TX v. Juan David Ortiz: Border Patrol Serial Killer Trial

Posted at 4:27 PM, November 21, 2022 and last updated 10:04 AM, December 2, 2022

BEXAR COUNTY, Texas (Court TV) — Suspected serial killer Juan David Ortiz, a South Texas border patrol agent, is facing life in prison if convicted in the murders of four women.

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The deaths of Melissa Ramirez, Claudine Anne Luera, Griselda Cantu and Janelle Ortiz all occurred in and around Laredo, Texas in September 2018. All four women worked in an area of San Bernardo Avenue known as “the prostitute blocks.”

The murders were believed to be the work of a serial killer, but police did not yet have a suspect. Ortiz — a father, husband and former U.S. Navy medical technician, who was employed as a border patrol agent — certainly was not on their list of suspects.

Ortiz, however, was a regular customer on San Bernardo Avenue. Police say he confessed to the murders.

Ortiz told police that on September 3, 2018, he picked up Ramirez, 29, and drove out of the city. When they stopped on the side of the road off Texas Highway 255 so she could use the restroom, he shot her multiple times in the head. A rancher found Ramirez’s body early the next day.

Ortiz also told police he picked up Claudine Anne Luera, 42, 10 days later. He said he drove to the same highway, pulled over on the side of the road and shot Luera in the head.

On September 14, 2018, Ortiz said he picked up Erika Pena, 26, the woman whose escape broke the case for investigators.

According to Pena, while at a gas station, she mentioned the death of her friend Ramirez, and he pulled out a gun and pointed it at her. Pena managed to jump out of Ortiz’s truck and get help from a trooper pumping gas.

By the time police arrived at Ortiz’s home, he was gone. A manhunt ensued.

Dozens of family members and friends of four women who authorities say were killed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent gather for a candlelight vigil at a park in downtown Laredo, Texas, on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018. Juan David Ortiz was arrested Saturday while hiding in a hotel parking garage. Investigators believe he fatally shot the four victims during separate attacks after taking each of them to desolate areas outside of Laredo. Investigators say a fifth victim escaped and contacted authorities. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

While police were looking for Ortiz, he picked up Cantu, 35, drove to an overpass, ordered her to get out of the truck and shot her in the head.

He allegedly drove back to San Bernardo Avenue and picked up Janelle Ortiz, 28, then drove out of the city and shot her in the back of the head.

Ortiz returned to Laredo, where he was spotted by two officers at a gas station. One officer attempted to tase Ortiz, but he fled on foot, running to a nearby hotel. SWAT team personnel soon closed in Ortiz as he hid in the hotel’s parking garage.

Although he gave police a confession, Ortiz has pleaded not guilty.

According to court documents, PTSD and the medication Ortiz was taking for it are expected to be brought up during the trial in his defense.

If convicted, Ortiz, now 39 years old, faces life in prison without parole.

TRIAL HIGHLIGHTS

DAY 5 – 12/2/22

Court resumes at 9:30 AM ET, with more  of Juan David Ortiz’s alleged confession.

DAY 4 – 12/1/22

Prosecution Witness:

 Captain Federico Calderon, Webb County Sheriff’s Office (Witness number 8 returns to the stand – so far 10 witnesses have testified, including Calderon. Two witnesses testified out of order)

