Trial for Moses Lake murder suspect begins

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Columbia Basin Herald/file photo Murder suspect Ismael Ortiz appears in Grant County Superior Court during a past court hearing.

MOSES LAKE — After almost two years of motions, hearings and continuances, the murder trial for a Moses Lake man who is accused of shooting and killing a bystander outside of a Moses Lake bar is now underway.

Ismael Ortiz, 27, of Moses Lake, stands accused of shooting and killing 68-year-old Robert Cook outside of Neppel’s Dockside Pub - since renamed Midway Pub and under new ownership and management - in June 2016. Prosecutors have filed charges against Ortiz for first-degree murder and first-degree unlawful possession of a firearm.

Ortiz opted to have a bench trial, opposed to a jury trial, and his fate will soon be determined by Judge John Knodell. The trial officially started on Thursday, but not before Knodell denied a defense motion to have the case dismissed.

During his opening statement on Thursday, Chief Deputy Prosecutor Alan White explained during the incident in question Ortiz, his friend Jose Rodriguez and a few women went out for the night and the group ended up at Neppel’s on West Broadway Avenue. Rodriguez pleaded guilty in May to tampering with a witness and was sentenced to 30 days in jail, with credit for time served and 11 days converted to 88 hours of community service.

While they were at Neppel’s on the night of the murder Ortiz and Rodriguez got into a fight with a rival gang member, identified as Loren Meade, which resulted in all three men getting tossed from the bar. Meade has admitted to investigators that after he was thrown out of the bar he fired a number of shots from a car in the direction of the two men he fought with, Ortiz and Rodriguez.

“The defendant then grabbed a firearm that either he or Mr. Rodriguez had with them,” White told the court. “He (Ortiz) ran out into the street, Ash Street, onto Broadway and fired about 10 rounds toward the fleeing rival gang member, Loren Meade.”

One of the fired bullets fatally struck Cook, who left the bar in his truck with a female friend, in the back of the head as he was driving away from the area on Broadway Avenue. White told the court the woman who was with Cook when he was shot claimed she saw Meade when he was shooting and she believed Meade shot Cook through the driver’s side window of his truck. The claim appears to be inaccurate when it comes to where Cook was shot, as the only evidence of a bullet entering Cook’s truck indicates the bullet came from behind the vehicle, not the side.

The case itself will likely boil down to the state being able to prove it was Ortiz who shot Cook and not someone else, such as Meade or Rodriguez. White said after the shooting occurred police were only able to make contact with one person who claimed they saw who was doing the shooting. The witness was able to give a height, weight, race and clothing description for the shooter.

The witness described the shooter as wearing a white T-shirt with a distinct insignia and dark blue jeans, which Ortiz was wearing when he was later arrested, and said the shooter was a Hispanic male. The only problem with the witness’ testimony is that Ortiz and Rodriguez are both Hispanic males and the witness gave a weight for the shooter that was reportedly significantly less than what Ortiz weighed when he was arrested.

Both Ortiz and Rodriguez fled the area after the shooting and made contact who two fishermen who were nearby. The suspects attempted to get the fishermen to tell police they, Ortiz and Rodriguez, were fishing with them that night. The plan ultimately didn’t work and Ortiz and Rodriguez were found by police and taken into custody. Investigators have not been able to recover the weapon that was used to shoot Cook.

“We believe that there is overwhelming evidence that the defendant is the shooter that shot 10 shots down Broadway Avenue and never hit the intended target, Mr. Meade or Mr. Meade’s car,” White stated. “But one of those stray shots entered into Mr. Cook’s vehicle and struck Mr. Cook in the back of the head, incapacitating him immediately and he died within an hour.”

Richard Byrd can be reached via email at city@columbiabasinherald.com.

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