Saturday, March 10, 2012

Wenatchee, WA: Trial opens in domestic stabbing death

WENATCHEE — Every police officer who viewed the Methow Street basement apartment that day had a similar way to describe it.

Wenatchee police were summoned Aug. 21 to the 800 block of Methow after a child called 911, saying her father had stabbed and killed her mother. Officer Jared Reinfeld was the first to arrive, and found a 13-year-old girl covered in blood — her own, from a stab wound to her forearm, and that of her mother, Ortencia Arroyo Alejandre, 38, who lay dead in the apartment she’d recently moved into.

Sebastian Cortes Aguilar, 40, went on trial Wednesday for first-degree murder in the death of Alejandre, his common-law wife of 15 years. Reinfeld testified that he followed the girl back into the apartment and found her cradling Alejandre on the tiled floor of the small common room. The woman suffered several knife wounds, including a major wound across her throat.

Sgt. John Kruse, a detective sergeant who entered the apartment later, has been a Wenatchee police officer for 20 years. “I’ve never seen so much blood in such a confined space,” he said from the stand.

The couple’s daughter and son were 13 and 7 at the time of their mother’s death; the girl was an eyewitness. Both are subpoenaed to give testimony as the trial moves forward.

In opening statements, Chelan County Deputy Prosecutor Doug Shae said the children’s testimony and Cortes’ own statements to police will prove he stabbed Alejandre with premeditation during a heated argument, going to the apartment kitchen specifically to retrieve the knife and attack her.

Chelan County Chief Public Defender Keith Howard said he’ll set out to show Alejandre was the first to wield the knife, and Cortes struggled with her in fear for his life.

“The evidence will show that Mr. Cortes did not intentionally kill Ortencia,” Howard said.

Cortes also faces a charge of first-degree assault for the arm wound suffered by his daughter, who tried to intervene during the struggle. The children were taken in by their godparents soon after the crime.

Cortes fled the residence, and was found hiding in the brush near a relative’s home in East Wenatchee later that day. He’s been jailed since his arrest on $1 million bond.

Wenatchee Police Officer Keith Kellogg, the department’s primary Spanish interpreter, moderated the two-hour interview Detective Edgar Reinfeld conducted with Cortes. Cortes had been residing largely in Seattle for work, commuting back to Wenatchee on weekends, although he and Alejandre had separated over conflicts about his gambling habit.

“They had lost their house, perhaps partially in relation to that,” Kellogg testified.

According to Kellogg’s testimony, Cortes said Alejandre was peeling a cucumber with a knife when Cortes told her he suspected her of having phone contact with another man. Alejandre became angry and struck out at him with the knife, threatening to kill him; Cortes said he disarmed her and stabbed her.

“He said he did have an intention to stab her in the throat, but he did not think it would kill her to stab her in that location,” Kellogg said, reading from his original report on the interview.

“It was clear to you that she had threatened to kill him?” Howard asked.

“Yes, we asked that multiple times to make sure there was no confusion,” Kellogg told him. Cortes also frequently said that he never intended to kill Alejandre, Kellogg said.

“You understand the anger,” Kellogg quoted Cortes as saying. “I got angry when she told me she was going to kill me. I did get angry.”

Cortes had a cut across his ring and little finger when police found him, plus a cut on his shoulder. The Toyota he drove away in had multiple bloodstains on the exterior and interior. Mariah Low, a forensic scientist with the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab, testified that all of the blood samples taken from the vehicle, as well as samples from Cortes’s T-shirt and sandal, matched Alejandre’s genotype.

Cortes and Alejandre’s daughter described the attack and gave crucial information about Cortes and his vehicle as police began their search.

“She told me, ‘When you find my dad, please don’t hurt him,'” Reinfeld said.

Testimony was to continue today with Dr. Gina Fino, the pathologist who examined Alejandre’s body.

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