SANTA FE — Emotions ran high on both sides of the courtroom Friday afternoon when District Court Judge Francis Mathew read a jury’s verdict that Nicholas Ortiz was guilty of murdering three members of an El Rancho family in the middle of the night on Father’s Day five years ago.
This was the second trial for 22-year-old Nicholas Ortiz, who was accused of killing Lloyd Ortiz, 55, Dixie Ortiz, 53, and their 21-year-old son Steven Ortiz at their home north of Santa Fe in the early-morning hours of June 19, 2011, by bludgeoning them with a large pickax.
Relatives of the murdered family let out cries of relief and emotion as Francis read Friday’s verdict. “Oh, thank God,” some of them exclaimed.
Nicholas Ortiz’s family was upset, and his younger sisters were crying heavily. Some family members shouted that he was innocent.
Mathew let Nicholas say a few words to his family after the verdict was announced. “I love you guys,” he said as he was taken out of the courtroom by Santa Fe County deputies.
“I hope you’re proud of yourself, you little (expletive),” Nicholas Ortiz’s mother yelled at prosecutor Jason Lidyard as he left the courtroom. “And you too, you little bitch,” she yelled at Deputy District Attorney Susan Stinson.
“Make sure you write in your newspaper that they locked up an innocent man,” one member of the defendant’s family told reporters as she left the courtroom.
Nicholas Ortiz, 16 at the time of the killings, isn’t related to the victims but had previously stayed with Lloyd and Dixie’s their adult daughter next door. The first trial was in May, but that jury took 3 1/2 days to tell Mathew that it couldn’t come to a unanimous verdict on any of the counts against Ortiz.
The new trial began Nov. 29 and ended with closing arguments Wednesday. The jury came back around 2 p.m. Friday to announce it had found Ortiz guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and one count each of aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon and conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon. Sentencing will take place at a future hearing.
Nicholas Ortiz was accused of conspiring with first cousins Ashley Roybal and Jose Roybal, who have testified as prosecution witnesses, to steal money and medical marijuana from the Ortiz house.
Lidyard said during opening arguments in the latest trial that investigators believe Ortiz knocked on the back door and killed Lloyd Ortiz around 2 a.m. as Lloyd came outside, then went inside the house and killed Dixie with two “skull-piercing” blows as she lay sleeping in her bed. Nicholas had to struggle with Steven Ortiz in the kitchen but still managed to kill him with 21 blows to his head and body, by the prosecution’s account. State Police found the pickax, also described as a mattock, in a vacant field near the crime scene, but the defense always stressed a lack of physical evidence tying Ortiz to the murders.
The case was largely based on the alleged co-conspirators’ testimony. Jose Roybal was supposed to go inside the house after the murders and help take items from the home, but Roybal ran home while Ortiz was inside, he testified. Ashley Roybal said she picked up Nicholas after the murders and drove him back to her grandparents’ house. Jose has said he and Nicholas had plastic bags to cover their shoes and socks for their hands.
Defense attorney Dan Marlowe told jurors that Jose Roybal committed the murders and that Lloyd and Dixie’s son-in-law, Jesse Rios, had paid him to steal money from the Ortiz house. He said jurors should be wary of the inconsistencies in the Roybals’ various accounts of what happened that night.