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Nelson Ortiz

Other Puerto Rico Exonerations
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Nelson_Ortiz-Alvarez%20(1).jpg
On July 30, 1988, 21-year-old Glorimar Perez disappeared from her hometown of Aguada, Puerto Rico. Her body was found the following day on a remote beach. She had been shot to death.

Almost immediately, police said they received a tip that Perez was seen talking to 18-year-old Nelson Ortiz on the day she was last seen alive. Police confiscated Ortiz’s clothing and he voluntarily gave samples of his blood and hair, but there was no evidence linking him to the murder.

The crime went unsolved for five years until August 1993 when police arrested Ortiz along with 32-year-old Jose Caro and 25-year-old Nelson Ruiz. Police suspected Caro because he worked at a pizza restaurant that was a competitor of a restaurant operated by family of Perez’s boyfriend. They suspected Ruiz because he shared a first name with Ortiz. They were charged with murder, rape, kidnapping, robbery and illegal use of a weapon. They said they were innocent and denied even knowing each other.

The three men went to trial together in November 1994. The prosecution’s chief witnesses were Luis Martinez and Heriberto Guzman. Both became prosecution witnesses after they were arrested on unrelated charges of theft and burglary.

Martinez testified that days before the murder, Ruiz offered to pay him to get a getaway car, but did not tell him why he needed it. Martinez said that on the day of the murder, Ruiz picked him up and drove him to the beach where Caro and Ortiz were waiting with the victim. Martinez testified that he was present when the defendants began punching, kicking, biting, raping and sodomizing Perez. After the assault, all three shot her in succession: first Ruiz, then Ortiz, and finally Caro. After the murder, Martinez drove the victim’s car from the scene. Martinez told the jury that he told Guzman about his involvement with the three defendants in the crime.

Guzman testified that Martinez had told him about being with the three defendants during the crime and that Martinez had admitted that he knew that the getaway car was going to be used after the murder. Guzman also testified that he was with Martinez and the defendants several times after the crime when they discussed committing the murder.

On December 15, 1994, Ortiz, Caro, and Ruiz were convicted of murder, kidnapping, rape, robbery and illegal use of a weapon. They were sentenced to life in prison.

About six months later, in 1995, Martinez recanted his testimony. He said that he knew nothing about the crime and that all of his testimony had been a lie. He said that police and prosecutors threatened to charge him with the crime unless he implicated Ortiz, Caro and Ruiz. Martinez said they showed him photographs of the defendants and provided details of the crime. In December 1995, the same judge who presided over the trial vacated the convictions and ordered a new trial based on the recantation. The defendants were released on bail.

They were taken back into custody in 1998, however, when the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals set aside the ruling that vacated their convictions and reinstated the guilty verdicts.

In 2001, another motion for a new trial was filed, contending that witnesses had seen Perez at a different location at about the same time when she was supposed to have been seen talking to Ortiz. In addition, witnesses claimed that Perez’s boyfriend and another woman could have been involved in the crime. Judge Manuel Acevedo, who had not presided over the trial, denied that motion.

In 2004, Guzman recanted under oath. He said that the police and prosecutor threatened to charge him with the murder unless he cooperated. He said the police paid him to relocate and that before he testified, he was shown photographs of the defendants so that he could identify them in court. The prosecution did not disclose to the defense that Guzman was paid or that he was shown the photographs. 

Another motion for a new trial was filed based on Guzman’s recantation, but Judge Acevedo again denied the motion.

In 2015, Judge Acevedo was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison for accepting a bribe to acquit a businessman of vehicular homicide charges.

In December 2015, Puerto Rico enacted a law allowing defendants to request DNA testing in cases where it had not already been done, where earlier testing was inconclusive, or where new DNA technology had become available. With the help of the Interamerican University’s Innocence Project attorneys and Ortiz’s attorney, a request for DNA testing was filed.

DNA tests were conducted on semen recovered from a rape kit as well as on hair, blood, and fingernail scrapings taken from the victim, her clothing, a piece of white tissue paper and a pair of male underwear found at the scene.

In May 2016, a report of the testing said that no genetic material from any of the three defendants was detected. However, the test did identify two other unidentified DNA profiles--one male and one female, that was not the victim.

On June 22, 2016, the men’s convictions were vacated and on June 23, 2016, they were released on bond pending a new trial. On September 27, 2016, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/13/2016
State:Puerto Rico
County:Aguadilla
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Rape, Robbery, Kidnapping, Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:1988
Convicted:1994
Exonerated:2016
Sentence:Life
Race:Hispanic
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:18
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes*