Co-worker of murder victim’s husband lied to Lawrence police, he says; footwear impression expert testifies

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

From left to right, Rontarus Washington Jr. waits as his defense attorneys, Adam Hall and Angela Keck, discuss an issue with Douglas County District Court Judge James McCabria and prosecutor C.J. Rieg during Washington's trial on Friday, Sept. 19, 2019.

Co-workers of a Lawrence murder victim’s husband testified Friday about the day 19-year-old Justina Altamirano Mosso’s body was found, Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014.

One admitted that he lied to police during his interview; the other said the victim’s husband looked guilty.

Authorities believe 19-year-old Mosso was killed the afternoon of Friday, Nov. 7, 2014. She was found bludgeoned and stabbed to death, slumped against the tub and wall in the bathroom of the apartment she had shared with husband Felipe Cantu Ruiz at Lawrence’s Cedarwood Apartments, 1727 W. 24th St.

photo by: Contributed photos

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

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.

Washington has been in custody for about four years and eight months as his trial has been delayed several times for various complications. It finally began Monday, Sept. 9.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Rontarus Washington Jr. sits next to his defense attorneys, Angela Keck and Adam Hall, during trial Friday, Sept. 19, 2019 in Douglas County District Court.

• • •

On the day authorities believe Mosso was killed, Cantu Ruiz had decided to move to Manhattan, he has testified. He had lost one of his jobs — or at least he believed he had — that morning because he had stayed up late drinking the night before and slept in. Cantu Ruiz’s marriage with Mosso was not good; he has alleged that she cheated on him multiple times. He wanted to get a fresh start in a new city.

But two days later, Mosso’s friend called him concerned that she hadn’t heard from Mosso since Friday. He couldn’t get in touch with her either, so he started trying to find a ride back to Lawrence.

The friend who drove to Manhattan to pick up Cantu Ruiz was Noe Galeana Morales, a co-worker who often gave Cantu Ruiz rides to work and back. Galeana Morales convinced Jaime Ramirez, another co-worker, to go along for the ride.

Cantu Ruiz and Galeana Morales worked in kitchens at the time: mornings at Six Mile Chophouse, evenings at Salty Iguana. Both restaurants are in the strip mall on the southwest side of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive.

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 men weren’t really good friends, Galeana Morales testified Friday through an interpreter, but they got along at work, and Cantu Ruiz sounded desperate.

Galeana Morales testified that Cantu Ruiz said on the way back from Manhattan that something had happened to Mosso and he was afraid he would be blamed. He had cried on the drive back.

Ramirez also testified through an interpreter Friday. He said on the ride back that he wasn’t really listening to what Cantu Ruiz and Galeana Morales were talking about, but Cantu Ruiz had his head down the whole way, and he looked “culpable” — a cognate with the same meaning in Spanish as in English.

In follow-up questions from prosecutor C.J. Rieg, Ramirez later clarified that he thought Cantu Ruiz looked guilty because he’d left Lawrence to go to Manhattan.

The men arrived back at Cedarwood around 11 p.m., police have testified. There, Cantu Ruiz got out of the car and went with police; Galeana Morales and Ramirez waited in the car for about an hour and 15 minutes, then followed police to their Investigations and Training Center near Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive, where they were interviewed periodically until about 7 a.m.

In cross-examination by defense attorney Adam Hall, Galeana Morales said that during the hour that the men spent in the car, they talked about what questions police would ask them. He said the first thing police told him was that he wasn’t in trouble and they were just trying to clarify what was going on, but he said he lied because he was nervous.

When his story didn’t line up with Ramirez’s and Cantu Ruiz’s, Galeana Morales said, he started telling police the truth. At that point, he said that on the drive home, Cantu Ruiz had said he couldn’t stand the thought of his wife with another man, and he was angry.

Police searched the possessions Cantu Ruiz had brought back with him. They took a jacket and some other clothing items as well as a white towel with reddish-brown stains for testing. They did not take a pair of work boots, and they did not search anywhere else in the car besides the back seat, where Cantu Ruiz’s clothes sat, Detective Sam Hiatt testified. They also took the sandals Galeana Morales was wearing.

Another friend of Cantu Ruiz’s previously testified that when he moved his clothes into Galeana Morales’ car, Cantu Ruiz left a pair of sandals behind.

• • •

Later in the afternoon Friday, Steve Koch, a former assistant laboratory director for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, discussed his findings regarding some footwear impressions at the crime scene.

There were a few prints on the tile in the small studio apartment’s kitchen, police have testified. There were also some footwear impressions on pieces of paper near the crime scene — one in what appeared to be blood on a piece of paper outside the bathroom door in the living room/bedroom area, and one inside the bathroom, on the floor near where Mosso’s body was discovered.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Evidence packages lie open on the witness stand following the testimony of a former assistant laboratory director for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation during trial for Rontarus Washington Jr. on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019 in Douglas County District Court.

Koch testified that he was sent three pairs of shoes: a pair of Avia sneakers that Mosso was wearing when she died, and two pairs of Nike sliders — one orange pair, one red and black pair. When Koch started to open the evidence bag containing the orange sliders, defense attorney Angela Keck pointed out that the bag had been open before but had since been stapled shut. Koch said there was “nothing readily escapable.”

The paper in the bathroom had prints that appeared to be from Mosso’s sneakers, but there were several other prints on the same piece of paper. None of the other prints matched the three pairs of shoes Koch received, he testified.

The footwear impression outside of the bathroom was partially on a piece of paper, partially on the bedroom carpet. The portion on the paper was consistent with the orange pair of Nike sliders, Koch said.

In her cross-examination, Keck asked if Koch had done any research to find out how many pairs of the sandals Nike had sold or shipped across the United States. He had not.

The jury trial is scheduled to last through Sept. 27. It will resume Monday morning.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Defense attorney Angela Keck, standing at the lectern, questions a witness during trial for Rontarus Washington Jr. on Friday, Sept. 19, 2019 in Douglas County District Court. Washington’s other defense attorney, Adam Hall, is seated to Keck’s left. Prosecutor C.J. Rieg is pictured at right, and Douglas County District Court Judge James McCabria is at left.

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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