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Police say cellphone ties accused to triple homicide

SANTA FE – Nicholas Ortiz told State Police during a recorded interview that he was nowhere near where three members of an El Rancho family were violently bludgeoned to death at their home in 2011, but officers say they have cellphone evidence that places him at the scene of the crime.

Ortiz, 21, is on trial for killing Lloyd Ortiz, 55, Dixie Ortiz, 53, and Steven Ortiz, 21, in the early morning hours of June 19, 2011, with a large pickax or mattock. The state rested its case Monday and the defense gets it turn starting today.

Nicholas Ortiz, who is not related to the murder victims, allegedly conspired with first cousins Ashley Roybal and Jose Roybal to burglarize the Ortiz family home. Jose Roybal testified early last week that Nicholas went into the house by himself before Jose ran home.

In a recording of an interview played for the jury Monday, Nicholas Ortiz told State Police about three and a half years ago, after the murders, that he was not in the area that night. But agents told him they had cellphone records that indicate he was communicating with the Roybal cousins near the Ortiz family’s home.

“There’s no way your phone is going to be in the general area if you’re not there,” one officer said. “I know you were there, I know the other two were there. It doesn’t make any sense to me. We have all the evidence. We just need someone to tell the truth about it.”

Nicholas, who was 19 during this interview and 16 at the time of the murders, said he may have lent his phone to a friend that night, but he couldn’t remember who. His parents, Leonard and Desiree Ortiz, both testified for the state Monday and said Nicholas was always on his phone, and Desiree Ortiz said Nicholas would occasionally lend his phone to one of his younger sisters for a brief period. “He was glued to that phone,” Desiree Ortiz said. “He was always texting or calling on it.”

The Ortiz family is believed to have been killed around 2 a.m. June 19, which happened to be Father’s Day. Leonard Ortiz said Monday that Nicholas came to his room just after midnight June 19 to wish him a happy Father’s Day. Leonard said he fell asleep about 1 a.m. and said Nicholas was on the couch about 6:30 a.m. the next morning. Desiree Ortiz, who was working an overnight shift, also said she saw Nicholas on the couch at 6:30 a.m.

Both parents said they don’t believe Nicholas had sneaked out of the house. Although Desiree Ortiz said she was not home often at night, she said it would be hard for Nicholas to get past Leonard. “I’m sure my husband would have heard him if he left,” she said.

In contrast to prior testimony from relatives of the murder victims, Nicholas Ortiz’s parents said their son had not lived for a time with a daughter of Lloyd and Dixie Ortiz next door to where the three victims were killed. But prosecutor Jason Lidyard noted that in an interview with his mother present, Nicholas said he had lived with the daughter for a month or two.

The state Office of the Medical Investigator’s Ross Zumwalt was the last witness to testify for the state Monday. Zumwalt, the forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsies on the Ortizes, said they died of blunt force trauma and detailed their injuries for the jury. He said Steven Ortiz had 17 lacerations on his head.