Retrial date set for Rontarus Washington Jr. in 2014 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.

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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