It took four years for police to arrest Nicholas Ortiz for a grisly triple-murder in El Rancho, New Mexico, but only 6 months to bring him to trial again after his first one ended in a mistrial.
On Father’s Day in 2011, a family of three – Lloyd Ortiz, 55, his wife Dixie Ortiz, 53, and their son Steven Ortiz, 21, who are not related to Nicholas – were savagely murdered with a mattock, a digging tool similar to a pickaxe. Four years later police arrested Nicholas Ortiz, 21, for the murders, but after a mistrial last June, he went on trial again Tuesday.
In the first trial, jurors deliberated for more than three days before telling Santa Fe District Court Judge Francis Mathew they were unable to reach a verdict in the case, after eight of the 12 jurors voted to convict Ortiz, who was only 16 at the time of the murders.
Cherie Ortiz-Rio, daughter of Lloyd and Dixie Ortiz told the Albuquerque Journal that her parents had treated Nicholas like family, and the teen lived with them for several months before leaving on acrimonious terms.
According to court testimony, Nicholas Ortiz stole from the family more than once, taking a .22 caliber gun and a water jug full of coins, and got kicked out by the family.
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Prosecutors say Ortiz, along with Jose Roybal, 15 at the time of the murders, and his cousin Ashley Roybal, 23 at the time of the murders, colluded to rob the Ortiz’s family home, hoping to steal money and marijuana.
Dan Marlowe, Ortiz’s attorney, told jurors the case against his client “is not quite as clean and quite as pure as the state would have you believe.”
There is no physical evidence tying Ortiz to the murders, Marlowe stated, and the case relies on the contradictory testimony of the Roybals.
According to the defense, Ashley Roybal supplied the murder weapon, a large, double-bladed mattock that belonged to her grandfather.
She dropped the two boys off outside the Ortiz home, and then, according to Deputy District Attorney Jason Lidyard, Jose “chickened out” and ran away, leaving Nicholas alone to commit the crime.
Lidyard described the murders, beginning with the death of Lloyd, who was killed in the yard, after he awoke to check on why the dogs were barking.
“In the dark, he is struck,” Lidyard said according to the Santa Fe New Mexican. “Across his head, across his body, by a pickaxe wielded by the defendant. And he is struck over and over again until he collapses under one of those evergreen trees.”
Next, according to Kidyard, Ortiz killed Dixie Ortiz in her bedroom as she slept, with two blows to the head.
Ortiz allegedly murdered Steven Ortiz – who fought for his life – last.
“He lay there on his parent’s floor, having sustained 21 injuries throughout his body, and the blood that once flowed so smoothly through his veins and arteries was spilling out onto his parents’ floor,” Lidyard said.
During the original trial, Jose Roybal testified that Ashley picked up Ortiz after the murders and took him back to her grandfather's house. He said Ortiz looked like he had “seen a ghost.”
Nicholas told him he’d been confronted by Steven Ortiz after leaving the bedroom and fought until he succumbed to several blows.
“Steven wouldn’t die,” Roybal quoted Ortiz as saying.
Roybal testified that he and Nicholas were part of a gang that called themselves “Sur Trece” ("South 13") a variant of the famous Southern California Sureños gang.
Marlowe attempted to cast doubt on the testimony of the Roybal cousins, whom he described as “best friends who like to smoke a lot,” and pointing out that each took plea deals to avoid being charged with murder.
Marlowe also told jurors that Jose Roybal said it was Ashley’s idea to murder the family, an allegation she denies. He also said that the cousins gave conflicting testimonies to police about whether or not Ortiz was covered in blood following the murders or simply had spots of blood on him.
“These are little things, but when you start adding them up, they get bigger,” Marlowe said, telling jurors that by the end of the retrial they would be asking themselves, “Wow! Who did this?”
Marlowe told reporters after the first trial that he believes Jose Roybal committed the murders, and suggested that Jose even threatened to kill the infant child of another cousin, Alyssa, if she “ratted” him out.
“He said, ‘You see that baby there? That baby will die for you if you’re a rat,’ ” Marlowe said, according to the Journal. “I mean, that’s pretty intimidating. He threatened Ashley, and he threatened [Alyssa], and he threatened everybody in the whole neighborhood at one point. He went out to the front of his porch and said that if anybody says anything about this, he said he’d take care of them."
The retrial is scheduled to last until Dec. 9.