. I saw his lights. I approached him. I got out of the vehicle, and that’s when we waited for the suspect to get out of the gas station.”
Obregon added that he and the other trooper had their weapons drawn because the BOLO said the suspect was armed and dangerous, and he knew what case was being investigated at the time.
“The case that we were looking into was about a suspect killing multiple females on (Interstate 35),” Obregon said. “We decided to be proactive. We knew the level of danger that he could present to us, so that’s why we approached the situation with our weapons drawn.”
When Ortiz exited the store, the troopers on site began trying to question him about the murders that happened earlier in the month.
Obregon testified that Ortiz fled on foot and ended up at Hotel Ava where he was arrested on an evading arrest on foot charge. He added that Ortiz was arrested an hour after the encounter at the convenience store.
Webb County Sheriff’s Office and three state troopers found Ortiz laying in the trunk of the white Dodge Ram. Ortiz was arrested and transported to the Webb County Sheriff’s Substation on Highway 59.
Calderon testified that he was in charge of investigating the murders of Melissa Ramirez and Claudine Luera.
Calderon said they received a call from a state trooper who said he had a person that claimed she had been assaulted by someone.
When the call came in from the state trooper, Calderon testified that he was actively investigating leads into the two murder cases.
After he got the call, the state trooper brought Pena to the substation where she told officials that she had been assaulted by a person by the name of David earlier that evening, Calderon said.
“She began to give us information and explained to us that David was the same person we were looking for in relation to the murders,” Calderon said.
He added that she described the white Dodge Ram, gave the name David and described him as clean cut, light complexion of medium light build and fit.
“She mentioned she knew what part of town he lived, and that she had been to the house before,” Calderon testified. “She described the home. (Pena) described the general location and described the outside and somewhat what the inside looked like.”
Calderon said Pena stated that she had seen Ramirez and Luera with David before they disappeared, and she believed based on what she felt that Ortiz was involved in that.
“She said that they were involved in some sort of discussion or argument regarding Melissa and Claudine’s murders,” Calderon said. “She started becoming irate and worried to where a small struggle broke out and at some point a weapon was produced.”
Pena described the black handgun and said it was pointed at her by David in the vehicle during the argument while she was trying to leave.
Calderon described the struggle and how during Pena’s escape, her shirt came off and she ran until she saw the state trooper parked at the gas pump.
“We asked her to take us to the area where she described the house so we could identify the house and continue our investigation,” Calderon testified.
After visiting the house on Bur Oak Street, investigators checked the appraisal district and identified Ortiz as the owner, and investigators realized that Ortiz was the “David” that Pena had identified. Investigators also learned that Ortiz owned a white Dodge Ram.
After putting out a BOLO for the information, the substation received information that officers had made contact with Ortiz.
“We headed toward that scene, and we heard they engaged in a foot chase with Ortiz and that they lost him somewhere on the block where Hotel Ava is located,” Calderon testified.
Calderon testified that Texas Ranger E.J. Salinas found an empty holster and purses in the white Dodge Ram. A .40 caliber weapon was eventually found in the truck.
“Mr. Ortiz was found in the bed of a pickup truck at the top level apartment garage at the Ava hotel,” Calderon said. “He was arrested without incident.”
Ortiz was later transported to the substation on hwy 59, Calderon said.
Perez argued to 406th District Court Judge Oscar J. Hale Jr. that whether deliberate or not, Ortiz was read his Miranda Rights at approximately 3:21 a.m., and eight hours later, a confession was given.
“There is an attenuation from the reading of his rights to the statement given,” Perez argued.
Without all those promises and inducements, Ortiz’s free will would not have been moved.
“For all those reasons, we submit to the court that at least the part where he talks about the offenses that that would be inadmissible for all the reasons stated,” Perez said.
Alaniz respectfully disagreed with the defense counsel as he stated the officers were not aggressive or coercive.
“As far as duration, 10 hours is not something that is unusual,” Alaniz said. “At the time they brought him in, there’s two murders they know of.”
Investigators received information on another murder, and finally Ortiz voluntarily gives information on Janelle, the last victim, Alaniz argued.
“We believe in this case, the state has met all of its requirements,” Alaniz said. “The confession was obtained voluntarily and at no time during the 10 hours did (Ortiz) explicitly request an attorney.”
Hale told both parties that the court would issue a ruling on the motion within the next 10-15 days. The judge expressed wanting a status hearing in about 45-60 days to see where the case is at and making sure the discovery process is moving along.
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