SAN ANTONIO — The trial of former Border Patrol agent Juan David Ortiz begins Monday in San Antonio. He is accused of murdering four women in Laredo in 2018.
The trial was set for Bexar County after a change of venue from Webb County and the Laredo area. Ortiz is facing four counts of murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and unlawful restraint.
Authorities called Ortiz a rogue agent and a serial killer who they say preyed on some of the most vulnerable members of the community.
Ortiz was a 10-year veteran of the Border Patrol and an intel supervisor. Webb County investigators said Ortiz targeted women who shared a similar profile. They were all shot, and their bodies were dumped in remote areas of the city.
Erika Peña testified before the court, recounting her history with the defendant, in particular the day of Sept. 14, 2018, when she felt something was off about his behavior. By this time, Peña was aware of law enforcement's discovery of bodies in Webb County.
"Nobody knew who it was. Everyone, all the girls were watching their backs," Peña said.
Peña afforded her heroin addiction by making money through prostitution. Ortiz became one of Peña's clients who helped fuel her possession of illegal drugs. Peña said she knew Ortiz for at least five months and considered him a friend.
During her Sept 14. gathering with Ortiz, she noticed he was acting nervous. She said an "inner voice" told her to escape the situation.
"I just felt scared and nauseous. I just got this feeling...That maybe he was the one that had been murdering," Peña said.
Peña demonstrated how Ortiz pointed a gun at her head while in his white pickup truck.
"I took off running, I snapped," Peña said.
DPS Trooper Francisco Hernandez also testified, guiding the jury through body-cam video of his interaction with Peña who ran away from Ortiz.
Defense attorney Joel Perez opened with criticisms of the criminal investigation and supposed illegal searches of Ortiz' vehicle. He noted the former Border Patrol agent was coerced into confessing.
"He's broken, he's suicidal, he wants his family taken care of. He doesn't know where he's going to go and he starts saying there I did it," Perez said. "No one can come in here and tell you beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Ortiz is the trigger man with that firearm that killed these women.”
Webb County District Attorney Isidro Alaniz described Ortiz’s motive as a “vigilante,” and “seeking to clean up the streets” of Laredo by randomly targeting a community associated with drugs and prostitution.
“It’s a vulnerable community, a community that is defenseless and that has little to no credibility,” Alaniz said.
Investigators said Ortiz knew the victims. The first victim was Melissa Ramirez, 29, who was found on Sept. 3, 2018. Ten days later, the body of Claudine Luera, 42, was discovered about two miles from Ramirez’s location. Humberto “Janelle” Ortiz, 28, and Guiselda Cantu were found around the time that a fifth woman allegedly escaped from Ortiz’s custody and flagged down a Texas state trooper.
According to affidavits, Ortiz "provided a voluntary verbal confession" in the deaths of the women.