Husband of Lawrence murder victim wants to stay in U.S. only until case wraps, he testifies

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Douglas County District Court Judge James McCabria makes a ruling on questions the defense wants to ask of a witness during trial for Rontarus Washington Jr., facing the judge at left, on Sept. 17, 2019. Washington's defense attorneys, Adam Hall and Angela Keck, sit to his right.

Story updated at 7:33 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17:

A Lawrence murder victim’s husband says he had no agreement to allow him to stay in the United States as long as he cooperated with prosecutors in the trial for the man they say killed his wife.

To the contrary, 31-year-old Felipe Cantu Ruiz wants to go back to Mexico. Cantu Ruiz said if his lawyer asked the Douglas County district attorney’s office to allow him to stay in the United States, it wasn’t for his benefit — it was for his daughter’s.

“I need for the guilty to be sentenced and to have proof for my daughter, and to explain to her, ‘Here is the assassin of your mother,'” Cantu Ruiz testified through an interpreter Tuesday.

photo by: Contributed photos

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

Cantu Ruiz’s wife, Justina Altamirano Mosso, 19, was found dead Nov. 9, 2014, in the bathroom of the studio apartment the couple had shared at Lawrence’s Cedarwood Apartments, 1727 W. 24th St. She is believed to have died two days prior, on Friday, Nov. 7, 2014.

Rontarus Washington Jr., 23, is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated burglary in connection with Mosso’s death. He lived on the same floor of the apartment building. He has been in custody for about four years and eight months awaiting a trial that has been delayed numerous times but finally began Sept. 9.

Cantu Ruiz took the witness stand around 10:30 a.m. Friday and closed out that day. He testified through Monday morning and all of Tuesday until his questioning wrapped up, around 4:15 p.m.

Washington’s defense team of Angela Keck and Adam Hall have suggested Cantu Ruiz as a possible alternative perpetrator.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Rontarus Washington Jr. listens to his defense attorneys talk with Douglas County District Court Judge James McCabria during Washington’s trial on Sept. 17, 2019.

• • •

In the morning the day of the murder, Cantu Ruiz had decided he was going to move to Manhattan because he was not happy in Lawrence and he wanted a new start, he has previously testified. His relationship with Mosso was not healthy, and she had moved out of the apartment they shared to instead live with her cousin about a month before her death.

Cantu Ruiz has alleged that Mosso had affairs, and he said Tuesday that when Mosso’s boyfriend answered her phone in the early morning hours of Nov. 7, 2014, it made him “a little” angry. Cantu Ruiz was drunk that night, he said, and he had called and texted Mosso and her boyfriend dozens of times.

Through much of testimony Tuesday morning, Keck asked Cantu Ruiz whether he sent specific texts or Facebook messages to Mosso and others, offering printouts of the messages when needed to refresh his memory.

Cantu Ruiz answered several of Keck’s questions saying that though he had sent specific messages, they were missing context, or the interpretation or translation was not accurate.

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.

For instance, Cantu Ruiz said he did send a message to a woman the morning of that Friday, Nov. 7, 2014 — prior to the time his wife is believed to have died — saying “Estoy viudo,” or “I am a widower.”

He said this was a joke — he would ask a woman, “What are you, single? Married? Widow?” in a joking fashion. It was a synonym for being single, he said. That morning, Cantu Ruiz had sent that message because he was single — his woman had abandoned him, he said.

“I used that word a lot,” he said, through the interpreter.

He had also sent a message to the victim’s sister that morning, telling her to take good care of the couple’s daughter, who lived with their families back home in Mexico. But he said he always told them to take good care of his daughter, and since he couldn’t be with Mosso anymore, “practically I was losing my daughter.”

Keck asked Cantu Ruiz about a message he had sent Mosso saying “You don’t know how much I hate you.” He said that she had said she hated him first; he “simply continued with the game.”

• • •

Cantu Ruiz said he wants to return to Mexico, and he’s not concerned about getting documentation to stay in the United States. But he’s not going to return until the case is wrapped up, he said.

He said he didn’t really understand the purpose of the fraudulent Social Security and Permanent Resident cards he’d used — just that he needed them to work. So when he forgot them during his brief move to Manhattan, he wasn’t too worried — “anytime I can buy more,” he said.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

C.J. Rieg, senior assistant district attorney, questions Felipe Cantu Ruiz during trial for Rontarus Washington Jr. on Sept. 17, 2019 in Douglas County District Court.

In her follow-up questioning Tuesday afternoon, C.J. Rieg, senior assistant district attorney, asked Cantu Ruiz whether he pays taxes to the U.S government; he said he does.

In testimony Monday, Cantu Ruiz had said he was worried that people from his hometown would find out about Mosso’s alleged infidelities. He has also said, though, that he had been messaging with ex-girlfriends back in Mexico and had wanted to bring one of them here.

Rieg asked him more about the culture of the small town of Iliatenco, Guerrero, from which he and Mosso both came to the United States.

Cantu Ruiz said in their culture, it is common for the men to have “many women.” He has several half-siblings, and in addition to his daughter with Mosso, he has two other children from other women. For the women however, it is different, he said.

• • •

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

C.J. Rieg, senior assistant district attorney, foreground, steps away from the bench after Douglas County District Court Judge James McCabria (in background at right) rules that defense attorneys Adam Hall and Angela Keck (in background, left and center) may admit a photo of a taco during trial for Rontarus Washington Jr., Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019.

The trial paused momentarily for counsel to talk with Judge James McCabria about whether to admit a photo Cantu Ruiz had sent Mosso — a photo of a taco he had made during a shift at one of the two restaurants where he worked at the time — after Rieg had objected on grounds of relevance. The judge allowed it.

Cantu Ruiz said that this was normal; they often sent each other photos of what they were eating or what they were doing. He had sent Mosso that photo “because it looked delicious.” Mosso loved Mexican tacos, Cantu Ruiz said.

Keck then inquired about the knife in the photo, which appeared to be a standard chef’s knife. Cantu Ruiz said he had chopped vegetables in the photo with that knife, and that the knives in that kitchen were always very sharp — “way too much.”

Trial will resume Wednesday morning. It is scheduled to last through at least 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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