FROM THE THIRTY-SIXTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF
BEAUREGARD, NO. CR-2016-281 HONORABLE MARTHA A. O'NEAL,
R. Lestage, Richard Alan Morton COUNSEL FOR:
Plaintiff/Appellee - State of Louisiana
L. Wallace COUNSEL FOR: Defendant/Appellant - Jackie Lynn
Pruitt aka Jackie L. Pruitt
composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, Phyllis M.
Keaty, and D. Kent Savoie, Judges.
ULYSSES GENE THIBODEAUX CHIEF JUDGE.
Jackie Lynn Pruitt was convicted of first degree murder of
Sonya Ortego in violation of La.R.S. 14:30(A)(1) and was
sentenced to life imprisonment without the benefit of parole,
probation, or suspension of sentence. Defendant now appeals
his conviction, alleging insufficiency of evidence. We
consider whether the evidence was sufficient for a rational
factfinder to find Defendant guilty beyond a reasonable
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
was convicted of the crime of first degree murder of
twenty-nine-year-old Sonya Ortego committed on March 24,
2016, at Dee's Motel in DeRidder. Defendant was tried by
a twelve-person jury and was convicted with an eleven-to-one
verdict. Defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment at hard
labor without parole after the trial court denied his
before noon on March 24, 2016, the owner of Dee's Motel,
James Bethard, found Ms. Ortego dead in room 6 when he went
to deliver fresh towels. After knocking a few times with no
response, Mr. Bethard entered room 6 where he discovered Ms.
Ortego face down on the floor and covered partially with a
bedspread by the foot of the bed. Mr. Bethard tried tapping
her foot and calf to wake her before he noticed blood by her
head, and he left the room to call 911. Beauregard Parish
Sheriff Deputies Michael Daniel Rick and Scott Greenum
arrived shortly after noon, followed thereafter by Acadian
Ambulance. The paramedics noted that Ms. Ortego was already
dead, but her body was still warm. Detectives began to
interview witnesses and collect evidence at the scene.
Ortego and her fiancé Matthew Jantzen had lived
together in room 6 at Dee's Motel since February 1, 2016
and paid the rent through March 25, 2016. Ms. Ortego was
mentally impaired and did not complete high school. She was
unemployed and received Social Security benefits for her
mental limitations. Mr. Jantzen was working as a skidder
operator for a logging crew. On the day of the murder, Mr.
Jantzen and Ms. Ortego fought as they did sometimes. Another
motel resident, Trollis Dillard, often went to bed around
five in the morning and described himself as "basically
like the security" at the motel. When he was about to go
to bed on March 24, 2016, he heard some arguing and cursing.
Mr. Dillard came out of his room and saw Mr. Jantzen and Ms.
Ortego fighting, and saw "[Ms. Ortego] was putting it on
him[, ] and he was doing a lot of ducking." He noted Mr.
Jantzen acted "scared, he was the one getting
whooped." Mr. Dillard told Ms. Ortego to stop and she
did. Mr. Dillard saw Ms. Ortego go back into her room and Mr.
Jantzen left when his ride to work pulled up around that
Jerry McDonald worked with Mr. Jantzen for approximately six
months prior to the murder. Mr. McDonald generally picked up
Mr. Jantzen at Dee's Motel around 4:45 to 5:00 A.M., and
their commute to the worksites took about thirty minutes. On
the day of the murder, their work was rained out around noon.
Mr. McDonald and Mr. Jantzen planned to go to Mr.
McDonald's house to drop off his work truck and to cash
their checks. However, when they passed Dee's Motel, they
saw an ambulance and police cars so they stopped.
Jantzen testified that on the morning of the murder, he and
Ms. Ortego argued because he made a noise which woke her up.
Mr. Jantzen said she was easily upset and would start
"screaming like she always did." When he left for
work, Ms. Ortego "was still upset[, ]" and they
were sending each other text messages the entire time he was
away until she stopped answering at 7:45 A.M. Mr. Jantzen
sent a text at 7:57 A.M. which read, "Baby Are [sic] you
okay" because she stopped answering his texts. Mr.
Jantzen denied physical contact with Ms. Ortego that morning.
Mr. Jantzen said that he and Ms. Ortego engaged in sexual
relations around 7:00 P.M. on March 23, 2016, and she was not
on her menstrual cycle.
