With jury selected, Lawrence murder trial to proceed

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Rontarus Washington Jr., right, listens to proceedings in a status conference for his case on Sept. 5, 2019, in Douglas County District Court. At left is one of his defense attorneys, Angela Keck.

In the last few moments of the afternoon Wednesday — the third day of a murder trial that is expected to last three weeks — attorneys selected eight men and seven women to serve on the jury.

On trial is defendant Rontarus Washington Jr., 23, who is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated burglary in connection with the Nov. 7, 2014 death of 19-year-old Justina Altamirano Mosso.

Mosso was found stabbed and bludgeoned to death in the bathroom of her apartment at 1727 W. 24th St. on Nov. 9, 2014, after her estranged husband, Felipe Cantu Ruiz, now 31, and her cousin, Olivia Flores Guzman, separately reported her missing.

photo by: Contributed photos

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

Washington lived on the same floor as Mosso, the Journal-World has reported.

Defense attorneys Angela Keck and Adam Hall are representing Washington, who has been in jail since 2015. Keck began questioning the jury pool in the afternoon Wednesday after prosecutor C.J. Rieg finished her questions.

Keck said she had to address an important concern: Her client is an African American male. She asked jurors several questions regarding bias, whether they believe bias infiltrates the justice system, if they are willing to be open about the issue and if they would be able to identify bias if they saw it.

She also asked the potential jurors about their views on illegal immigration and whether they would treat the testimony of someone who might not have legal status in the United States the same as they would anyone else’s.

Mosso was originally from Mexico, as were many of the potential witnesses in the case. A translator will be present for much of the testimony in the trial.

Keck asked the jurors about whether an innocent person could walk into a crime scene and walk out without calling the police and what reasons there might be for that to happen. She asked about experiences with police, whether the potential jurors could analyze police officers’ testimony as fairly as anyone else’s, and whether they were willing or unwilling to consider that perhaps the police had the wrong suspect.

The jury comprises 15 individuals — 12 jurors who will deliberate, and three alternates, though the jurors will not be told their status upfront. They represent a wide age range and a mix of races and ethnicities.

The trial will move forward Thursday morning in the courtroom of Douglas County District Court Judge James McCabria. It is scheduled to continue through Sept. 27.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

Have a story idea, news or information to share? Contact public safety reporter Mackenzie Clark:

More coverage: Rontarus Washington Jr. trial

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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