SAN ANTONIO — On Wednesday evening, a jury found ex-Border Patrol agent Juan David Ortiz guilty on four capital murder charges.
Ortiz, a self-described "monster" who wanted to "clean the streets" of prostitutes, faces an automatic life-in-prison sentence for murdering four women in Laredo in September of 2018.
"Mr. Ortiz was a serial killer then and a serial killer now," said Webb County District Attorney Isidro Alaniz. "We knew that we had a job to do and that was to bring justice to those victims."
The jury deliberated for nearly five hours in what's become a nearly two-week trial.
Flanked by law enforcement and his legal counsel, Ortiz maintained a stern face when Judge Oscar Hale read off the guilty verdict.
Ortiz refused to address the court when Judge Hale offered him the opportunity.
Since day one of the trial, victims' family members gathered in the gallery witnessing the testimony and collection of evidence that ultimately led to Ortiz's conviction.
Family wore shirts printed with photos of the four victims: Melissa Ramirez, Claudine Anne Luera, Guieselda Alicia Hernandez Cantu, and Janelle Enriquez Ortiz.
Guieselda's brother Joey Cantu took the opportunity during the victim impact statements portion of the trial to address Ortiz directly following the verdict.
“She was all I had bro. She was all I had left. And I don’t hate you but I hate what you did," Cantu said.
Authorities cuffed Ortiz and escorted him away to the Bexar County Adult Detention Center where he awaits transfer to a Texas prison.
Alaniz took a moment during closing arguments and post-trial to recognize Erika Pena, who he stressed was vital in bringing Ortiz to justice. Pena and Ortiz engaged in a five-month relationship, in which devolved into suspicion and fear.
Pena, a sex-worker in Laredo at the time, grew weary of Ortiz when she learned about the bodies law enforcement found in Webb County.
Some of the victims she knew personally and saw interacting with Ortiz in the past.
Pena testified an inner voice told her to get away from Ortiz and contact law enforcement about her suspicions that he may be the one killing women in Laredo. She escaped Ortiz who held a gun to her head while sitting in his vehicle.
The BOLO alert led to two Texas Department of Public Safety troopers to track down Ortiz and his white pickup at a Stripes convenience store in Laredo. A more than two-hour manhunt led to a team of officers apprehending Ortiz who was hiding in the back of a vehicle in a hotel parking garage.
“Erika Pena is a hero of this case and if were not for her, I guarantee you more women would have been killed," Alaniz said.
The defense remained adamant when arguing investigators coerced Ortiz into confessing to the murders during a 10-hour interview and illegally searched his vehicle to collect evidence.
Defense attorney Joel Perez shared his thoughts on the verdict: "The evidence (prosecution's evidence) was overwhelming. It was such that it was difficult to overcome. We attempted the best that we could to show that we believed that the evidence was obtained, in particular the search of the vehicle and also the statement of Mr. Ortiz, that they were obtained in violation of law. But the jury decided otherwise and we respect the jury's verdict."
Perez said Ortiz plans to appeal the criminal conviction.
On Wednesday morning the jury heard the final batch of witnesses, which included forensic experts and a Webb County jail official who provided phone recordings of Ortiz expressing doubt about his future.
The forensic analysts confirmed the bullet fragments found on the victims' bodies came out of the 40 caliber H&K pistol found in Ortiz's white pickup the evening of his arrest.
The defense pressed one of the lead investigators on whether law enforcement coerced Ortiz into confessing to killing the women who served as sex workers in Webb County.
Defense attorney Joel Perez questioned Texas Ranger EJ Salinas on if the 10-hour interview with Ortiz involved making guarantees to the defendant in exchange for information on the murders. Salinas and presiding Judge Oscar Hale ultimately refuted such claims.
The jury listened to excerpts of a jail phone recording where Ortiz is heard speaking with his wife in 2020. He expressed concern about past statements he made and criticizing media reports regarding the events of his arrest and employment with the Border Patrol
"There is no evidence, just the confession I made," Ortiz said in the recording.
The prosecution introduced Webb County Medical Examiner Dr. Corrine Stern to the witness stand Monday morning.
Stern has completed more than 7,000 autopsies in her career and four of them happened in September 2018.
Families of the victims watched from the gallery as Stern guided the jury through autopsy reports, displaying photos of the victims' bodies, bullet fragments and even Ortiz's pistol.
The medical examiner spoke about the conditions of the victims when they were found, noting that 29-year-old Melissa Ramirez was shot multiple times and only positively identified through her fingerprints.
Her family members became visibly shaken while listening to the autopsy report.
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