Detective testifies about conversations with homicide victim’s husband in Rontarus Washington Jr. murder case
photo by: Mackenzie Clark
A detective testified Tuesday about meetings with a homicide victim’s husband that, apparently, the defendants’ attorneys were never aware of in a case that’s been pending for six years.
Rontarus Washington Jr., 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 Altamirano Mosso’s husband, Felipe Cantu Ruiz, as a possible alternative suspect.
The jury hung after Washington’s four-week trial in September 2019. Prosecutors moved to retry him, but that has not yet happened because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has halted jury trials in Douglas County District Court at least through the end of January.
photo by: Contributed photos
In the fourth hearing on several motions the defense filed after the first trial, Detective David Garcia of the Lawrence Police Department testified about conversations and meetings with Cantu Ruiz, including one with the former chief assistant district attorney and a therapist from Centro Hispano.
Garcia testified that Cantu Ruiz had been concerned about coming to testify in court because of his immigration status, so Garcia and the prosecutor both suggested he seek a U visa, a special type of visa for crime victims and their family members.
Keck said she had never heard about this meeting before, and there were no reports about it in the case file. Garcia said he had neither notes nor recordings of that meeting, and he was unsure whether he would be able to find documentation of the date when it had occurred.
Garcia said there were also other times when he spoke with Cantu Ruiz that were not recorded or written up in reports, but that is common when he’s updating victims’ family members on the status of any case.
Prosecutor Alice Walker objected multiple times to Keck’s questioning, saying it went beyond what had been included in the written motions that were intended to put the prosecutors on notice so they could be prepared to counter in court.
photo by: Mackenzie Clark
Keck, however, argued that she can’t include what she doesn’t know in a motion, but that she thought the information she was learning during the hearing was pertinent to the defense’s accusation that potentially exculpatory information had been withheld from them. When Garcia testified that he had discussed immigration status with other witnesses, Keck said she was unaware of that, and that the defense would file another motion.
Washington was arrested Jan. 15, 2015. Garcia testified Tuesday that he had spoken with Cantu Ruiz at that time, and Garcia had asked Cantu Ruiz whether he had paid Washington to kill Altamirano Mosso. In response to Keck’s question about that conversation, Garcia said that Cantu Ruiz was not considered a suspect at that time, but he wanted to cover all his bases.
Cantu Ruiz testified for several hours during Washington’s first trial, but he was never asked whether he paid Washington or anyone else to kill his wife.
On cross-examination, Garcia told Walker that he did not believe Cantu Ruiz had given him any potentially exculpatory evidence during the conversations that he did not document. However, on further questioning from Keck, he said he couldn’t define “exculpatory evidence” off the top of his head.
photo by: Mackenzie Clark
At the conclusion of Tuesday’s hearing, Chief Judge James McCabria suggested a possible start date for the second trial, anticipated to take four weeks: Sept. 27, almost two years after the jury hung in Washington’s first trial.
Among pretrial matters that still need to be addressed before then are hearings on the qualifications of new expert witnesses and further testimony regarding the defense motion to dismiss the case for prosecutorial error. Keck herself is slated to take the witness stand regarding evidence that Hall said was not turned over to the defense. The next hearing is scheduled for the afternoon of Feb. 8.
Washington spent more than five years in custody of the Douglas County Jail before his bond was reduced to $500,000 cash or surety and he was released on electronic monitoring July 1, 2020. McCabria modified the bond to $500,000 own-recognizance with pretrial supervision last month to spare Washington the expense of more than $300 a month for an ankle monitor through the private bond company. Defendants in other Douglas County cases do not have to pay for the same type of monitoring through the county’s pretrial supervision program.
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More coverage: Rontarus Washington Jr. case
• Sept. 11, 2020: Motions hearing dates set in Rontarus Washington Jr.’s case
• Aug. 31, 2020: Prosecutor withdraws from Rontarus Washington Jr. murder case
• 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 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
• Sept. 5, 2019: Lawrence murder case, pending since 2014, set for trial next week
• Nov. 25, 2015: Cedarwood homicide victim buried in Mexico
• Nov. 10, 2014: Police investigating possible homicide at Cedarwood apartments