Defendant and victim’s husband left prints on toilet tank lid used as weapon in Lawrence murder

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Rontarus Washington Jr. left, stands with his defense attorneys, Angela Keck and Adam Hall, as the jury enters his trial on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019 in Douglas County District Court.

A jury learned Friday that two prints were found on fragments of a toilet tank lid used as a murder weapon: one from the defendant and another from the victim’s husband.

Also, a detective with bloodstain pattern analysis expertise testified, a footwear impression in blood found at the crime scene would have required that the wearer step close to the body of 19-year-old Justina Altamirano Mosso.

Rontarus Washington Jr., 23, is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated burglary in connection with Mosso’s death in apartment 13 of Lawrence’s Cedarwood Apartments, 1727 W. 24th St. Mosso’s body was found Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014, though investigators believe she died the afternoon of Friday, Nov. 7, 2014.

photo by: Contributed photos

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

Washington has been in custody for nearly four years and nine months awaiting a trial that has been repeatedly delayed.

Evidence indicates Mosso was bashed over the head twice with a toilet tank lid and stabbed repeatedly. The cause of death was blood loss from her many wounds, the coroner testified.

Washington, who lived in apartment No. 10 on the opposite end of Cedarwood’s third floor from Mosso, admitted to detectives that he walked in and discovered Mosso’s body, but he said he ran out of the apartment “like a little (expletive)” and didn’t call police because he thought he would get blamed for her death. He told police he didn’t touch anything, and that he didn’t step inside the bathroom.

• • •

Jacqueline Hayworth, an expert in latent prints, footwear impressions and tire tracks with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, testified Friday about several items police had submitted for analysis of fingerprints or ridge detail, prints left by other parts of the fingers, hands or feet.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Prosecutor C.J. Rieg greets a witness during trial for Rontarus Washington Jr. the morning of Friday, Sept. 27, 2019 in Douglas County District Court.

Prints from Mosso and her husband, Felipe Cantu Ruiz, were found in several places at the crime scene. Mosso had lived in the apartment until she moved out a few weeks prior to her death; Cantu Ruiz had lived there until he left to move to Manhattan the same afternoon that Mosso is believed to have died.

Cantu Ruiz’s right palm print was found on the smooth outside of one piece of the ceramic toilet tank lid inside the bathroom. His prints were also found in places on the drywall and bathtub.

Washington’s left ring finger print was found on a larger piece of the tank lid found on the floor outside the bathroom door. The print was on the rough underside of the lid, near the rim. Photos from the crime scene show that piece of the tank lid was lying underside up on the floor just outside the bathroom door in the small studio apartment. Another large piece lay close nearby.

Hayworth also processed a fingerprint on the inside back cover of Mosso’s cellphone, which had been found on the roof. The print ruled out Cantu Ruiz and Washington as sources and could not exclude Mosso due to the insufficient quality of her prints, which were taken postmortem.

• • •

Mosso was stabbed or cut more than 30 times, but no testimony jurors have heard so far has mentioned a specific knife or sharp object connected to her death. On a walkthrough of the apartment with police to let them know if anything seemed out of place a couple of days after his wife’s body was found, however, Cantu Ruiz pointed out that the knife he usually kept on the counter next to the stove was missing.

Lawrence police Detective Zachariah Thomas, who had previously testified about using chemical reagents to reveal blood and about searching Washington’s apartment, returned Friday to discuss his analysis of bloodstain patterns at the scene.

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Douglas County District Court Judge James McCabria addresses Rontarus Washington Jr. and one of his defense attorneys, Angela Keck, during Washington’s trial on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019.

Most of the blood on various surfaces of the bathroom, his report showed, was below 2 feet from the floor, including on the wall behind Mosso’s body, the bathtub, the toilet and the cabinets below the sink. Mosso was just short of 5 feet, 1 inch tall, so Thomas concluded she was not standing when the bloodstains were deposited.

Though a good deal of blood had pooled on the floor around Mosso’s body, slumped against the bathtub and the wall, and her legs, splayed on either side of the toilet, not much was found on the rest of the bathroom floor.

On that basis, Thomas said that a footwear impression made by an orange Nike slider that police collected from a suitcase inside Washington’s apartment could only have been left by someone who had stepped close to Mosso’s body. There was not enough blood on the rest of the linoleum floor to have created that impression from stepping just inside the bathroom, he said.

Previous experts have testified that there was no blood found on the tops of the Nike sliders, however.

Thomas said he believed that based on the directionality and location of some of the bloodstains on the cabinets of the bathroom sink, the stains originated from Mosso’s final resting position in the opposite corner of the small bathroom.

On her cross-examination, defense attorney Angela Keck asked Thomas whether anyone positioned between the victim and the cabinets would have had blood on their clothes and shoes. Thomas said it was “definitely a possibility.”

The trial — which had been scheduled to last from Monday, Sept. 9, through Friday — will resume Monday morning. The state has not rested, though two witnesses for the defense already testified because of schedule complications.

photo by: Shutterstock Image

This Shutterstock photo shows a Nike Slide sandal for sale in a shop in Manchester, England, on May 30, 2019. Lawrence police seized a pair of Nike slide sandals from a suitcase inside the apartment of Rontarus Washington Jr. on Nov. 24, 2014. That pair had dark gray insoles, orange soles and thick orange straps with dark gray Nike logos.

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


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.