  • Supervisor of Criminal Investigations for Sheriff’s Office
  • Investigated the Laredo prostitute murders
  • Directed drone video that filmed the crimes scenes where the victims were found
  • Determined all four slayings just outside Laredo were connected. They were all prostitutes with criminal histories,  4 were shot, killed with a .40 caliber weapon, its spent shell casings found around each of the bodies. All discovered on rural dirt roads.
  • Juan David Ortiz offers disturbing details of Melissa Ramirez’s murder
  • After several hours of denying he knew anything about the slayings of prostitutes in Laredo, Juan David Ortiz offered chilling details about their murders and told investigators that after killing Melissa Ramirez, ‘this is where the monster that came out.”
  • Police recorded Ortiz’s interrogation on 12 discs, starting at 3:21 AM and ending around noon September 15, 2018. Captain Federico Calderon one of two investigators who questioned him that day testified, said he had been uncooperative at the beginning, refusing to acknowledge  that he had been with Erika Peña even though she testified Ortiz had been a regular customer of hers over the last five months.
  • Investigators confronted him with the information Peña gave them, along with the items that she left in his truck, which included a purse containing syringes, a crack pipe and condoms. Ortiz told investigators he didn’t know who the items belonged to or how they got in his truck.
  • When shown pictures of the victims, Ortiz denied knowing them, crumpled up the pictures and tossed them aside. However, by disc 6, police said they began making some headway with Ortiz. He asked for a picture of his family from his phone and for his handcuffs to be removed.
  • Ortiz admitted that he had been lying and agreed he had been with Peña and they had talked about him being with Melissa Ramirez. While prosecutors contend Ortiz ripped off Peña’s shirt trying to restrain her, he recalls that he was simply trying to calm her down because she was freaking out. He admitted that he had fired his weapon that night but claimed he shot it into the sky.
  • By disc 7, Calderon said Ortiz shared details of what happened to Melissa Ramirez. He said she passed out in his truck after she got high. He thought about taking her to a hospital but was concerned ‘someone would think I did something to her’. Instead he kept driving, and when she woke up she became belligerent, “shit started happening.” Ortiz said she was ‘mouthing off.’  Ortiz needed to stop so she could urinate and when she squatted and fell, ‘you all know what happened.’
  • “Did you fire off rounds,” the investigator asked. “Yeah,” he said. “I was trying to rationalize it by telling myself there’s no reason to feel sorry for her. But this is where the monster came out.”

DAY 3 – 11/30/22

  • Jurors heard Juan David Ortiz explain his behavior after leading officers on a foot chase through downtown Laredo following an alleged crime spree that included 2 murders and an alleged assault against a sex worker he picked up the day before.
  • “I have never been arrested in my life,” he told the two investigators interviewing him. “Never met with the VA until I got to Laredo. They confirmed I got PTSD and put me on all kinds of pills. I got PTSD they put me on Paxil for anxiety and depression, and medication for high blood pressure.”
  • “I told the doctor I was suicidal,” he said, and went on to say that the range of medication he had been prescribed was giving him headaches.
  • Ortiz told the officers that he had transferred to Laredo from San Antonio to accept a promotion, but was experiencing blackouts due to his drinking, which had ‘gotten out of hand’ and was raising some concern in his marriage.
  • One of his interrogators, Federico Calderon, probed him for answers confronting him with what Erika Peña reported happened when she started talking about Melissa Ramirez and Claudine Luera, two prostitutes found murdered outside Laredo city limits.
  • “I know you picked someone up earlier and took her to your house. She described your house, described you by name,” said Calderon. “Explain what happened.”
  • “I don’t recall.” Said Ortiz, who denied even knowing Peña, while she testified that she had known Ortiz for five months and had met him regularly for drugs and sex.
  • In response to law enforcement’s questions, which began at 3:21 AM, Ortiz was often evasive, responding with “You should know,” “I don’t recall,” or “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
  • Jurors watched as he sat in the interrogation room for over an hour. When investigators were not in the room he occasionally placed his head down, or leaned to the side, appearing to nod off. During a break from questioning he went to the bathroom and snacked on potato chips.
  • Prosecutors say Ortiz confessed to the murders, disclosing at the conclusion of the interview that there was a fourth victim, revealing to investigators that she was at mile marker 13 on interstate 35. Defense is contending that the confession is false, that he did not kill the women, and the reason why he knew the whereabouts of the last victim was because of his work as an intelligence officer.
  • Calderon resumes his testimony Thursday and will show more of the alleged confession.
  • WATCH: TX v. Juan David Ortiz Livestream Day 3

