Lawrence murder victim’s husband recounts alleged infidelity, lack of trust in relationship

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Rontarus Washington Jr. listens to proceedings during his trial on Sept. 16, 2019, in Douglas County District Court.

Iliatenco, Guerrero, is a small town in Mexico with strong Catholic values, Felipe Cantu Ruiz testified of his hometown Monday in Douglas County District Court.

Many people from that town now live in Lawrence, and in the months prior to his wife’s murder, he was afraid that they would find out about the affairs she was having, he said.

Justina Altamirano Mosso, 19, was found dead Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014, on the floor of the bathroom in the apartment she and Cantu Ruiz had shared on the third floor of Lawrence’s Cedarwood Apartments, 1727 W. 24th St. She is believed to have died two days earlier, on Friday, Nov. 7, 2014.

photo by: Contributed photos

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

A trial for the man accused of her murder, 23-year-old Rontarus Washington Jr., finally began Sept. 9 — almost five years later — after several delays have caused it to be rescheduled repeatedly. Washington is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated burglary in connection with Mosso’s death.

But Washington was not mentioned during testimony on Monday. Rather, defense attorney Angela Keck’s cross-examination of Cantu Ruiz continued as he testified through an interpreter.

The couple had married in Mexico, Cantu Ruiz said. Mosso came to the United States about two years before her death, according to prior testimony in the case, and about six months later she brought Cantu Ruiz to live with her. Their daughter, Danna, stayed with their families in Iliatenco.

photo by: Richard Gwin

In this file photo from Sept. 4, 2015, Felipe Cantu Ruiz testifies at the preliminary hearing of Rontarus Washington Jr., who is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the Nov. 7, 2014 death of Cantu Ruiz’s wife, Justina Altamirano Mosso.

The couple first lived in Belton, Mo., then moved to Lawrence, Cantu Ruiz said. They stayed with family members or friends in a few places before they had the money to move into their own apartment at Cedarwood, roughly three months before Mosso’s death. He forgave Mosso for seeing another man, he said, and they had agreed to start over again.

But the agreement didn’t last long. Cantu Ruiz said soon he suspected that she was again seeing someone else. He would check to see whether she was at work when she said she was, and eventually, he said, he saw another man drop her off.

Around the same time — roughly a month before her death — Mosso moved into her cousin’s apartment, which was a short walk from Cedarwood.

On Friday, Cantu Ruiz testified that he believed Mosso was pregnant at the time of her death, and he “didn’t even know” whether he or Mosso’s boyfriend — Fernando Martinez, whom he had seen dropping her off at work — was the father.

A possible pregnancy was not mentioned in the preliminary hearing in the case, and no testimony related to an autopsy report has been given thus far to indicate Mosso was in fact pregnant.

On Monday, Cantu Ruiz testified that he had been talking to a couple of ex-girlfriends back in Mexico around the time of Mosso’s death.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Left to right, Rontarus Washington Jr. and defense attorneys Adam Hall and Angela Keck are pictured during the sixth day of Washington’s trial, Sept. 16, 2019, in Douglas County District Court.

He had been messaging one ex-girlfriend on Facebook who was interested in coming to the United States, he said, and they had been making arrangements to make that happen. He had just started saving money to bring her here — it’s expensive, and it takes a lot of time to save because she was going to come illegally, he said.

He would erase the messages with that woman when he was with Mosso, Cantu Ruiz said — they didn’t know each other’s Facebook passwords, but they could see each other’s when they were together. He’d been talking with another ex, too, but she didn’t want to come here, Cantu Ruiz said.

There was no trust in his relationship with Mosso, Cantu Ruiz testified. Mosso’s actions upset him because she was setting a bad example for their daughter, he said.

He would “sometimes” ask Mosso to send him photos of herself to show him where she was, who she was with or who was driving her home; sometimes he used a video call, he said.

• • •

Douglas County District Court Judge James McCabria dismissed the jury for the day at lunchtime because of a protest that was scheduled to begin in the afternoon.

The protest’s focus was on the office of Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson and Amy McGowan, chief assistant district attorney; however, the judge did not elaborate to the jurors about the subject matter except to say that it did not involve any of the parties in this case.

He said he was probably being overly cautious, but he did not want jurors to be distracted by the protest. He admonished them not to read or watch local news and to avoid social media.

The trial will resume Tuesday morning and is scheduled to run 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 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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