Detective testifies about conversations with homicide victim’s husband in Rontarus Washington Jr. murder case

photo by: Mackenzie Clark

Rontarus Washington Jr., center, listens to the judge speak during a hearing in his court case on Jan. 19. 2021. At left and right, respectively, are defense attorneys Angela Keck and Adam Hall.

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

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

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

Defense attorney Angela Keck questions a witness during a motions hearing in the case of her client, Rontarus Washington Jr., on Jan. 19, 2021.

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

Senior Assistant District Attorney Alice Walker questions a witness during a motions hearing in the case of State v. Rontarus Washington Jr., on Jan. 19, 2021.

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

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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