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Antonio Ortiz to stand trial in deadly attack of Andres Ruiz-Avelizapa on Christmas Eve

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: May 23 2013 03:28:31 PM CDT
Updated On: May 23 2013 04:24:01 PM CDT

Ortiz heading to trial on homicide charges

EASTON, Pa. -

The alleged attacker of an Easton man who died two weeks after being punched in the head last Christmas Eve is headed to trial.

Following a two-hour preliminary hearing Thursday in Northampton County Court, District Judge James Stocklas ordered Antonio R. Ortiz to be held on charges of criminal homicide and aggravated assault in the death of Andres Ruiz-Avelizapa. Stocklas set Ortiz's formal arraignment for 10:30 a.m. July 11.

Ortiz allegedly struck 52-year-old Ruiz-Avelizapa in the 400 block of Northampton Street in Easton last Dec. 24, after Ruiz-Avelizapa tried to break up a fight between Ortiz and his girlfriend.

Six witnesses were called to testify at the two-hour hearing by assistant district attorney Patricia Fuentes Mulqueen.

County Coroner Zachary Lysek said he ruled Ruiz-Avelizapa's death a homicide caused by blunt force trauma.

Lysek testified that Ruiz-Avelizapa was admitted to Easton Hospital in a coma just before 1 a.m. Dec. 24, describing him as "a victim of an assault" who had been hit in the head and fell to the ground.

The coroner said Ruiz-Avelizapa had a blood alcohol level of 0.19, which made him "incapable of defending himself [and] unable to react quickly enough to break his fall."

Life support was removed from Ruiz-Avelizapa on Jan. 7, and he was pronounced brain dead at 4 p.m., Lysek said.

Under cross-examination from defense lawyer Christopher Shipman, Lysek said Ruiz-Avelizapa would have died "even without the presence of alcohol" in his system.

Jesse Atkinson, who called 911 after witnessing the altercation between Ortiz and Ruiz-Avelizapa, testified he heard Ortiz and his girlfriend, Samantha Vega, yelling  across the street from his second-floor room in the Hotel Hampton when he awoke not long after midnight on Dec. 24.

He recognized Ortiz and Vega because they lived at the hotel on the floor above him, he said.

Ortiz "was trying to get [Vega] to go with him somewhere" and "was chasing her around," pulling her by the head of her sweatshirt, Atkinson testified. "It was some sort of cat-and-mouse game," he said. "She thought it was funny. … He was raising his voice."

After Atkinson glanced at a clock and saw it was 12:31 a.m., Atkinson said he noticed a man standing near Ortiz and Vega. Ortiz threw a "fake punch" at the man, and "then must have hit him in the face." The man crumpled to the ground, even though "it looked like [Ortiz] was barely trying" to throw the punch, Atkinson testified.

Atkinson also said he saw Ortiz "going through the victim's clothes" after he went down.

Under cross-examination, Atkinson said he had fought with Ortiz on Dec. 23 over a Xanax Ortiz had given to him. Atkinson said when he confronted Ortiz over the  stolen anti-anxiety drug in a doughnut shop, Ortiz wanted to fight him "in the street."

Instead, Atkinson testified that he returned to his hotel room to wait for Ortiz, and when Ortiz showed up, he sprayed Ortiz in the eyes with spray paint. The two began wrestling, until the fight was broken up by off-duty Hampton Hotel desk clerk John Conner, Atkinson said.

Conner testified that while he was on duty in the early morning hours of Dec. 24, he saw Ortiz "standing over some guy" and "running his hands through his pants pockets."

Easton police Ofc. Darren Snyder and Detective John Piperato both said no wallet for Ruiz-Avelizapa was never found. Under cross-examination, Piperato admitted he didn't know if Ruiz-Avelizapa carried a wallet.