A former U.S. Border Patrol supervisor has been convicted of capital murder for the 2018 killings of four women in and around the Texas border town of Laredo.
Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty at the request of victims’ families. One relative had told Webb County District Attorney Isidro R. “Chilo” Alaniz that death would have been “letting him off too easy,” the Laredo Morning Times reported.
In a confession played during the eight-day trial, Ortiz told investigators he killed the women, all of whom were sex workers, because he wanted to “clean up the streets.” He described them as “trash” and “so dirty,” according to the Morning Times.
The murders of Melissa Ramirez, 29; Claudine Anne Luera, 42; Guiselda Alicia Cantu, 35; and Janelle Ortiz, 28, unfolded within a 12-day span in September 2018, authorities said. The women were killed or left for dead in rural parts of Webb County, southwest of San Antonio, each shot in the head.
Two of the killings came after another woman escaped from his truck the night of Sept. 14, 2018, and alerted law enforcement, during the hours it took to track him down. Erika Peña, who testified during the trial, began feeling uneasy about the man she knew only as “David” after mentioning the killing of Ramirez, who had been her friend.
He responded strangely, she said, and when she continued talking about it, he pulled out a gun and grabbed her shirt. She broke free and leaped out of the truck, her shirt torn off her body. He sped away. She flagged down a state trooper and told them where her attacker lived.
The information led authorities to Ortiz, who was hiding out in a hotel parking lot. As a SWAT team closed in early the morning of Sept. 15, 2018, he tried to commit “suicide by cop,” authorities said. He had a cellphone he wanted to look like a gun, they said. But he was taken into custody without issue.
Under questioning by authorities that day, Ortiz admitted to assaulting Peña and killing the four others. The fourth woman’s murder had been unknown to investigators until his confession.
“He volunteered information about a fourth body that nobody knew about,” Webb County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Federico Calderon testified, according to the Morning Times. “If he hadn’t told us, we may never have found her.”
During the trial, Ortiz’s attorney Joel Perez argued that the confession was “coerced,” the newspaper reported. He said that Ortiz, who served in the Navy, was suffering post-traumatic stress disorder and that investigators had been too quick to conclude he was the one responsible for the deaths.
But Alaniz, the district attorney, told jurors that the questioning was not induced and that the confession was valid, according to local television station KSAT. Ortiz “was a serial killer then, he’s a serial killer now,” he said.
Families of the victims spoke in court after the verdict was announced.
“Do you know how much pain you have caused this family?” the station quoted a relative of Ramirez as saying. “I hate you for what you did, and I can never forgive you, nor do I think God will. You deserve to suffer in prison and go to hell.”