Defense says judge should dismiss Washington murder case because of alleged misconduct; prosecutors say allegations lack evidence and trial should proceed

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Left to right, Rontarus Washington Jr. sits with his defense attorneys, Adam Hall and Angela Keck, on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, in Douglas County District Court.

Defense attorneys for Rontarus Washington Jr. alleged at a hearing on Friday that witness tampering and other prosecutorial misconduct were so rife that the possibility of a fair trial for Washington was destroyed and that the murder case against him should be dismissed.

However, state prosecutors said those allegations were based on suspicions rather than evidence and that the defense’s motion to dismiss was frivolous.

Washington, 24, is charged with first-degree murder and aggravated burglary in connection with the November 2014 death of his neighbor, 19-year-old Justina Altamirano Mosso. Washington’s attorneys, Adam Hall and Angela Keck, have suggested Mosso’s estranged husband, Felipe Cantu Ruiz, as a possible alternative suspect.

A jury could not agree on a verdict after Washington’s four-week trial in September 2019. A second trial has been scheduled to begin Sept. 27.

The defense has alleged numerous prosecutorial errors and issues, including that the prosecution failed to disclose information about two witnesses that affected their credibility; failed to disclose potentially exculpatory information; tampered with witnesses, affecting the willingness of some to cooperate with the defense; and appeared to have had a “quid pro quo” with the estranged husband as part of its effort to convict Washington of the crime, as the Journal-World has previously reported. The defense attorneys have filed a motion to dismiss the case due to prosecutorial error or to disqualify the prosecutor.

On Friday, in the sixth hearing on several motions the defense filed after the first trial, the defense and prosecution made their final arguments to Douglas County District Court Chief Judge James McCabria regarding the motions. While speaking about the alleged witness tampering, Keck argued that the prosecution’s actions had left the defense without access to key witnesses and “totally obliterated” its ability to make its case.

“That has now tainted the case forever for any retrial, and that’s why we are asking for a dismissal,” Keck said.

In that alleged incident of witness tampering, the defense argued that, acting on orders from former prosecutor CJ Rieg, Detective David Garcia of the Lawrence Police Department took several of the Spanish-speaking witnesses to a conference room in the DA’s office on the first day of trial and that afterward those witnesses would no longer meet with the defense. Keck said because of the alleged witness tampering, the quid pro quo, and the other errors and omissions made by the prosecution, including disclosure of statements made by some of the victim’s family that they believed Cantu Ruiz was involved in the murder, it was not possible to get the “unbiased actual truth” about the case.

In the prosecution’s closing arguments, Deputy District Attorney David Melton reiterated that there was no evidence of a quid pro quo and that meeting notes and other records requested by the defense to potentially support such an agreement were not provided because they did not exist. He said that if the state failed to provide information that the defense thought affected the credibility of witnesses, it was not intentional or malicious. Melton said the comment that the victim’s family believed Cantu Ruiz was involved in the murder was a “30-second hallway conversation” that did not qualify as exculpatory information.

Regarding the incident with the Spanish-speaking witnesses, Melton said that they were only taken to the conference room to prevent them from having to wait in the hallway with jurors and others. He said Garcia, who speaks Spanish, was only there to help facilitate communication and not as a “show of force,” as claimed by the defense. In all issues, he said the remedy was not to dismiss the case, but to retry it.

“Regardless of what the court finds, the remedy is a new trial, which the defendant is receiving,” Melton said.

The next hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday. At that hearing, which is expected to be under an hour and to take place via Zoom, a discussion regarding procedures for retesting some footwear evidence will continue and a date will be set for the judge to rule on the pretrial motions, including the motion to dismiss the case.

More coverage: Rontarus Washington Jr. case

Feb. 8, 2021: Defense alleges prosecution had a ‘quid pro quo’ for testimony in murder case; prosecutors say there is no evidence

Jan. 19, 2021: Detective testifies about conversations with homicide victim’s husband in Rontarus Washington Jr. murder case

Nov. 13, 2020: Attorney testifies that he told prosecutor ‘you’ve got the wrong guy’ in murder case — but admits he provided no concrete evidence

Oct. 9, 2020: Prosecutors, defense counsel argue about alleged ‘bad acts’ of Lawrence homicide victim’s husband in Rontarus Washington Jr. case

Sept. 11, 2020: Motions hearing dates set in Rontarus Washington Jr.’s case

Sept. 6, 2020: Breaking down the case of Rontarus Washington Jr., charged in 2014 Lawrence murder: FAQs and the latest motions

Aug. 31, 2020: Prosecutor withdraws from Rontarus Washington Jr. murder case

July 13, 2020: COVID-19 precautions, ‘technical difficulties’ hinder public access to court hearing in Lawrence murder 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


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