Homicide victim’s ex ordered to appear at preliminary hearing; affidavit sheds more light on the killing

The 26-year-old ex-lover of homicide victim Justina Altamirano Mosso was ordered Monday to appear for the preliminary hearing of the Lawrence man charged in Altamirano Mosso’s death after the defense in the case said evidence suggests he could be “the real killer.”

Photos of Justina Altamirano Mosso, 19, provided by the Lawrence Police Department.

Rontarus Washington Jr.

Altamirano Mosso, 19, was found dead Nov. 9, 2014, at Cedarwood Apartments as a result of multiple stab wounds and blows to the head in the bathroom of Felipe Cantu Ruiz, with whom she had a relationship, according to the arrest affidavit in the case.

Rontarus Washington Jr., 18, was charged last month with first-degree murder in Altamirano Mosso’s death. Washington told investigators that he initially discovered the body but did not report the crime, according to the affidavit supporting his arrest.

Family members told the Journal-World in November that Cantu Ruiz was Altamirano Mosso’s husband and the father of her young daughter in Mexico. The affidavit, however, lists Cantu Ruiz as Altamirano Mosso’s ex-boyfriend.

At Washington’s Monday court appearance, defense attorney Sarah Swain asked Chief District Judge Robert Fairchild to order Cantu Ruiz to give a deposition. Swain said she’d met with Cantu Ruiz the prior week at the Douglas County Jail, but he was uncooperative and would not tell her where he was living. Cantu Ruiz had been serving a sentence for a DUI offense, Swain said.

Swain said she asked for the deposition order to question Cantu Ruiz because she believes “all of the circumstantial evidence points to the fact that this was a crime of passion.”

“The manner in which she was killed suggests a personal relationship with the killer,” Swain told the Journal-World. “She was found in his apartment where she was not living at the time; there is evidence of a violent, tumultuous relationship between (Cantu Ruiz) and this young woman and prior domestic violence calls.”

But Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson, who is prosecuting the case, said the state is confident the right man is being charged.

“The testimony and forensic evidence the state believes will be presented at preliminary hearing will provide clear probable cause the defendant committed this crime and not Mr. Felipe Cantu Ruiz,” Branson told the Journal-World.

Instead of ordering the deposition, Fairchild ordered Cantu Ruiz, who was subpoenaed for the hearing Monday, to appear for the preliminary hearing. There, both the state and the defense will have the opportunity to call him as a witness. Swain told the court she was fearful that Cantu Ruiz would flee.

“He has no ties to the community and we are pointing the finger at him,” Swain said. “He has no reason to stay and every reason to go.”

According to the affidavit, Altamirano Mosso’s body was found Nov. 9 after her cousin, Olivia Flores, said the woman “was involved in an argument” with Cantu Ruiz and was last known to have been going to see him at his apartment on Nov. 7.

Flores said she contacted Cantu Ruiz after failing to hear from Altamirano Mosso. Flores said Cantu Ruiz told her he had given Altamirano Mosso his apartment and car keys and moved to Manhattan after seeing her, according to the affidavit.

Cantu Ruiz also told investigators that he had an argument with Altamirano Mosso Nov. 8 and last saw her in the apartment’s parking lot when he left with a friend to go to Manhattan, according to the affidavit.

Washington, who lived down the hall from where Altamirano Mosso was discovered, told investigators during an interview that he, too, saw the fight in the parking lot between Cantu Ruiz and Altamirano Mosso on the day of the woman’s death.

Washington said that he saw Cantu Ruiz leave, and later went into Cantu Ruiz’s apartment “looking for (money) to take from a table where he had stolen money before.” Inside, he “saw a dead body next to the bathtub” and “it appeared the female was either stabbed or beat to death,” the affidavit said.

Lawrence Detective Jamie Lawson said in the affidavit that details of where the body was found or the mechanism of death had not been released at the time of the interview.

A fingerprint beneath a portion of a broken porcelain toilet tank top found near Altamirano Mosso’s body matched Washington’s, the affidavit said.

Also on Monday, Swain asked Fairchild to order the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to preserve all evidence it has in the case. Swain said she wants to have the opportunity to test the evidence at a private lab and she’d been told the KBI at times destroyed DNA extracts that do “not meet their threshold” for testability.

“This is a case where there was a significant amount of forensic evidence,” Swain said. “As we all know, witnesses lie, but the evidence left behind will lead us to the real killer.”

Fairchild ordered the KBI not to destroy any evidence in the case until he hears arguments on Swain’s motion at a hearing on April 28.

The preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 9-10.