March 23, 2016, Defendant went to visit his cousin, Richard
Daniel James, in the afternoon and asked for the number to
Dee's Motel. Mr. James had not seen Defendant for nearly
a year. Mr. James thought that Defendant may have been
drinking, but "he wasn't drunk[.]" Defendant
visited Mr. James for a couple of hours while he was waiting
for someone to send him some money through Walmart. Defendant
left around 6:00 or 7:00 P.M. and did not return. Mr. James
had offered Defendant his couch, and he "said he might
come back[.]" Defendant went to Dee's Motel on March
23, 2016, checked into room 7 and paid the twenty-five ($25)
dollars to rent the room for one night.
Longoria lived in room 8 at Dee's Motel from March of
2014 to March of 2017. On March 23, 2016, Mr. Longoria
returned from work around 5:00 or 5:15 P.M. Room 7 had been
empty for weeks, but was occupied that night. Mr. Longoria
spoke to the man renting room 7 while they were outside, and
the man was drinking what Mr. Longoria assumed to be vodka.
The man finished one pint, throwing it into the back of his
pickup truck, which was backed up to room 7. He then took
another full pint from his pocket and began to drink it. Mr.
Longoria identified Defendant at trial as the man he saw that
night. Mr. Longoria went to bed around 9:30 or 10:00 P.M. and
did not hear anything because there is a storage room between
rooms 7 and 8. On March 24, 2016, Mr. Longoria woke up around
6:30 A.M. and left for work around 7:30 A.M. He did not see
or hear anything unusual. When he returned around 7:45 P.M.,
he saw crime scene tape set up around Dee's Motel.
time of the trial, Walter Wayne Hassien lived in room 5 at
Dee's Motel for almost seven years. Mr. Hassien worked in
the oil field and did repair work at the motel. He would keep
his room while he would be gone for three to four months. On
March 23, 2016, around 4:00 P.M., Mr. Hassien opened his door
and saw Defendant who "had a little bottle of
whiskey" in his hip pocket. Around 10:30 or 11:00 P.M.,
Defendant came by wanting a cigarette and had asked a few
other rooms. Defendant was still drinking. At 3:30 to 4:00
A.M., Mr. Hassien wanted to go outside to smoke a cigarette,
but he looked outside his window and Defendant "was
standing at his door looking back up towards [sic] our rooms
and stuff." Mr. Hassien stayed inside because he did not
want to interact with Defendant, because "he didn't
seem right, he didn't feel right." Around 6:00 A.M.,
Mr. Hassien got up and "heard a commotion" in room
6. He believed it was Ms. Ortego and Mr. Jantzen playing
around, and he went back to bed. When Mr. Hassien awoke again
later, he heard a banging noise which he described as
"like they were trying to repair something they tore
up." Mr. Hassien first testified that Michael
Wallace talked to Defendant around 10:00 A.M. on
Thursday, March 24, 2016. Mr. Wallace offered Defendant a job
and Mr. Wallace told them that Defendant did not want a job.
Mr. Hassien did not indicate to whom Mr. Wallace was telling
about that interaction. Mr. Hassien saw Defendant loading his
truck up before Mr. Hassien went back into his room. Around
10:30 A.M., Defendant left in his red truck. Mr. Hassien
remembered Defendant was in a hurry when he was leaving
Dee's Motel. Mr. Hassien told Mr. Bethard about the
banging noise he heard, and Mr. Bethard asked him to go with
him to the room. They found Ms. Ortego lying on the floor and
saw blood on the wall and around her head.
Hassien testified that Ms. Ortego would usually open the door
to her room around 10:00 or 10:30 A.M., sit on the bed, and
play games on her phone. If she knew they were outside, she
would open the door. Then she might close it around 3:00 P.M.
At about 4:30 P.M., Ms. Ortego would usually stand in the
doorway waiting for Mr. Jantzen.
Dillard woke up around 8:30 or 9:00 A.M. when Mr. Hassien
asked if he wanted to have coffee. They were in Mr.
Hassien's room along with Mr. Wallace until Mr. Bethard
came to get them to go into Ms. Ortego's room. Mr.
Dillard did not want to enter the room because he was afraid.
When Mr. Dillard saw Ms. Ortego early that morning, she was
wearing a blouse and shorts. However, when they found her
body she was only partially clothed.
