Homicide victim’s husband recounts ‘bad’ relationship with wife; man charged in death bound over for trial
The husband of homicide victim Justina Altamirano Mosso took the stand Friday during the preliminary hearing of the man accused of killing Mosso last fall at Cedarwood Apartments.
Felipe Cantu Ruiz, 27, of Lawrence, said in Douglas County District Court that he had been arguing with his wife, Mosso, the morning of her death because he’d found out she’d been seeing another man the night before.
Rontarus Washington Jr., 19, of Lawrence, is charged with first-degree murder in connection with Mosso’s death. Washington lived down the hall from Ruiz’s apartment, where Mosso’s body was discovered on Nov. 7, 2014, stabbed and bludgeoned in a bloody bathroom.
Friday was the second of a two-day preliminary hearing for Washington, and afterward Chief Douglas County District Judge Robert Fairchild bound Washington over on the murder charge.
Before the court’s ruling, Washington’s attorney, Sarah Swain, called Ruiz to testify about his relationship with his wife and his actions the day the homicide is alleged to have occurred. Ruiz said through a Spanish interpreter that his marriage was “bad because she had a relationship with another guy.”
“We had arguments,” Ruiz said. “She would hit me, but I couldn’t touch her.”
When asked why he “couldn’t touch” Mosso, Ruiz said that “since the first time we argued she sent me to jail, and since then I wasn’t allowed to touch her.”
Ruiz said that Lawrence police had responded to the apartment a couple of times because of arguments between him and Mosso. She had been living with Ruiz in the apartment until she left him to live with her cousin shortly before her death.
“Justina had a strong character. At times when I drank and police were called, police would come and I’d be in my room drinking,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz testified Friday that he’d spontaneously decided to move to Manhattan on Nov. 7, skipping a work shift at Salty Iguana that evening and taking only some clothing, because he was “sad” about Mosso’s alleged infidelity.
On Thursday, detectives testified that as Mosso’s cousin in Lawrence was making a missing person’s report in Lawrence Nov. 9, Ruiz reported Mosso missing to the Riley County Police Department. Ruiz said he began wondering about Mosso’s whereabouts when her friend called him to ask where she was.
“I told her to look for (Mosso) with (Mosso’s) boyfriend; she should be with him,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz said he began worrying if Mosso had a traffic issue because she didn’t know how to drive, or perhaps she was in jail.
“I know how she is when she gets angry,” Ruiz said. “She’s capable of almost anything when she’s angry.”
Ruiz said he sent an acquaintance to check on Mosso, and the man discovered she wasn’t in jail. Ruiz then sent the man to his apartment, and the man told him the door was “halfway open.” After that, he called police.
Ruiz’s testimony Friday rounded out the two-day preliminary hearing. On Thursday, prosecutors presented evidence that Washington told investigators that he went to Ruiz’s apartment Nov. 7 sometime after watching Ruiz and Mosso fight in the parking lot. He said that he had seen that the door to the apartment was open, so he went inside to look for some “change” to take.
But when he started looking around, Washington discovered Mosso’s body in a “pool of blood,” detectives said he told them. Washington told investigators that he then left the apartment, and didn’t tell anyone about what he’d seen.
However, when detectives processed the crime scene, they found a fingerprint matching that of Washington’s underneath a toilet tank lid believed to have been used to beat Mosso over the head, they said. They also found Mosso’s blood on the soles of Washington’s sandals and some DNA evidence underneath Mosso’s fingernails “could not exclude (Washington) or any of his male relatives as contributors,” prosecutor C.J. Rieg said Thursday.
Ultimately, Fairchild ruled that prosecutors met their burden of establishing probable cause that Washington committed the crime, and bound him over on the charge of first-degree murder — and the alternative charges of aggravated burglary and felony murder.
Washington remains in the Douglas County Jail on a $750,000 bond. He is scheduled to appear in court on Oct. 15, when he will formally enter a plea.