A San Antonio jury this week convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole the Border Patrol agent turned serial killer who in 2018 murdered four women. Their names were Melissa Ramirez, Claudine Anne Luera, Guiselda Alicia Cantu, and Janelle Ortiz, a transgender woman. A fifth woman, Erika Peña, narrowly escaped being killed by the former border agent.
Numerous outlets report that jurors heard recordings of Juan David Ortiz, a decade-long Customs and Border Protection (CBP) supervisor and military veteran, confessing and describing his victims—all of whom were sex workers he had patronized as a customer—as “trash.” The former border agent claimed that he wanted to “clean up the streets” in Laredo. Following an eight-day trial, jurors convicted the former border agent of capital murder.
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“Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty at the request of victims’ families,” The Washington Post reported. “One relative had told Webb County District Attorney Isidro R. ‘Chilo’ Alaniz that death would have been ‘letting him off too easy,’ the Laredo Morning Times reported.” Jurors during the trial heard chilling testimony from Peña, the lone person to survive the former border agent’s 10-day killing spree.
Peña testified that she ran for her life from Ortiz’s truck after he pointed a gun at her. The Associated Press reports that Peña had initially gotten “a bad feeling when he told her he was the ‘next to last person’ to have sex with Ramirez, whose body had been found a week earlier.” Peña’s relatives told Spanish-language outlets in 2018 that the woman ran screaming from the truck. It was Peña who brought the former border agent to the attention of authorities, no doubt saving further lives.
"Yes, to others she is a hero,” said her aunt Marcela Rodriguez, “but it doesn't take away the fact that she was also a victim in this tragedy. She is a survivor but she is going through serious trauma.”
Law enforcement officers who testified during the trial said that the former border agent had confessed to killing Ramirez, Luera, and Cantu, and that he had attacked Peña. But he also confessed to a fourth killing that they apparently didn’t even know about. That victim was Janelle Ortiz. “’He volunteered information about a fourth body that nobody knew about,’ Webb County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Federico Calderon testified, according to the Morning Times,” The Washington Post continued. “’If he hadn’t told us, we may never have found her.’”
The Washington Post reports that the former border agent had apparently hoped to be killed in shootout with authorities, but in the end was taken into custody alive. Now he’ll be among the few border agents who’ve actually been held accountable for their horrific crimes. Alaniz had previously claimed Ortiz was “not a reflection of Border Patrol,” but it is simply a fact that federal immigration agencies like CBP are rife with misogyny, violence, and death.
They make no secret of this. In fact they put it all out there in the open, like when a former Border Patrol chief made a rape threat over Twitter to Jenn Budd, a former border agent turned whistleblower who was sexually assaulted while training at the agency’s academy in the 1990s. She received the threat from Rodney Scott after criticizing the agency’s abuses of Haitian migrants at Del Rio last year. But despite a judge calling Scott’s tweet to Budd a “classic” rape threat, her request for a restraining order was not granted. VICE reported that Scott had tweeted to Budd to “[l]ean back, close your eyes and just enjoy the show.”
Ortiz had targeted his victims because he believed they didn't matter, and because he believed that, he thought others would too. Melissa Ramirez, Claudine Anne Luera, Guiselda Alicia Cantu, and Janelle Ortiz mattered. They leave behind grieving loved ones and friends who continue to try to pick up the pieces.
“Do you know how much pain you have caused this family?” a Ramirez family member said in courtroom remarks reported by KSAT. “I hate you for what you did and I can never forgive you, nor do I think God will. You deserve to suffer in prison and go to hell.” Luera’s daughter said that what the former border agent did to her mother “is a horrible thing,” the report continued. “You will be long forgotten in our memories and locked up until you die.”
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