DAY 2 – 11/29/22

  • Prosecutors played for jurors dramatic bodycam video that recorded Juan David Ortiz in the moments after he was identified as a suspect in the murders of two Laredo sex workers and an attack against a third prostitute.
  • Trooper John Henry Bradshaw spotted the border control agent’s vehicle, after Ortiz was flagged in a BOLO (Be on the Lookout) following an alleged attack against Erika Peña, who testified Ortiz had pointed a gun at her. Bradshaw said he pulled into the  Circle K gas station, where he saw Ortiz’s truck and called for backup. Abiel Obrego responded seconds later.
  • The troopers walked jurors through bodycam video that showed them confronting Ortiz with guns drawn as he emerged from the convenience store where he stopped in the early morning hours of September 15, 2018.  They can be heard on the video yelling for him to turn around and  get down. Obrego told Ortiz they wanted to talk to him, because his truck had been linked to two recent Laredo murders.
  • “You’re freaking me out,” Ortiz is heard saying.  The officers said Ortiz did not comply with their commands and instead fled the scene setting off a foot chase through the streets of downtown Laredo. Video from Obrego’s bodycam showed the officers methodically search a multi-level garage until they found him hiding in a pickup truck on the top floor of the structure.
  • The videos document the minute by minute pursuit until his arrest and his transport to the substation where he would be interrogated by police. During this period Ortiz appears calm despite the intense onslaught of armed officers from different agencies tracking and ultimately detaining him.
  • Noe Gonzalez who was with Webb County SWAT testified he participated in Ortiz’s capture, pulling him from the truck and placing him on the ground until he was handcuffed. He then sat next to Ortiz to secure his transport to the police station. Gonzalez said he was not in the interrogation room with Ortiz, but was able to observe the interview via a livestream.
  • At the end of the hours-long interview he testified he heard Ortiz say there was one last victim and that she could be found at mile marker 13, on interstate 35. Gonzalez said he went to the location and discovered the body of a woman face down, with a wound to the back of her head – the woman was later identified as Janelle Ortiz – the fourth sex-worker Ortiz allegedly executed before he was captured.
  • WATCH: TX v. Juan David Ortiz Livestream Day 2

DAY 1 – 11/28/22

  • In their opening statement, prosecutors say Ortiz confessed to murders including the shooting of Janelle Ortiz, whose body–investigators had not yet discovered yet when they questioned him.
  • Defense says their client is a broken man, his confession was coerced, and as an intelligence officer for border control was privy to information that wasn’t accessible to other law enforcement.
  • Erika Peña testified that she narrowly escaped with her life on September 14, 2018, just a day after a second prostitute was found shot to death less than two miles from where Ramirez’s body was discovered. The similarities in both murders unnerved Peña, but she had been with defendant before and had known him for at least five months. She knew him simply as ‘David,’ When he picked her up that night, they went to his house, he told her his wife and children were out of town. She saw him frequently enough, that they had a routine, he gave her money to purchase drugs, cigarettes and beer. When they went back to his home, she said she set out the heroin he purchased for her and ‘shot up.’
  • She testified things were normal until she asked him about Melissa Ramirez, whom she considered a friend. Peña said David told her that he feared they would find his DNA on her, because he was the second to last person to have been with her. Peña said he because very nervous and it made her so uncomfortable that she felt nauseated and threw up outside his house.
  • The defendant offered to take her somewhere to get food. They went to the gas station, where he parked behind a tractor trailer. When the subject of Ramirez came up, his mood changed.
  • “He took out the gun. He didn’t say anything. He just stared at me. He pointed it at me right here at my face with his left arm,” Peña said holding out her index finger like a gun turning it toward her cheek. “Some way, somehow I took off running without my shirt.”
  • Peña said Ortiz held the gun in his left hand while restraining her with his right hand in an effort to keep her from leaving, but she managed to flee by slipping out of his grasp and out of the shirt she had been wearing. She ran toward the gas pumps where a DPS officer happened to be filling up.
  • She was captured on surveillance video and on the trooper’s bodycam video wearing only her bra, and pants, giving the trooper a breathless account of what happened.  The 40-minute portion of the video played for jurors, showed Peña appearing traumatized, breaking into Spanish numerous times, Peña told the officer she was scared several times. She told him she knew him, and gave the officer a description of him, his truck and his home.
  • On cross examination, Defense Attorney Joel Perez suggested her memory was impaired by a $300 to $400 dollar a day heroin and crack addiction. He suggested that she may have been hallucinating while on the drugs because she testified in a pre-trial hearing that she heard a voice that told her to ‘get out of there.’ She stated that it was not an audible voice that she heard but more of an intuitive voice.
  • WATCH: TX v. Juan David Ortiz Livestream Day 1
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