LAWRENCE, Kan. — The murder trial of a Lawrence man who has been in custody for more than four years will be delayed to give attorneys time to assess new evidence from the victim’s recently unlocked phone, a judge has ruled.
Rontarus Washington Jr., 22, was set to go on trial Monday for first-degree murder and aggravated burglary charges in the November 2014 slaying of 19-year-old Justina Altamirano Mosso. But Judge James McCabria this week pushed the trial back until September, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.
Washington has been held at the Douglas County Jail since March 2015. McCabria said he understood the delay was frustrating, but that he felt it was necessary to give time for attorneys to sift through the data from Mosso’s phone.
“It’s kind of a critical piece of evidence,” said prosecutor C.J. Rieg. “That’s why I’ve been trying to get it open for the past four years.”
Mosso was found stabbed and bludgeoned inside the Lawrence apartment of her estranged husband, Felipe Cantu Ruiz. Ruiz had testified that he moved out of town with a friend on Nov. 7 and had left her the keys.
Washington lived in an apartment on the same floor as Ruiz. Washington had told detectives he entered Ruiz’s apartment that night to steal money and found a dead woman in the bathroom.
Lawrence police said they found Mosso’s phone several weeks after the slaying on the roof of the apartment complex, wrapped in mismatched socks whose corresponding pairs were found in Washington’s apartment.
Rieg said she learned that the Heart of America Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory in Clay County, Missouri, had the software capabilities to open Mosso’s phone in February. McCabria ordered the FBI electronics lab to unlock the phone, and attorneys received the data earlier this month.
Washington’s attorney, Angela Keck, said it would be foolish to go to trial without looking through the phone data for evidence that could help the defendant.
Washington and attorneys will meet with the judge next week to set a new trial date, which is tentatively scheduled for mid-September.