DALLAS - A U.S. Border Patrol agent has been charged with capital murder after telling investigators he killed four sex workers whom he considered worthless and that he thought he was performing a service for his Texas border hometown, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
Webb County District Attorney Isidro Alaniz said he will seek the death penalty if Juan David Ortiz is found guilty in the September slayings.
"The scheme in this case, from Ortiz's own words, was to clean up the streets of Laredo by targeting this community of individuals who he perceived to be disposable, that no one would miss and that he did not give value to," Alaniz said at a news conference. Ortiz, 35, thought he was doing his civic service by killing the women, the prosecutor said.
A suspect can be charged with capital murder if he is suspected in more than one killing in the same scheme with an overarching motive, Alaniz said. Three of the women were shot to death and one died of blunt force trauma.
"The evidence that was presented to the grand jury this morning showed that he killed these four innocent individuals in a cold, callous and calculating way," he said.
Alaniz said the horrific nature of the killings and Ortiz's vigilante mentality were factors in his decision to pursue the death penalty. Ortiz, who has been held in Webb County jail on a $2.5 million bond since his Sept. 15 arrest in Laredo, presents a clear danger to society, he said.
The Border Patrol intel supervisor and Navy veteran seemed to be living a typical suburban life with his wife and two children when the killings occurred. After the first slaying, Ortiz continued going to work as usual. He was only arrested after one victim was able to escape him and asked a state trooper for help.
"By day, he was a family man. The evidence shows that he was a supervisor, that he would go about his daily activities like anybody here. He appeared normal by all accounts and circumstances," Alaniz said. "At the nighttime, he was somebody else - hunting the streets ... for this community of people and arbitrarily deciding who he was going to kill next.''
Authorities have said Ortiz knew some of the victims and that he targeted them for their vulnerability. Melissa Ramirez, 29, was slain on Sept. 3, and 42-year-old Claudine Luera was killed on Sept. 13.
On Sept. 14, he picked up another woman, Erika Pena, who told investigators that Ortiz acted oddly when she brought up Ramirez's slaying and later pointed a gun at her in a gas station, according to court documents. Pena said Ortiz grabbed her shirt as she tried to get out of his truck, but she pulled it off and ran, finding a state trooper who was refueling his vehicle.
Ortiz fled and, he later told investigators, he then picked up and killed his last two victims - 35-year-old Guiselda Alicia Cantu and 28-year-old Janelle Ortiz, a transgender woman whose birth name was Humberto Ortiz.
With Pena's help, authorities were able to track Ortiz to a hotel parking garage where he was arrested.
Ortiz was also charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and unlawful restraint in the attack on Pena, and evading arrest or detention.