Dillard had spoken to Defendant on March 23, 2016, requesting
that he park his truck "the long way." Mr. Dillard
stated that after the police were called, he saw Defendant
come out of his room without a shirt. Mr. Dillard said he was
talking to Mr. Bethard and Mr. Hassien about the police being
on their way and that Defendant "acted like he
didn't know what was there . . . ."
night before the murder, Defendant went around the motel
asking for a cigarette. Defendant asked Mr. Jantzen and Ms.
Ortego because their door was open, and they said they did
not smoke. Mr. Jantzen did not see Defendant again. Mr.
Jantzen said Ms. Ortego complained of noises at the motel and
worried about her safety at Dee's Motel. Ms. Ortego liked
being reclusive at the motel and "didn't like
anybody in her business." Ms. Ortego considered Mr.
Dillard to be "in her business" when he told Ms.
Ortego and Mr. Jantzen what to do or not to do.
Pruitt, Defendant's brother, was Defendant's only
witness at trial. He testified that he did not know that his
brother was coming to DeRidder for a court appearance on
March 24, 2016. Defendant came to their mother's house
around 10:00 A.M. but did not spend Wednesday night there
"because he was court ordered not too [sic]." Mr.
Pruitt described Defendant as calm, not anxious, and
"didn't even think he was gonna [sic] get put in
jail" when he went to court. Defendant washed some
clothes at their mother's house, and their mother put
them in the dryer and folded them after Defendant left. He
said that Defendant did not appear to be drinking but
"looked better than [Mr. Pruitt] had seen [Defendant] in
a while" even though they had not seen him for at least
Michael Daniel Rick of Beauregard Parish Sheriff's Office
received the dispatch of an unconscious female at Dee's
Motel around 11:45 A.M. He arrived at 11:56 A.M., finding Ms.
Ortego lying face down in the bedroom corner, with a blanket
draped over her. Deputy Rick was wearing gloves and did not
check for a pulse because he saw no signs of lividity. Deputy
Rick noted in retrospect he should have checked for a pulse
because he possibly could have done something at that point.
Deputy Rick, along with Deputy Scott Greenum, had been in the
room before Acadian Ambulance and the detectives arrived on
the scene. Deputy Rick saw "blood on the walls and
furniture" as he backed out to avoid contaminating the
crime scene. Later, when Deputy Rick took photographs, he
found what he believed to be two stab wounds between Ms.
Ortego's shoulder blades. Deputy Rick was present at the
crime scene for several hours, and placed crime scene tape
around room 6 and the surrounding rooms.
Oscar Louis Lopez, Jr. of the Beauregard Parish Sheriff's
Office responded to Dee's Motel, along with Detectives
Matt Barrett, Bobbi Ripley, and Toree Jones, at 12:20 P.M.
Deputy Lopez photographed and videotaped rooms 6 and 7.
Deputy Lopez noted that the door to room 6 did not appear to
be forced open. He found a side panel of a knife near Ms.
Ortego's body that was covered in blood. Deputy Lopez
testified that he could clearly see a knife
wound. In room 7, Deputy Lopez found a stained
bath towel and a stained hand towel. Deputy Lopez and some
detectives collected DNA swabs from the doorknob on the
entrance to room 7, as well as from the sink in that room.
Deputy Lopez handled the items while wearing gloves and
placed them into evidence bags as someone else logged them.
jury saw Deputy Lopez's video and photographs, which
showed: bloodstained walls and bed sheets in room 6; the side
panel of the knife; the sink which appeared as if someone had
tried to clean up blood; and a stain on the wall which looked
noted that Ms. Ortego's body was found clothed in a shirt
and socks, but no underwear. Panties were found near the
doorway. No feminine hygiene products were found. No barbed
wire was found in either room or Defendant's
truck. Deputy Lopez did not fingerprint anything
in the room. He found room 7 "was fairly clean"
with just "the dirty towels inside of the
Herford and Deputy Franks entered room 7 which appeared clean
except for some bathroom towels. The Sheriff's Department
applied Blue Star,  a chemical used to identify the presence
of blood, to the Defendant's room and Deputy Lopez took
photographs of "[w]here the [B]lue [S]tar
activated" next to the bed, near the front ...