Defense alleges prosecution had a ‘quid pro quo’ for testimony in murder case; prosecutors say there is no evidence

photo by: Rochelle Valverde

Angela Keck, left, one of Rontarus Washington Jr.'s defense attorneys prepares to testify as part of a hearing Monday, Feb. 8, 2021, at the Flory Building at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.

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

Jan. 19, 2021: Detective testifies about conversations with homicide victim’s husband in Rontarus Washington Jr. murder case

Nov. 13, 2020: Attorney testifies that he told prosecutor ‘you’ve got the wrong guy’ in murder case — but admits he provided no concrete evidence

Oct. 9, 2020: Prosecutors, defense counsel argue about alleged ‘bad acts’ of Lawrence homicide victim’s husband in Rontarus Washington Jr. case

Sept. 11, 2020: Motions hearing dates set in Rontarus Washington Jr.’s case

Sept. 6, 2020: Breaking down the case of Rontarus Washington Jr., charged in 2014 Lawrence murder: FAQs and the latest motions

Aug. 31, 2020: Prosecutor withdraws from Rontarus Washington Jr. murder case

July 13, 2020: COVID-19 precautions, ‘technical difficulties’ hinder public access to court hearing in Lawrence murder case

July 1, 2020: Judge modifies bond to $500K for murder defendant, who is released the same day after 5 years in jail

June 30, 2020: State argues against bond reduction for long-jailed murder defendant Washington, notes that all 11 delays have been at defendant’s request

June 12, 2020: Rontarus Washington Jr., jailed 5 years on suspicion of Lawrence murder, to receive new bond hearing; defense alleges misconduct by state

May 4, 2020: DNA testing challenges due to COVID-19 further delay long-pending Lawrence murder case

March 22, 2020: Speedy trial rights are on hold in Kansas. What does that mean for defendants?

March 6, 2020: Retrial date set for Rontarus Washington Jr. in 2014 Lawrence murder case

Feb. 28, 2020: Rontarus Washington Jr. defense pursues independent lab to avoid alleged KBI bias in Lawrence murder case

Feb. 24, 2020: Rontarus Washington Jr.’s retrial date still pending in Lawrence murder case; DNA testing timeline uncertain

Feb. 3, 2020: Rontarus Washington Jr., in jail 5 years in pending Lawrence murder case, will wait longer as defense requests more DNA testing

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 12 — Sept. 24, 2019: Neighbors: Defendant in Lawrence murder case requested ride out of state; victim and husband often had screaming arguments

Day 11 — Sept. 23, 2019: Coroner testifies that Lawrence homicide victim likely died of blood loss from multiple stab wounds and other cuts

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

Before trial

Sept. 5, 2019: Lawrence murder case, pending since 2014, set for trial next week

March 19, 2019: Last-minute access to victim’s phone prompts another delay for murder trial of Lawrence man now jailed 4-plus years

Feb. 21, 2019: 4 years after slaying, Lawrence homicide victim’s phone may finally be unlocked

Dec. 28, 2018: Defense continues dissecting evidence in murder case against man arrested 4 years ago

Dec. 23, 2018: Citing alleged missteps in 30-year-old New York case, defense lawyer demands coroner be barred from 2 Lawrence murder trials

Oct. 17, 2018: Trial now set to begin 4 years after man’s arrest in slaying of woman at Cedarwood Apartments

June 1, 2018: Douglas County Jail’s longest-serving inmate asks for murder trial to be delayed again

Nov. 19, 2017: Psychologists fill in picture of man accused of violently stabbing young Lawrence woman to death

Oct. 23, 2017: Mental competency evaluation for Cedarwood Apartments murder suspect done, but disputed

May 16, 2017: Competency evaluation ordered for man accused in 2014 Cedarwood Apartments slaying

Sept. 4, 2015: Homicide victim’s husband recounts ‘bad’ relationship with wife; man charged in death bound over for trial

Sept. 3, 2015: Coroner: November stabbing death of Lawrence woman, 19, was ‘overkill,’ ‘personal’

April 20, 2015: Homicide victim’s ex ordered to appear at preliminary hearing; affidavit sheds more light on the killing

March 16, 2015: Lawrence man charged with murder in death of woman at Cedarwood apartments

Jan. 16, 2015: Mississippi officials unsure when homicide suspect may have extradition hearing; accused was victim’s neighbor

Jan. 15, 2015: Man arrested in connection with November murder of 19-year-old Lawrence woman

Dec. 2, 2014: Police: Still no arrest in woman’s homicide, language barrier an added hurdle to investigation

Nov. 25, 2015: Cedarwood homicide victim buried in Mexico

Nov. 18, 2014: Police identify homicide victim at Cedarwood Apartments as 19-year-old woman

Nov. 11, 2014: No arrests, suspects in Cedarwood possible homicide; investigators remain on scene

Nov. 10, 2014: Police investigating possible homicide at Cedarwood apartments


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