Vic­tims’ loved ones against death penalty

Fam­i­lies want life sen­tence for for­mer Bor­der Pa­trol agent in Laredo mur­ders

USA TODAY US Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Rick Jervis

LAREDO, Texas – Pros­e­cu­tors will seek the death penalty for Juan David Or­tiz, a U.S. Bor­der Pa­trol agent charged with killing four women around Laredo this year.

Ask Pa­tri­cia Or­tiz, an aunt to Nikki En­riquez, one of the vic­tims, and she’d be OK if he just spent the rest of his life in pri­son.

“I’m a good be­liever in God, and I know God will take care of this sit­u­a­tion,” she said. “I can’t say I want to see him die.”

Wed­nes­day’s an­nounce­ment that pros­e­cu­tors will seek the death penalty for Or­tiz, 35, split fam­i­lies and friends over whether the al­leged killer should die or spend a life­time in pri­son.

Texas by far leads the na­tion in put­ting con­victed crim­i­nals to death, with 511 ex­e­cu­tions, ac­cord­ing to the Death Penalty In­for­ma­tion Cen­ter, a Wash­ing­ton-based group that ad­vo­cates against the death penalty. Vir­ginia is se­cond, with 113 ex­e­cu­tions, fol­lowed by Ok­la­homa with 112.

The Texas bor­der­lands – largely His­panic, Catholic and gen­er­ally an­tideath-penalty – see things dif­fer­ently.

Cristina Be­na­vides, mother of Melissa Ramirez, an­other vic­tim, said she suf­fers from cry­ing bouts and has barely slept in the three months since her daugh­ter’s death. She said she wants to see Or­tiz suf­fer the same way her fam­ily has, but doesn’t think the death penalty is the right choice.

“Let God ap­ply jus­tice,” she said. “God is know­ing. He’s watch­ing him.”

Au­thor­i­ties al­lege that Or­tiz, a 10year vet­eran of the Bor­der Pa­trol, picked up four women – Ramirez, 29; Clau­dine Luera, 42; Guiselda Ali­cia Cantu, 35; and En­riquez, 28 – on dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions from Sept. 3 to 14, drove them to re­mote lo­ca­tions and killed each with gun­shots to the head. All the women were sex work­ers who con­gre­gated around San Bernardo Av­enue in Laredo, known for its sex and drug trade.

Or­tiz was ar­rested af­ter a fifth woman fled from his truck and alerted po­lice. He was charged with four counts of mur­der and has been held at the Webb County Jail on $2.5 mil­lion bond. Of­fi­cials call him a se­rial killer.

Isidro Alaniz, dis­trict at­tor­ney for Webb and Za­p­ata coun­ties, said Wed­nes­day that Or­tiz, who was in­dicted on one count of cap­i­tal mur­der, showed a con­sis­tent “scheme” in the killings. All the women ex­cept Ramirez knew they were go­ing to die soon af­ter en­ter­ing his truck, he said.

It’s only the se­cond time in 25 years that Webb County pros­e­cu­tors will seek the death penalty, Alaniz said.

“Or­tiz preyed on the weak, the sick, the vul­ner­a­ble,” he said. “San Bernardo was his hunt­ing ground. What does that make him? That makes him a preda­tor.”

Texas law man­dates a trial in death penalty cases. An ar­raign­ment is ex­pected in the next 30 days, Alaniz said.

In a tear­ful state­ment af­ter the in- dict­ment was read, Co­lette Mire­les, Luera’s sis­ter, said she was “lean­ing on faith” to get through this dif­fi­cult time and the emo­tional days be­fore a pro­tracted trial.

“God has the last word, and God is what gives us the strength to move for­ward,” she said.

She said, “In my heart, I just want what’s right. We’re no one to wish death on any­body. But we know God has the last word. What­ever the out­come, jus­tice will pre­vail.”

Ka­rina Ramos and Kris­tian Mon­temayor, Luera’s nieces, said they were split on their de­sire of pun­ish­ment for Or­tiz if he’s con­victed.

Ramos, 29, said Or­tiz was sui­ci­dal as po­lice caught up to him and prob­a­bly wants to die. A long pri­son sen­tence is worse pun­ish­ment, she said.

Mon­temayor, 24, said he de­serves to die for the pain he brought to her fam­ily and other fam­i­lies.

“He’ll be in jail, com­fort­able, eat­ing three times a day,” she said. “He doesn’t de­serve to be alive.”


Cristina Be­na­vides, mother of Laredo, Texas, slay­ing vic­tim Melissa Ramirez, says she wants to see the sus­pected killer suf­fer the same way her fam­ily has but doesn’t think the death penalty is the right choice.

Juan David Or­tiz

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