US

Border Patrol Agent Found Guilty of Killing Four Women

SAN ANTONIO — A jury in San Antonio convicted a former Border Patrol agent on Wednesday in the shooting deaths of four women he had encountered in the city of Laredo.

The jury returned its verdict after five hours of deliberations, finding Juan David Ortiz, 39, a former supervisory intelligence officer with the U.S. Border Patrol, guilty of capital murder after a nearly two-week trial. Mr. Ortiz faces life in prison.

Prosecutors told jurors that Mr. Ortiz had picked up prostitutes over the course of 12 days in the fall of 2018 and had taken them to a remote area. The prosecutors said he used his service weapon to kill them.

The killings rattled the border city of Laredo and led to an intense manhunt. Investigators caught a break in the case after a woman who worked as a prostitute told the police that a client had threatened her with a gun and that she narrowly escaped with her life. The woman, Erika Peña, identified her attacker as Mr. Ortiz.

Relatives of the victims — Melissa Ramirez, Claudine Anne Luera, Guiselda Alicia Cantu and Janelle Ortiz — attended the hearings wearing T-shirts with images of their loved ones. At times they cried loudly when they heard graphic descriptions of the women’s last moments.

The prosecutor, Isidro Alaniz, said during closing arguments that Mr. Ortiz targeted his victims because he wanted to “clean up the streets.”

“Mr. Ortiz was a serial killer then and is a serial killer now,” Mr. Alaniz said. “Cold, callous, calculating, just like that. It is terrifying to have the enemy within the ranks of law enforcement.”

Joel Perez, who represented Mr. Ortiz, described his client to jurors as a stellar law enforcement agent, husband and father of three. Mr. Perez said his client had denied wrongdoing and only confessed because of coercion after nine hours of grueling questioning by the police.

“Police officers have a lot of power and we have to have checks and balances on them,” Mr. Perez told the jury in a closing argument. “It was improper inducement. He involuntarily gave that statement.”

“Is this guy really a serial killer?” he asked.

During the trial, the jury watched a nearly 10-hour video recording of Mr. Ortiz’s interview with the police. In it, Mr. Ortiz can be heard admitting to three known killings and revealing the whereabouts of a fourth victim whom investigators had previously been unaware of.

“That video is the best evidence,” Mr. Alaniz, the prosecutor, told the jury as the trial came to a close.

During emotional statements before the court, family members confronted Mr. Ortiz. Maria Cristina Benavides, the mother of Ms. Ramirez, told him in Spanish that he deserved to spend the rest of his life in prison. “Melissa was a noble, sensitive person. You had no right to take her life,” Ms. Benavides told him. “She was my life and now my life is destroyed.”

The Border Patrol, an agency with more than 19,000 workers who patrol vast and often remote areas of the U.S. border where drug smuggling, human trafficking and other criminal activity are common, rarely sees agents with such serious convictions.

In 2018, another Border Patrol supervisor in Laredo, Ronald Anthony Burgos Aviles, was charged in the deaths of a woman with whom he was romantically involved and her infant son. The trial for that case is pending.

Ms. Peña, the woman who said she escaped an attack, testified last week that Mr. Ortiz had told her that he was afraid the police might find his DNA during the investigation of the killing of Ms. Ramirez. Ms. Peña, who said that she had known Mr. Ortiz as a client for months, said that he told her that he had picked up Ms. Ramirez days before she was found dead in a remote area next to an interstate highway.

Days later, Ms. Peña said, Mr. Ortiz took her to a gas station and pulled a gun. She testified that she ran out of his truck and screamed for help, and then ran into a law enforcement officer who was pumping gas and directed investigators to Mr. Ortiz’s home.

He was arrested hours later at a motel parking lot.

Mr. Ortiz had been a rising star in the Border Patrol, where he spent his career within a sector that encompasses more than 100,000 square miles, stretching from the border region in South Texas north to the Texas-Oklahoma line. He became an agent after leaving the Navy in 2009, and told investigators that he had served time in Iraq. While an agent, he earned a master’s degree from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio. He went on to climb the ranks, earning a supervisor title within an intelligence division.

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