Retrial date set for Rontarus Washington Jr. in 2014 Lawrence murder case
photo by: Mackenzie Clark/Journal-World File Photo
A retrial date was set Friday for Rontarus Washington Jr., who is coming up on five years in custody of the Douglas County Jail.
Washington, 23, is charged with first-degree murder in connection with the Nov. 7, 2014, death of 19-year-old Justina Altamirano Mosso, who was his neighbor at Lawrence’s Cedarwood Apartments. The case has moved slowly because of various complications, primarily as new evidence has been sought or become available.
Washington’s first four-week-long trial ended with a hung jury on Oct. 4, 2019. His retrial is now set to start on Aug. 17 — close to 11 months after the first began.
photo by: Contributed photos
His defense attorneys, Adam Hall and Angela Keck, have requested that further DNA testing be completed on scrapings from underneath the victim’s fingernails prior to the retrial. They have also found an independent lab to complete the testing because the Kansas Bureau of Investigation has shown an “obvious bias” against Washington, they said at a hearing last week.
On Friday, the defense added one more item to be tested for DNA: a white towel that showed red-brown staining. The towel was found — along with some other items belonging to Altamirano Mosso’s estranged husband, Felipe Cantu Ruiz — in the car Cantu Ruiz used to return to Lawrence from a short stay in Manhattan.
The defense has pointed to Cantu Ruiz as a possible alternative perpetrator. However, Chief Assistant District Attorney CJ Rieg presented photos and other evidence at Washington’s first trial that showed Cantu Ruiz was likely en route to Manhattan at the time investigators believe Altamirano Mosso was killed. Cantu Ruiz testified that he had planned to move there and get a fresh start when Altamirano Mosso allegedly had an affair and the couple’s marriage had come to an end.
photo by: Richard Gwin
According to testimony from the first trial, the towel was never tested for the presence of blood or DNA. All of the additional testing will likely take about six weeks once the lab receives the evidence, Hall said.
Douglas County District Court Chief Judge James McCabria said that considering the nature of the defense, he thought the request was legitimate.
Washington was booked into the Douglas County Jail on March 16, 2015, the Journal-World previously reported. He had been held in custody in Mississippi awaiting extradition prior to that. He is being held on $750,000 cash or surety bond. His next court date is set for May.
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More coverage: Rontarus Washington Jr. case
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• Day 4 — Sept. 12, 2019: Cousin testifies about last time she saw Lawrence murder victim alive
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