Pub homicide suspect to decide on trial

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Richard Byrd/Columbia Basin Herald Murder suspect Ismael Ortiz appears in Grant County Superior Court on Wednesday.

EPHRATA — A Moses Lake man who is accused of shooting and killing an innocent bystander outside of a Moses Lake bar in 2016 will be deciding if he wants to stick to his decision to have a judge decide his fate, or have his case heard by a jury.

Ismael Ortiz Jr., of Moses Lake, was set to go to trial yesterday before Judge John Knodell in connection with the June 5, 2016 death of 68-year-old Robert Cook outside of a Moses Lake bar. Prosecutors have charged Ortiz with first-degree murder and first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm. Ortiz previously opted to have a judge decide his fate, opposed to a jury of his peers. The defendant is not too sure about that choice however, as a new account from a witness caused him to reevaluate that decision.

On the night of the shooting Ortiz was reportedly involved in a fight with another male inside of Neppel’s Dockside Pub, which has since been renamed Midway Pub. Ortiz’s co-defendant, Jose Rodriguez, of Moses Lake, allegedly got into a fight with Loren Meade, of Moses Lake, inside of the pub and Ortiz got involved and ended up punching Meade. The fight got all three men tossed from the bar.

Rodriguez reached a plea deal in May. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail, with credit for time served and 11 days converted to 88 hours of community service, after entering a guilty plea to tampering with a witness.

Cook and a female friend left the pub after the fight and got into Cook’s pickup truck and started to drive away. Cook’s friend told investigators she heard several loud “pops” come from behind the truck as they were pulling away, which she thought were fireworks. She says she saw a four-door passenger car pull up alongside Cook’s truck and pass them, with Meade allegedly riding in the passenger seat. She says Meade pulled out a handgun and pointed it in the direction of the Ash Street/West Broadway Avenue intersection.

At that same time, Cook was fatally hit in the back of the head by a bullet. A witness reported seeing a large-framed Hispanic male, alleged to be Ortiz, fire numerous shots in the direction of Cook’s truck from the Ash Street/Broadway Avenue intersection.

Ortiz and Rodriguez fled the scene on foot and contacted two fisherman who were fishing on the west side of the Alder Street fill. Ortiz and Rodriguez allegedly approached the men, asked for their fishing poles and asked them to tell police they had been fishing with them for the past couple of hours.

A material witness in the case was detained on Tuesday and allegedly later gave prosecutors a statement that was different from the original statement he gave to police investigators. On Wednesday Chief Deputy Prosecutor Alan White explained the witness said he recalls seeing two men, alleged to be Ortiz and Rodriguez, running from the area of the shooting and he believes they “came into contact” with a black SUV in an alley.

White says Rodriguez’s girlfriend drove a black SUV to the pub that night and video surveillance taken in the area allegedly shows a black SUV leaving the location of the shooting. The information came as news to Ortiz and his defense attorney, Michael Morgan, who requested the court give his client time to think about the case in light of the witness’ claim and decide if he still wishes to go ahead with a bench trial.

Knodell granted the request and continued Wednesday's hearing to Thursday morning, at which time the defendant is expected to decide if he wants to still go the bench trial route.

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