Ortiz found guilty on all counts

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 19, 2001

A Freeborn County jury Wednesday ruled that Juan Ortiz used deadly force in his attack on jailer Mark Oakland during an escape attempt last August, and returned guilty verdicts on all four counts against Ortiz.

Thursday, July 19, 2001

A Freeborn County jury Wednesday ruled that Juan Ortiz used deadly force in his attack on jailer Mark Oakland during an escape attempt last August, and returned guilty verdicts on all four counts against Ortiz.

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After the jury announced it had reached a verdict, a last-minute scare had law enforcement concerned that Ortiz would fly into a rage if found guilty. Before Ortiz was brought into the courtroom to hear the verdict, attorneys debated whether added restraints were necessary or just.

Sheriff Don Nolander told Assistant County Attorney David Walker that a deputy overheard Ortiz saying he had nothing to lose, so if the verdict did not go his way, someone in the courtroom was going to get hurt. The comment was apparently made in late winter, the deputy said.

Defense attorney Chester Swenson was outraged that the comment was only brought to the court’s attention moments before the verdict, and argued that the extra restraints would have violated his client’s rights and been prejudicial to the jury.

&uot;This is unconscionable,&uot; he told Judge John Chesterman. &uot;Why don’t we just bring in the kangaroos and other marsupials?&uot;

Although Chesterman ruled that the added restraints could be used if not visible to the jury, officials decided against it.

Moments later, Ortiz, restrained only by a chain that attached him to a table, showed no sign of anger as the verdict was read. He rose and walked calmly out of the courtroom.

During the two-day trial, Ortiz’s defense admitted all along that he punched Oakland, as well as jailer Jolynn Johnson, but his attorney had argued that the attack did not constitute deadly force, which was necessary for a first-degree assault conviction.

The jury’s decision came after a day of testimony from eyewitnesses who said Ortiz, unprovoked, knocked Oakland unconscious with one punch, sending him reeling backward into a concrete wall.

Witness John Quam, who was being held at the jail when the assault happened, said the impact of Ortiz’s first punch &uot;sounded like a baseball bat hitting an oak tree.&uot; Quam and two other inmates testified that Ortiz struck Oakland in the face or head at least two more times after he fell.

In a confession taped after the assault, Ortiz had insisted he struck each jailer once. He claimed he was not trying to escape, but that he punched the jailers so he would continue to be held in Minnesota. He said he feared being sent back to Maryland, where he was wanted for other crimes and where he said powerful enemies would have him killed.

Swenson told the jury that if Ortiz had punched Oakland so hard so many times, Oakland should have had more injuries.

&uot;There’s no broken jaw, there’s no broken ribs … there’s no other injuries,&uot; Swenson said. Oakland’s head injuries, which included a concussion and a cut on the back of his head, could have happened when the jailer’s head hit the wall or the ground after Ortiz punched him, Swenson argued.

He pointed to photos of Oakland taken while he was in the hospital and after he was discharged. Neither, he said, showed significant bruising consistent with several hard punches to the face.

Oakland testified Tuesday that he does not remember what happened. He suffered short-term memory loss after the attack.

Quam, David Valadez and William Terhurne, all inmates who say they saw the assault, gave differing accounts of the events. While Quam said Ortiz threw close to ten punches while Oakland was down, Valadez and Terhurne said it was more like two or three.

All agreed that after he was finished punching Oakland, Ortiz dragged him by the legs halfway into a jail cell, then went into a nearby control room and began to press buttons, causing cell doors to slide open and closed. The door of the cell where Oakland lay closed on his torso.

Walker told the jury the witness testimony showed clear evidence of deadly force.

&uot;If you believe them, then this is a deadly force assault,&uot; Walker said.

Swenson worked to point out the inconsistencies in the witnesses’ testimony, highlighting the differences in everything from how many punches were thrown to what kind of card game the three were playing when the attack happened.

&uot;There is no circumstantial evidence to support the fact that deadly force was used against Mr. Oakland,&uot; he said.

Walker, however, returned to the testimony of Dr. Fernando Partida, who Tuesday told the court that Oakland’s injuries were severe.

&uot;He said it was life-threatening,&uot; Walker told the jury. &uot;He said it was a concussion, and at the time he looked at Mark Oakland in the emergency room, there was a very high probability of inter-cranial bleeding and death.&uot;

Ortiz was charged with one count of first-degree assault and one count of third-degree assault for his attack on Oakland.

He was also convicted of one count of fourth-degree assault for punching jailer Jolynn Johnson.

According to witnesses, Ortiz took Oakland’s keys and left down a hallway after beating Oakland. Johnson was waiting around a corner by the door to the jail’s library, where inmates were being escorted when the attack happened.

Johnson testified Wednesday that Ortiz approached her, saying he had forgotten a book in the library.

&uot;I looked down and I could see something in his hand,&uot; Johnson said. &uot;It was like I couldn’t believe my eyes, because it looked like the jailer’s keys. At that point he started running at me and hitting me in the face.&uot;

Johnson said she fell, and Ortiz continued hitting her on the back. She doesn’t know if she lost consciousness, but she soon realized Ortiz was gone. She got up and ran toward an elevator to get help.

Officers from the law enforcement center responded and caught Ortiz holding the jailer’s keys. He surrendered immediately and dropped the keys, officers said.

Chesterman ordered a pre-sentencing investigation to begin immediately. Ortiz faces up to 20 years in prison and $35,000 in fines for the first-degree charge.

Ortiz was found guilty of assault in the first, third and fourth degree and of attempting to escape from custody.