Felix Verdejo will remain in prison through at least his next trial date.

The transition period and the process in general, however, has taken a financial toll on the boxer and the ability to have proper representation in a court of law.

Lead counsel for Verdejo and alleged accomplice Luis Antonio Cadiz-Martinez met in a status conference hearing Thursday afternoon at The United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico in San Juan. The meeting was the first since the latest significant development in the case since prosecutors confirmed that the U.S. Attorney’s office will not the matter as a capital punishment case.

Verdejo remains in prison awaiting trial on charges of carjacking resulting in death, kidnapping resulting in death and killing of an unborn child in the abduction and murder of former lover Keishla Marlen Rodriguez last April. With the death penalty no longer on the table, he faces up to 99 years in prison on each individual charge if found guilty.

The former lightweight contender also faces one charge of discharging a firearm during and in relation to a violent crime. The offense carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, though only in conjunction with a guilty verdict returned in any of the other charges.

The change in course resulted in the honorable judge Judge Pedro A. Delgado-Hernandez granting a 90-day transitional period for the legal teams to sufficiently prepare for the non-federal case. The transition will mean that attorneys Laura Maldonado and David Ruhnke will remove themselves from the case. Ruhnke was brought aboard as an expert federal death penalty resource counsel, whose services are no longer necessary—a sentiment echoed by the counsel previously appointed alongside him.

“Both the appointment of Mr. Ruhnke and I are no longer justified,” Maldonado stated. “Mr. Ruhnke was appointed lead counsel (at the time of consideration of pursuing as a capital punishment case). His appointment is no longer necessary and mine is no longer justified.”

That would leave attorney Jose Irizarry as the lone member of the team to remain on board, although he has concerns of his own in moving forward in present capacity. “This is a very difficult case. I need an investigator and paralegal. If not, it will all be in favor of the government. The government will have all the resources and we will have no resources to try the case.”

The issue understandably remains a point of concern, as Vedejo was already believed to have been financially strained in the early stages of the ongoing court case. The 2012 Puerto Rico Olympian has not boxed since December 2020, when he was knocked out in the ninth round by Japan’s Masayoshi Nakatani. Verdejo scored two early knockdowns before falling apart late in suffering the stoppage in their ESPN-televised bout from MGM Grand Conference Center in Las Vegas.

The removal of Maldonado and Ruhnke from the legal team merely eases the burden though still leaves remaining counsel concerned over how to proceed without the proper financial resources in place. Irizarry turned to the court to assist, though is not in position to do so—as he was made aware—since he is not a CJA (Criminal Justice Act)-appointed attorney.

“You can do it for free,” replied judge Delgado-Hernandez. “That’s up to you. Every professional has that alternative. What you are asking me to do is to compromise CJA funds. You are not CJA-appointed. End of story.”

The one win that came of Thursday’s session was the defense team successfully petitioning for a longer transitional period. The court sought a 15-day window to sort out such matters in the interest of a speedy trial, though attorney Maldonado presented a compelling argument that far more time was necessary. 

Judge Delgado-Hernandez set aside a new court date of Friday, May 13 for the next status hearing.

Verdejo has remained in prison since May 2, when he surrendered to authorities following a three-day search for Rodriguez who was first reported missing by family members on April 29. A rescue mission was changed to a recovery mission once preliminary evidence suggested she was no longer alive. Those fears were realized on May 1, when she was pulled from Laguna San Jose in Carolina, Puerto Rico.

A detailed investigation report—aided by what reports indicate as a cooperating witness with first-hand knowledge of the case—revealed that Verdejo and Cádiz-Martinez both intentionally killed Rodriguez and “committed the offense in an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner in that it involved serious physical abuse to the victim.”

A shrine remains in place along the bridge in memory of Rodriguez.

Three separate status conference hearings have been held, the most recent taking place last December 17. All three sessions concluded with the request for more time to review evidence, with the court ruling that awaiting the death penalty certification by the Attorney General outweighs the defendants' and the community's interest in a speedy trial.

With the case no longer proceeding under the assumption of capital punishment, the next status conference was expected to result in an official court date to begin trial. That moment will have to come in May.

With the matter no longer a capital punishment case, Verdejo will serve in a stateside-based prison if found guilty of any or all charges.

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox