Jury continues deliberating in Lawrence murder trial; will resume Thursday

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Rontarus Washington Jr., center, sits between his defense attorneys, Adam Hall (left) and Angela Keck, on Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019, in Douglas County District Court. Jurors for Washington's trial had requested a read-back of some testimony as they continued their deliberations Wednesday morning.

A jury on Wednesday did not reach a verdict in a Lawrence murder trial nearly five years in the making.

The 12 jurors on the panel, plus three alternates, have spent the past three and a half weeks hearing evidence, testimony and arguments. They must decide whether they are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant bludgeoned and stabbed 19-year-old Justina Altamirano Mosso to death on or about Nov. 7, 2014.

Rontarus Washington Jr., now 23, is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated burglary in connection with Mosso’s death. In the alternative, he is charged with first-degree felony murder. He has been in custody for nearly four years and nine months as his trial has been repeatedly delayed.

photo by: Contributed photos

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

Washington lived on the opposite side of the third floor from Mosso in Lawrence’s Cedarwood Apartments, 1727 W. 24th St. Mosso’s body was found in the bathroom two days later on Nov. 9, 2014, after her husband, Felipe Cantu Ruiz, and her cousin separately reported her missing.

The state alleges that Washington was in Mosso’s apartment when he shouldn’t have been, hoping to steal property. In her closing arguments Tuesday, prosecutor C.J. Rieg said Washington bashed Mosso twice over the head with a toilet tank lid — a weapon of opportunity — and then went to get a knife from the kitchen to finish the job.

The evidence shows Washington’s fingerprint was found on a large piece of the broken toilet tank lid. Mosso’s blood was also found on the bottoms of a pair of orange Nike slide sandals police collected from a suitcase inside Washington’s apartment.

The defense has largely focused on Cantu Ruiz as a possible alternative perpetrator. In his closing arguments Tuesday afternoon, defense attorney Adam Hall told jurors this was a crime of passion, hatred and betrayal, none of which Washington had any reason to feel toward Mosso. Washington walked into the apartment, discovered Mosso’s body and ran out, and he didn’t call police because he was scared he would be blamed for the death, Hall said — and once he told police about it, they confirmed his worst fears.

Jurors requested a list of all the admitted evidence in the case, which the judge said could not be provided. Such a list was not created and admitted during the trial.

They also requested a read-back of testimony from an acquaintance of Washington’s who told police he had seen him the evening of Nov. 7, 2014, and they heard that first thing Wednesday morning.

Jurors began to deliberate after closing arguments from about 4 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, then resumed at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday and continued until around 4:35 p.m., except for a brief midday break. The jurors opted to recess for the day, regroup and return to continue deliberations early Thursday morning.

Jurors are also to consider the lesser charges of second-degree murder and burglary, according to their instructions from the judge. They are to consider each charge independently from the others, and if they have a single reasonable doubt, they must find the defendant not guilty on that charge, the judge instructed them.

The trial had been scheduled to last from Sept. 9 through Sept. 27.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

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More coverage: Rontarus Washington Jr. 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


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