Defense alleges prosecution had a ‘quid pro quo’ for testimony in murder case; prosecutors say there is no evidence
photo by: Rochelle Valverde
Defense attorneys for Rontarus Washington Jr. alleged at a hearing on Monday that state prosecutors appeared to have had a “quid pro quo” with the estranged husband of a homicide victim as part of their effort to convict Washington of the crime.
However, state prosecutors said there was no evidence of such an arrangement and that the defense’s allegation was speculative.
Washington, 24, is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated burglary in connection with the November 2014 death of his neighbor, 19-year-old Justina Altamirano Mosso. Washington’s attorneys, Adam Hall and Angela Keck, have suggested Altamirano Mosso’s estranged husband, Felipe Cantu Ruiz, as a possible alternative suspect. The jury hung after Washington’s four-week trial in September 2019, and following delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, the retrial is scheduled to begin Sept. 27.
The defense attorneys have filed a motion to dismiss the case due to prosecutorial error or to disqualify the prosecutor. They argue that records with potentially exculpatory information have been withheld from them, and on Monday, in the fifth hearing on several motions the defense filed after the first trial, Keck herself took the witness stand regarding evidence she said was not turned over.
Regarding what Hall would later refer to as the quid pro quo, Keck referenced conversations and meetings that Lawrence police Detective David Garcia had with Cantu Ruiz, including one with the former chief assistant district attorney and a therapist from Centro Hispano. Garcia testified last month that Cantu Ruiz had been concerned about coming to testify in court because of his immigration status, so Garcia and the prosecutor both suggested he seek a U visa, a special type of visa for crime victims and their family members, as the Journal-World previously reported.
Keck said Monday that the state had significant power to get Cantu Ruiz to make a statement regarding the case, because the state also had the power to notify immigration officials that Cantu Ruiz was in the country illegally. In addition, Keck said it appeared to her that Cantu Ruiz was released from probation for a DUI without meeting all the conditions. She said if Cantu Ruiz was getting leniency regarding his immigration status or his DUI, it could have affected his willingness to testify regarding the state’s version of events. Had all of those circumstances been known prior to trial, Keck said, it could have hurt Cantu Ruiz’s credibility.
Deputy District Attorney David Melton said there was no evidence that the state had made a deal with Cantu Ruiz to get him to testify. He said for the defense to file a motion to dismiss the case or disqualify the prosecutor, it needed factual allegations as opposed to suspicions. Regarding Cantu Ruiz’s immigration status, Melton said that immigration is a federal matter and that the district attorney’s office has no role on immigration other than signing off on a U visa.
Melton also questioned Keck’s experience when it comes to how DUI cases are handled, and he said Cantu Ruiz had met conditions of his probation.
Keck also said that information that could have called into question the credibility of two other witnesses was not provided prior to trial, though Melton also questioned those claims. As part of Monday’s hearing, Hall began the defense’s closing arguments, calling the arrangement the prosecution had with Cantu Ruiz a quid pro quo, but was not able to finish his remarks before the end of the hearing. Hall and Keck will resume those arguments at the next hearing, and the state will make its closing arguments afterward. The next hearing will take place Feb. 19 at 9:30 a.m.
More coverage: Rontarus Washington Jr. case
• Sept. 11, 2020: Motions hearing dates set in Rontarus Washington Jr.’s case
• Aug. 31, 2020: Prosecutor withdraws from Rontarus Washington Jr. murder case
• After the trial — Oct. 7, 2019: In Lawrence murder trial deliberations, majority of jurors flipped votes from not guilty to guilty; new trial scheduled
September 2019 trial
• Day 20 — Oct. 4, 2019: Jury unable to reach verdict in 2014 Lawrence murder case; prosecutor wants to try again
• Day 19 — Oct. 3, 2019: Lengthy Lawrence murder trial could end with hung jury; deliberations to resume Friday
• Day 18 — Oct. 2, 2019: Jury continues deliberating in Lawrence murder trial; will resume Thursday
• Day 17, closing arguments — Oct. 1, 2019: Prosecutor rehashes defendant’s story’s ‘progression,’ defense emphasizes passion in closing arguments for Lawrence murder trial
• Day 17, last of testimony — Oct. 1, 2019: Longtime Cedarwood resident may have seen Lawrence murder victim kissing an unknown man, he testifies
• Day 16 — Sept. 30, 2019: Detective: Husband’s phone was en route to Manhattan at time of Lawrence murder victim’s death
• Day 15 — Sept. 27, 2019: Defendant and victim’s husband left prints on toilet tank lid used as weapon in Lawrence murder
• Day 14 — Sept. 26, 2019: Expert: Partial DNA on Lawrence murder victim’s nail could link to 1 in 2,000 men
• Day 13 — Sept. 25, 2019: Lawrence murder defendant tells police he walked in on body, then they accuse him, video shows
• Day 10 — Sept. 20, 2019: Co-worker of murder victim’s husband lied to Lawrence police, he says; footwear impression expert testifies
• Day 9 — Sept. 19, 2019: Lawrence murder victim’s best friend testifies, alleges domestic abuse in victim’s marriage
• Day 8 — Sept. 18, 2019: Investigator gives jury photo walkthrough of crime scene in Lawrence murder case
• Day 7 — Sept. 17, 2019: Husband of Lawrence murder victim wants to stay in U.S. only until case wraps, he testifies
• Day 6 — Sept. 16, 2019: Lawrence murder victim’s husband recounts alleged infidelity, lack of trust in relationship
• Day 5 — Sept. 13, 2019: Lawrence murder victim’s husband believed she was pregnant at time of her death, he testifies
• Day 4 — Sept. 12, 2019: Cousin testifies about last time she saw Lawrence murder victim alive
• Day 3 — Sept. 11, 2019: With jury selected, Lawrence murder trial to proceed
• Day 2 — Sept. 10, 2019: Prosecutor questions jury pool about graphic photos, domestic violence, biases in Lawrence murder trial
• Day 1 — Sept. 9, 2019: Jury selection begins in trial for 2014 Lawrence murder
• Sept. 5, 2019: Lawrence murder case, pending since 2014, set for trial next week
• Nov. 25, 2015: Cedarwood homicide victim buried in Mexico
• Nov. 10, 2014: Police investigating possible homicide at Cedarwood apartments