A Mendota man will stand trial on a charge of murder plus a charge related to allegedly using Facebook to dissuade a witness from testifying against him, a judge ruled this week in Fresno County Superior Court.
Judge Arlan Harrell made his decision Monday after a witness testified she was with Juan Castro Ortiz, 41, when he fatally shot 52-year-old Jose DeJesus Fuentes-Martinez along a canal bank west of Firebaugh in May 2015. The witness was identified in court, but The Bee isn’t naming her because of the charge against Ortiz of witness intimidation.
Because the alleged killing was in the commission of a robbery, Ortiz faces life in prison without parole if convicted, prosecutor Deborah Miller said.
The witness who testified Monday was one of two witnesses who told sheriff’s detectives they saw Ortiz shoot the victim with a gun that had a banana clip. The other witness, Joanna Solorio Maya, never made it to the witness stand. She was hacked to death on July 13, 2016, outside an apartment complex in Mendota. Her murder remains unsolved.
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The case is unusual because Ortiz, who has been in custody since his arrest on May 30, 2015, has two Facebook accounts that remain active today: Juan Ortiz and Juan C. Ortiz Poet. The last post on the Juan Ortiz account was Sept. 22. The last post on the other account was June 15.
It is not known who has been updating Ortiz’s Facebook pages. Prosecutors contend in court papers that Ortiz’s sister, Sylvia Castro Garcia, published threats on her brother’s Facebook pages that put the witness’ life in jeopardy and likely led to the killing of Maya.
In March 2017, Garcia was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading no contest to a felony charge of conspiring with her brother to dissuade the witness from testifying against Ortiz.
Ortiz’s case has been delayed for years because he is mentally ill and has spent months in Atascadero State Hospital, court records show.
In court on Monday, the witness trembled and wiped tears from her eyes as she testified against Ortiz. “I’m scared,” she told Harrell.
She said she is fearful of Ortiz because his Facebook post has shown a photograph of her and her children and listed her telephone number and address.
In another post on Ortiz’s Facebook page, he identifies the witness by her name and says she blamed Ortiz “for a murder he didn’t even do.”
“He called me a snitch,” the witness testified Monday.
On the witness stand, she gave this account:
On May 29, 2015, Ortiz agreed to give Fuentes-Martinez a ride to Dos Palos. Maya and the other woman joined the men. For the trip, they bought beer.
On the way, Fuentes-Martinez asked Ortiz to pull over in a secluded area so he could urinate. As Fuentes-Martinez was getting out of the cab of Ortiz’s pickup, Maya complained that Fuentes-Martinez had touched her breasts. Maya and Fuentes-Martinez then began to fist fight.
The witness recalled hearing Ortiz say: “Man, I have to save her.”
She testified Ortiz got a gun from his truck and pointed it at Fuentes-Martinez. Ortiz then demanded Fuentes-Martinez’s wallet. But the victim refused and challenged Ortiz to a fight.
Instead of fighting, Ortiz said, “Do you think I am playing?” before shooting Fuentes-Martinez once in the chest. Afterward, Ortiz drove Maya and the other witness back to Mendota, where he ordered them to clean the inside of his truck with a cleaning solution, she testified.
The woman testified that she sent a text message to friend to come and pick her and Maya up. She said she sent the message because she feared that Ortiz was “going to kill all of us.”
The friend was able to rescue her and Maya, she testified. The woman later talked to a sheriff’s deputy who took her to the canal bank where the body of Fuentes-Martinez was found, she said.