Ortiz guilty of first-degree murder

The first defendant to go to trial in the 2019 Shooting death of Edward Ross has been found guilty of first-degree murder and attempted armed robbery.

A 12-person jury returned the verdict against Abel Ortiz, 19, Wednesday evening after about four and a half hours of deliberation. Circuit Court Judge Shonna Young Gay set sentencing for Aug. 15.

Five people are charged in the case. Two defendants have entered pleas and both testified against Ortiz. Two others are awaiting trial.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Prosecutor Mark Graham told jurors in in his closing argument. “And I’ve never had a case where I had not one, not two, but three confessions from the defendant. If you look at the admissions, this defendant admitted to intimate details of this crime. How would he know, it wasn’t out to the public? Because he was there.”

Graham and Prosecutor Frank Sullivan presented evidence and testimony showing that Ortiz agreed to participate in a plan to rob Ross, 30, in his home on Dec. 29, 2019. What started as a planned robbery “went south,” according to testimony, and the victim was shot multiple times.

The victim’s father testified he was at his Sunset Drive home when three armed men burst through the door looking for his son. When the victim, unarmed, walked down the hall toward them to see who was
there, the gunmen opened fire.

Witnesses said Ortiz fired a number of those shots. Medical Examiner Jay Radtke said a bullet recovered from the victim’s back was the same caliber as the gun the defendant used in the attempted robbery. Bay County Sheriff’s Office investigators began a complicated investigation, with hundreds of hours spent tracking down leads and travel across Northwest Florida before making the arrests two months later.

One of the big breaks came when a teacher at Ortiz’ school reported that Ortiz told her he had killed a man on the beach. When she didn’t believe him, he told her she could look it up and at the same time gave her details about the crime that were not public knowledge. The teacher testified that she was a mentor to the defendant and told him, “I just pray you’re not telling the truth,” but Ortiz insisted it was true.

Sheriff’s Office investigators put together evidence ranging from the types of vehicles used and video of them meeting at a nearby store moments before the shooting, to a taped confession from the defendant.

Prosecutor Sullivan told jurors that while the initial plan only involved a robbery, under Florida’s Felony Murder law all those involved were accountable for what happened, even if they didn’t fire the fatal shot.
“He wasn’t just going along for the ride,” Sullivan said of the defendant. “He was a willing participant in this armed robbery plan. He was excited about it.”

Basford thanked the Bay County Sheriff’s Office for the lengths it went to in putting together the evidence needed to arrest the defendant and the quality of the evidence provided to prosecutors.

For additional information, contact Mike Cazalas at [email protected], or call 850-381-7454.

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