Jury convicts Ortiz of murder
A Mesa County jury needed nearly seven hours Friday to return guilty verdicts on all counts, including first-degree murder, in connection with the slaying of 31-year-old Abel Roper last spring in Clifton.
Julio Ortiz, 30, gazed at the floor as District Judge Brian Flynn announced guilty verdicts about 8:30 p.m. for first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault, second-degree assault, criminal trespass, criminal mischief and conspiracy to commit tampering with physical evidence.
Flynn ordered Ortiz held without bond pending a sentencing hearing on April 12. With the first-degree murder conviction, the sentence isn’t in doubt: Life without parole in prison.
Hellbent on chasing down Roper after a high-speed car crash on Interstate 70 in the pre-dawn hours of March 1, 2012, prosecutors argued Julio inflicted 13 stab wounds on Roper’s chest and leg in a melee at a Clifton trailer park, then worked to cover it up and ensure the silence of his older brother, 31-year-old Jose Ortiz.
The defense argued Julio had no motive for murder in a case built largely on two shaky witnesses, including Jose, whose testimony was “bought and paid for,” public defender Steve Colvin told the jury.
Roper, a Fruita resident, was found dead on the pavement with his right arm extended into the open driver-side door of his still-running pickup when Mesa County sheriff’s deputies were called just before 7 a.m. March 1, 2012, to Pioneer Village mobile home park, 3195 F Road.
Evidence suggested a wounded Roper tried to climb underneath his truck to flee the violence before bleeding out.
Both sides in the case agree the slaying was spillover from a fight over a girl involving Roper and Jose earlier that night at Cruisers, 715 Horizon Drive. The fight escalated with an intoxicated Roper pursuing and colliding with a vehicle occupied by both Ortiz brothers and a third man, Timothy Hanson.
Hanson, facing his own charges of third-degree assault and criminal trespassing in the case, testified during the trial that he and his friends had boxed in Roper after he’d crashed his truck in the Pioneer Village mobile home park. Witnesses heard yelling, tires peeling out and a man crying “help me” about 2 a.m.
Hanson admitted approaching from the driver’s side of Roper’s truck and hitting him. He said Jose assaulted Roper simultaneously from the passenger side. Roper was apologizing as he was being pummeled, according to testimony.
Hanson also said he saw a knife on Julio, while telling the jury he didn’t have one. Jose also testified he wasn’t armed.
Hanson, while saying he never saw Julio stab Roper, recalled the younger Ortiz being on the driver’s side of Roper’s truck. Hanson told the jury Julio stabbed and punctured the driver’s side rear tire of the truck as he walked away.
DNA confirmed Roper’s blood on the inside of the flattened tire—a possible “squeegee” effect from a bloody knife, according to testimony. The science corroborates Hanson’s story, Chief Deputy District Attorney Trish Mahre told the jury.
Jose, meanwhile, who said he was “afraid” of his younger brother, told the jury in tearful testimony he believed Julio had stabbed Roper.
Julio’s correspondence with his brother after they were arrested also implicates him, the prosecution argued.
“What if we both say it was T?,” a reference to Tim Hanson.
“We both walk out,” the note concludes.
In another writing, Julio tells his brother, “If you get a chance to disappear, I suggest you do that.”
“Julio Ortiz had a trial strategy, but the problem is Jose refused to go along with it and finger a man he knew didn’t commit murder,” Deputy District Attorney Bo Zeerip told the jury.
Colvin, meanwhile, mocked prosecution statements during the trial of “no deals, no promises,” relating to pending criminal cases against Jose and Hanson. The prosecution has said both men will receive consideration for truthful testimony during Julio’s trial.
“Jose’s testimony is bought and paid for,” Colvin told jurors, questioning why the older brother is similarly charged by the District Attorney’s Office with first-degree murder if prosecutors don’t believe he was wielding a knife on March 1, 2012.
“How much leverage do you need to get a man to roll on his brother?” Colvin asked.
Colvin noted his client was home, in bed, when the original brawl at Cruisers happened between Jose and Roper. The younger Ortiz drove to the bar to pick up his brother, while testimony indicated Jose called his brother to “even out the numbers.”
Colvin questioned the motive for murder. “You do not stab someone 13 times as a lark,” he said. “That’s rage.”
Colvin also asked the jury to remember the case of Robert Dewey, the man who was wrongfully convicted of a Palisade murder in 1996 before DNA proved his innocence and freed him last year.
“The only person who got the presumption of innocence in this case was Tim Hanson,” he said.