COVID-19 precautions, ‘technical difficulties’ hinder public access to court hearing in Lawrence murder case

photo by: Mackenzie Clark/Journal-World File Photo

In this Journal-World file photo from Sept. 27, 2019, Rontarus Washington Jr., center, is pictured next to this defense attorneys, Angela Keck and Adam Hall.

Updated at 5:44 p.m. Monday

The public had no access to a court hearing for a defendant in a long-pending Lawrence murder case on Monday, but a transcript was posted on the court’s website by the end of the day.

Rontarus Washington Jr., 24, attended court for a bond hearing Monday morning with his defense attorneys, Adam Hall and Angela Keck. Washington has been charged with first-degree murder and aggravated burglary in connection with the November 2014 death of a neighbor in his apartment complex, 19-year-old Justina Altamirano Mosso.

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit Kansas, in-person court proceedings have been limited. In Douglas County District Court, hearings that do occur in person have generally been limited solely to parties who had to be present; supporters have not been allowed entry. The court has created a YouTube page where public hearings are being livestreamed as an alternative.

About 30 to 35 of Washington’s supporters gathered outside the downtown Judicial and Law Enforcement Center during the hearing. They raised concerns about no one being allowed inside the courtroom, including Washington’s mother, particularly when an audio glitch made it impossible to hear what was happening on the YouTube livestream. The Journal-World was also denied entry.

Chief Judge James McCabria said via email Monday that he was “most irritated at the technical difficulties” with the livestream. The court had its vendor check the microphones in McCabria’s division on Friday, but he didn’t know the details, he said.

However, the court reporter who was present could have a transcript by Tuesday, and they will likely post the transcript to the court website, McCabria said. It was finished ahead of schedule and posted online at around 5 p.m. Monday.

Washington, who waived his right to a speedy trial and spent about five years and three months in jail in the pending case, was released on $500,000 surety bond on July 1. McCabria lowered the bond amount from $750,000, and community fundraising efforts raised the necessary $50,000 to bail him out the same day. The jury hung in October 2019 after Washington’s first trial, and with concerns about COVID-19, it is still unclear when a retrial will be possible.

McCabria said Monday that he added a bond condition that Washington not associate with any person with pending felony cases. He also modified bond to allow Washington to have contact with one of his relatives.

The hearing’s main purpose was to schedule upcoming motions deadlines and hearing dates. Washington’s next court hearing is set for Sept. 11.

“That date was selected based off the State’s representation that the (Kansas Bureau of Investigation) testing should be completed within 60 days,” McCabria wrote. Prosecutors and the defense have requested additional DNA testing in the long-pending case.

As the Journal-World has reported, the defense team has requested further testing of scrapings from under Altamirano Mosso’s fingernails and a towel with red-brown staining that was found with items believed to belong to Altamirano Mosso’s husband. The towel was not tested for the presence of blood or DNA, investigators previously testified.

The state has requested further testing of a swab of a kitchen cabinet in the apartment where Washington was living at the time of Altamirano Mosso’s death. The swab indicated the presence of blood, but the test sample did not contain DNA sufficient for comparison, a KBI lab expert previously testified.

Contact Mackenzie Clark

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

More coverage: Rontarus Washington Jr. case

July 1, 2020: Judge modifies bond to $500K for murder defendant, who is released the same day after 5 years in jail

June 30, 2020: State argues against bond reduction for long-jailed murder defendant Washington, notes that all 11 delays have been at defendant’s request

June 12, 2020: Rontarus Washington Jr., jailed 5 years on suspicion of Lawrence murder, to receive new bond hearing; defense alleges misconduct by state

May 4, 2020: DNA testing challenges due to COVID-19 further delay long-pending Lawrence murder case

March 22, 2020: Speedy trial rights are on hold in Kansas. What does that mean for defendants?

March 6, 2020: Retrial date set for Rontarus Washington Jr. in 2014 Lawrence murder case

Feb. 28, 2020: Rontarus Washington Jr. defense pursues independent lab to avoid alleged KBI bias in Lawrence murder case

Feb. 24, 2020: Rontarus Washington Jr.’s retrial date still pending in Lawrence murder case; DNA testing timeline uncertain

Feb. 3, 2020: Rontarus Washington Jr., in jail 5 years in pending Lawrence murder case, will wait longer as defense requests more DNA testing

After the trial — Oct. 7, 2019: In Lawrence murder trial deliberations, majority of jurors flipped votes from not guilty to guilty; new trial scheduled

September 2019 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

Before trial

Sept. 5, 2019: Lawrence murder case, pending since 2014, set for trial next week

March 19, 2019: Last-minute access to victim’s phone prompts another delay for murder trial of Lawrence man now jailed 4-plus years

Feb. 21, 2019: 4 years after slaying, Lawrence homicide victim’s phone may finally be unlocked

Dec. 28, 2018: Defense continues dissecting evidence in murder case against man arrested 4 years ago

Dec. 23, 2018: Citing alleged missteps in 30-year-old New York case, defense lawyer demands coroner be barred from 2 Lawrence murder trials

Oct. 17, 2018: Trial now set to begin 4 years after man’s arrest in slaying of woman at Cedarwood Apartments

June 1, 2018: Douglas County Jail’s longest-serving inmate asks for murder trial to be delayed again

Nov. 19, 2017: Psychologists fill in picture of man accused of violently stabbing young Lawrence woman to death

Oct. 23, 2017: Mental competency evaluation for Cedarwood Apartments murder suspect done, but disputed

May 16, 2017: Competency evaluation ordered for man accused in 2014 Cedarwood Apartments slaying

Sept. 4, 2015: Homicide victim’s husband recounts ‘bad’ relationship with wife; man charged in death bound over for trial

Sept. 3, 2015: Coroner: November stabbing death of Lawrence woman, 19, was ‘overkill,’ ‘personal’

April 20, 2015: Homicide victim’s ex ordered to appear at preliminary hearing; affidavit sheds more light on the killing

March 16, 2015: Lawrence man charged with murder in death of woman at Cedarwood apartments

Jan. 16, 2015: Mississippi officials unsure when homicide suspect may have extradition hearing; accused was victim’s neighbor

Jan. 15, 2015: Man arrested in connection with November murder of 19-year-old Lawrence woman

Dec. 2, 2014: Police: Still no arrest in woman’s homicide, language barrier an added hurdle to investigation

Nov. 25, 2015: Cedarwood homicide victim buried in Mexico

Nov. 18, 2014: Police identify homicide victim at Cedarwood Apartments as 19-year-old woman

Nov. 11, 2014: No arrests, suspects in Cedarwood possible homicide; investigators remain on scene

Nov. 10, 2014: Police investigating possible homicide at Cedarwood apartments


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.