Juror dismissed from trial of ex-Border Patrol agent after fainting while autopsy photos are shown

Medical examiner who was testifying checked out the juror; Juan David Ortiz on trial in Bexar County for capital murder on change of venue

SAN ANTONIO – A juror in the capital murder trial of an ex-Border Patrol agent was dismissed Monday after fainting while graphic autopsy photos were shown to the jury.

Juror dismissed, replaced with alternate

The male juror fainted moments after Webb County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Corinne Stern took the witness stand in Day 6 of the trial of Juan David Ortiz.

As Stern was describing an autopsy photo, the juror fainted. Since the incident happened close to noon, the rest of the jury was dismissed for a lunch break.

Stern ended up examining the juror, who was OK. Judge Oscar Hale dismissed the juror for the remainder of the trial and replaced him with an alternate juror.

WATCH: Highlights from Day 6 of Juan David Ortiz trial

Stern testified that the four slain women were killed by “large caliber bullets,” and some had defense wounds.

“She probably held her arm up across her face,” Stern said.

Stern added that the women, who have been described as prostitutes, had a combination of heroin and Xanax in their system.

Before Stern’s testimony, two prosecution witnesses testified about evidence collected in the murder cases.

Deputy and investigators testify

Webb County Deputy Brandon Stern told jurors about bullet fragments from a 40-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol he collected from the crime scene off the access road at Interstate 35 and the 22-mile marker.

Jose Ugarte, who was a Webb County Sheriff’s Office crime scene investigator at the time of the slayings, testified about bullet fragments he recovered from the same pistol at 500 Jefferies Road, where the body of Claudine Luera was found. Ugarte also told jurors that he collected her cellphone, a purse, and a metal pipe at the scene.

Defense attorney Joel Perez objected to the prosecution presenting the collection evidence, claiming relevance and chain of custody, saying that Ugarte couldn’t prove that the DPS Crime Lab put one of the items back in a bag. The judge denied the objection.

Texas Ranger EJ Salinas, one of the two lead investigators in the case, finished the day’s proceedings by testifying about various aspects of the case, including Ortiz’s confession that jurors saw in the interrogation video.

Salinas told jurors that he conducted more than 60 interviews in the case and took more than a dozen photos. He acknowledged that investigators never secured search warrants for homes, vehicles and cellphones in connection with the case because they were always given consent to conduct the searches.

He also testified that two tips helped them in two of the slayings.

What’s next in the trial

If convicted of capital murder, Ortiz faces an automatic life sentence in prison without parole because prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty.

Testimony will resume at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. KSAT 12 will stream the entire proceedings, from gavel to gavel. Learn more about this case by watching KSAT’s exclusive “Open Court: The Trial of Juan David Ortiz on KSAT.com, KSAT Plus or on KSAT’s YouTube channel.

More trial coverage:


About the Authors:

David Ibañez has been managing editor of KSAT.com since the website's launch in October 2000.

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with15 years of experience in the broadcast news business. Erica has covered a wide array of stories all over Central and South Texas. She's currently the court reporter and cohost of the podcast Texas Crime Stories.