The Border Patrol serial killer: The trial and sentencing

Texas Crime Stories: The trial and sentencing of Juan David Ortiz, the Border Patrol serial killer

Warning some details of this case are a bit graphic and may not be suitable for all ages. Listener and reader discretion is advised.

He took his authority for granted and calmly told investigators how he killed his four victims — Melissa Ramirez, Claudine Luera, Guiselda Cantu, and Janelle Ortiz.

Their names will never be forgotten and their families can be at peace knowing justice has been served.

The trial begins

Last year we told you about the case of former border patrol agent Juan David Ortiz, accused of murdering four women in 2017.

His trial took place in late November and into early December last year.

Webb County District Attorney Isidro Alaniz was the lead prosecutor and he laid out the state’s case, including revealing that the entire interview Ortiz had with deputies would be shown.

“You will hear from his own words, how he took each woman to their final resting place,” Alaniz said.

As for the defense, attorney Joel Perez said the state had it wrong.

Perez said Ortiz was suffering from PTSD, and numerous prescriptions prescribed to him by doctors were causing him problems and said he never willingly confessed to the murders.

The first witness to take the stand was the woman who broke the case, Erika Peña.

Erika Peña testifies

On the stand, Peña testified that she was a drug addict and prostitute in 2017 when she was picked up by Ortiz, someone she had met up with before as a client of hers.

Since her attack, Peña has been in and out of jail as well as rehab.

At the time of her testimony, she was on methadone to help with her sobriety and had been sober for 11 months.

Peña spoke about the night she was attacked, how she noticed Ortiz acting differently, and how he mentioned her friend Melissa Ramirez.

“All of a sudden he said he was afraid they would check his DNA because he was second-to-last to be with Melissa,” she said.

Peña went on to say, at this point, she felt uneasy and had a feeling that Ortiz was behind her friend’s murder.

She said she threw up and blamed it on not having much to eat for the day.

When Ortiz took her to get food at a nearby gas station, Peña said things took a turn for the worse.

“As soon as he took out the gun he just stared at me and didn’t say anything. I opened the door,” she said. “I took off running. I snapped.”

“You got out of the truck, you said, without your blouse?” one of the attorneys asked.

“Yea,” Peña replied.

“What happened to your blouse?” they questioned.

“I don’t know” she answered.

“How did you lose your blouse?” they pressed again.

“I don’t even know everything happened so fast,” Peña responded.

Peña ran straight to the DPS trooper who was putting gas in his unit. She was yelling for help.

It was then that police got the break they were looking for, but what they didn’t know, is that while they were looking for Ortiz, two more women would be killed.

Police didn’t know that until they finally arrested Ortiz and took him in for questioning.

Law enforcement questions Ortiz

Juan David Ortiz was found in the back of a pickup truck parked in a hotel parking garage on San Bernardo — the same road where he had picked up his victims.

At a Webb County Sheriff’s Office substation, Ortiz was read his Miranda Rights and said he didn’t know anything about any murdered women.

“I wanted to know if you know why you are here?” a law enforcement officer asked.

“No idea,” Ortiz answered.

“Can you explain what happened earlier at the gas station?” the officer asked.

“I don’t know,” Ortiz answered.

But then, after several hours, Ortiz asked for his handcuffs to be taken off and began to give in great detail the story of how he murdered each woman.

“I’m telling you to walk away and you aren’t listening to me, poom, poom, poom,” Ortiz said describing the sound of the gunshots. “Takes a few steps, poom, shot her one time.”

This interview was crucial for the state as Ortiz also gave his motive.

“I just wanted to clean up the streets if nobody is going to f**king do it,” Ortiz said.

The defense said Ortiz never granted permission for the interview and that investigators on the case didn’t take no for an answer when Ortiz told them he didn’t want to talk.

The verdict

After eight days of trial, the jury would then deliberate for more than five hours.

“We the jury find the defendant Juan David Ortiz guilty of the offense of capital murder as charged in the indictment and as instructed in this charge.”

Judge Oscar Hale then handed down a sentence.

“As you know, and I’m sure your attorneys have informed you, this charge of capital murder has an automatic sentence of life in prison without the possibility for parole,” Hale said.

Juan David Ortiz is now serving life without parole at a prison outside of Houston.

KSAT 12 News court reporter Erica Hernandez requested an interview after his trial, but he denied her request.

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About the Authors:

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.

Leigh Waldman is a news reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.