A grand jury has formally indicted Felix Verdejo and an accomplice with federal crimes that makes the forthcoming case eligible for the death penalty.
The verdict was turned in during a grand jury hearing held Thursday at a federal courthouse in San Juan, Puerto Rico. It comes four days after Verdejo surrendered to authorities after an arrest warrant was issued for his arrest surrounding the murder of Keishla Marlen Rodriguez Ortiz, with whom the 27-year-old boxer from San Juan had a years-long love affair.
Also named in the indictment was Luis Antonio Cádiz-Martinez, who was named as an accomplice directly involved in each charge. Both were indicted on one count each of carjacking resulting in death, kidnapping resulting in death and killing an unborn child, the latter crime better known as the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004.
“Keishla Rodríguez-Ortiz was taken from a family that loved her, and she and her child were denied the most fundamental right of life, and the joy of knowing what that life could have been,” said United States Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow in a press statement. “We hope that this process brings some measure of solace to Keishla’s family.
“This case also underscores the message of cooperation with law enforcement that I have been repeating to the community – If you have knowledge of criminal activity, even if you are a participant in that activity, do the right thing and come forward to authorities. The prosecutors and the law enforcement agencies that have worked tirelessly, and who continue to assist in the ongoing investigation of this case, are to be commended.”
Verdejo has also been charged with one count of carrying and discharging a firearm during and in relation to a violent crime. The latter charge was brought about during the investigation once video surveillance surfaced of a bound and drugged Rodriguez—who was missing since April 29—being thrown over the Teodoro Moscoso Bridge connecting San Juan and Carolina, and into Laguna San Jose where her lifeless body was discovered om May 1.
Once Rodriguez’s body was properly identified through dental records, authorities intensified their investigation. An unnamed witness with first-hand knowledge of the series of heinous acts came forward, at which point Verdejo was advanced from person of interest to prime suspect.
The disgraced boxer—who represented Puerto Rico in the 2012 London Olympics—appeared virtually before a federal magistrate on Monday, where he learned that he was to be held without bail and remanded to a federal detention center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.
A Notice of Special Findings from Thursday’s indictment charge that Verdejo and Cadiz-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.”
It was also alleged that the horrific acts were planned in advance and premeditated to the point of abducting and murdering Rodriguez. The findings revealed that Verdejo “procured the commission of the offense by payment, or promise of payment, of anything of pecuniary value” and that Cadiz-Martinez “committed the offense as consideration for the receipt, or in the expectation of the receipt, of anything of pecuniary value.”
The aforementioned findings make the case eligible for the death penalty for both offenders, which prosecutors plan to pursue.
“We continue to work hand in hand with our partners at the local, state, and federal level to bring justice to Keishla. Our aim is to get to the bottom of this case and to process those responsible for this crime,” said Alexis Torres, Secretary of the Department of Public Safety. “We owe it to Keishla, to her family and to the people of Puerto Rico. Rest assured that the DSP will not rest until justice is served in this case and all others in our jurisdiction.”
Jose Rodriguez, Keishla’s father recently informed media in Puerto Rico that he is against the death penalty in relation to this case.
“I don't believe in that because if you give a person who did what he did the death penalty, you are helping him,” noted the grieving father. “It is better to give him 100 years (in prison) and for it to weigh on his conscience every day for the rest of his life.”
While each of the three initial counts are death penalty-eligible, all are punishable by sentence of up to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The fourth count of carrying and discharging a firearm as it relates to this case also carries the maximum sentence of life imprisonment, though only if Verdejo is found guilty of at least one additional charge.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox