Jurors on Wednesday had four options: Find Luis Angel Ortega not guilty or guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or manslaughter.
Less than an hour into their deliberations, the six jurors had made up their minds: Ortega was guilty of first-degree murder in the 2018 shooting death of 18-year-old Brandon Hammett.
W. Charles Fletcher, the lawyer representing Ortega, said he was "disappointed." But "the jury has spoken."
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Sentencing at a later date
Assistant State Attorney Toby Hunt said: "I respect the jury's verdict." Hunt had Assistant State Attorney Wynn Vickers as his co-counsel.
Ortega's family members, who sat in the back during the two-day trial, were dejected as they left the courtroom.
When the verdict was read aloud by the court clerk at 4:57 p.m., Ortega stared ahead. Jurors had been sent to the back to begin their deliberations at 3:51 p.m.
Circuit Judge Peter Brigham told Ortega that his sentencing hearing won't happen until a pre-sentencing investigation is completed. The judge said he will set a date once the report is done. He asked Ortega if he had any questions, and the 19-year-old Ocala man said no.
Before leaving the courtroom in handcuffs to return to the Marion County Jail, where he has been since his arrest in January 2019, Ortega turned, looked at his family and then walked away in handcuffs.
Hunt's closing argument
In his closing argument, Hunt told the jury that Hammett's girlfriend thought they were going to a picnic. However, they got into a fight because her boyfriend wanted to make a drug deal.
Hunt said that of the four young men who were at the location where Hammett went, she knew two. She said one of them shot Hammett. The bullet went into the victim's left shoulder and lodged in his heart, according to testimony presented in court.
"He's dead because this man right here shot him," Hunt told jurors as he walked over to the defense table where Ortega was sitting with his lawyer and pointed in his direction.
The prosecutor said all four men lied during interviews with detectives. He said Ortega was identified as being at the scene because of his Snapchat Geo location.
The prosecutor said the gun used to shoot Hammett was recovered by deputies after a car chase and crash. The weapon, a .40-caliber handgun, was sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement laboratory for testing and it showed it was the firearm used in the shooting.
He said the shell casings found at the scene of the shooting, and the bullet taken from the victim's body, came from the same gun.
"This was a criminal act," Hunt said.
The defense had its say
Fletcher told the jury: "I was not there. Mr. Hunt was not there." The lawyer said they were forced to rely on witnesses who were not reliable.
For instance, Fletcher said neither Hammett's girlfriend nor Dalton Wayne Purvis, one of the four people at the location, could identify Ortega as the shooter. He said that proves "he's not the shooter."
Fletcher said Ortega, who was 16 and in the eighth grade at the time of the incident, had words put in his mouth by detectives while he was being interviewed by them. He said Ortega followed the lead of the detectives and agreed with whatever they said.
In his rebuttal, Hunt said Purvis met Ortega minutes before the shooting. He said Hammett's girlfriend did not get a good luck at Ortega.
Hunt said Ortega was not a naive child. He argued that Ortega is street smart and knew what was happening during his interview with detectives. He said Ortega's actions and statements proved he knew what he was doing.
Hunt showed the court a recording of the interview Ortega gave two detectives, during which he confessed to shooting Hammett. Ortega said he was tired of not having any money and he thought Hammett was reaching for something in the car, according to his interview. Ortega said he closed his eyes when he fired the shots.
Ortega, who cried throughout the interview with the detectives, wrote a letter apologizing to Hammett's family.
The state rested its case after testimony from one of the detectives who interviewed Ortega.
Fletcher asked the judge to dismiss the case against Ortega because the state failed to prove its case. After hearing from Hunt, the judge denied the motion.
Wearing a dress shirt and pants, Ortega was asked by the judge if he was going to testify in his own defense and he said no.
According to deputies, four people, including a then 16-year-old Ortega, met Hammett near Saddlewood Elementary School on Southwest 43rd Court after receiving a message about selling marijuana.
Arriving at the location, Hammett was asked about the weed. Upon showing the illegal substance, deputies said, Hammett was shot.
Hammett, who was the driver, didn't made it far. He stopped, and his girlfriend called 911. He was taken to a nearby hospital, where he later died.
Ortega and three others - Purvis, 23, Denver James Sutter, 22, and 20-year-old Carlos M. Flores-Renteria, all of Ocala - were taken into custody.
Ortega stood trial on a first-degree murder charge, though the jury also had the option of finding him guilty of the lesser charges of second-degree or manslaughter.
Purvis, Sutter and Flores-Renteria were charged with third-degree murder.
Last year, Purvis was sentenced to eight years in prison following a plea agreement between his lawyer and prosecutors. Part of his deal is that he must testify truthfully against the others.
Sutter is dead. Flores-Renteria's case is scheduled for trial next week, according to court records.
Contact Austin L. Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Ocala Star-Banner: Jury in Ocala, Florida returns guilty verdict in murder trial