Juan Rosario found guilty of first-degree murder

Sentencing scheduled for week of May 29

ORLANDO, Fla. – After a little more than an hour of deliberating, a jury unanimously found Juan Rosario guilty of first-degree murder and arson.

Closing arguments were heard Wednesday afternoon in the murder trial. Rosario The jury was instructed to begin deliberations around 3:30 p.m. and returned with the verdict around 4:45 p.m.

Rosario, 29,  was found guilty of killing his elderly neighbor, 83-year-old Elena Ortega, and setting her home on fire in September 2013.

Closing arguments focused on the testimony from Rosario's ex-girlfriend, Janet Guiterrez. She testified Rosario admitted to her about killing Ortega and burning her house to hide the evidence.

"Every single thing that she said, every fact in this case is supported by testimonial or physical evidence. You have it," Chief Assistant State Attorney Deb Barra said.

But the defense tried to discredit Gutierrez as a witness, calling her the shifting foundation of the state's case and that she only came forward months after the murder seeking immunity for helping Rosario cover up the crime.

"This case is really resting upon a very un-solid foundation and we're asking you to return a verdict of not guilty," public defender Roger Weeden said.

The state claims Rosario made several mistakes that night, including not wearing a mask and gloves, but prosecutors say his biggest mistake was underestimating Gutierrez.

"Despite telling her, 'If you say anything, I'll kill you and I'll harm your sister,' she walked through those doors, she came in here, sat in this seat," Barra said. "As she sat in this seat, she pointed him [Rosario] out and she told all of you everything that he did to Elena Ortega."

Rosario did not take the stand and his defense team did not call any witnesses.

Ortega died of blunt-force trauma to the head, according to the medical examiner’s office. Deputies said Rosario set fire to her home to cover up the crime.

Rosario's death penalty case is one of the 23 first-degree murder cases taken from State Attorney Aramis Ayala after she said she would not pursue the death penalty.

It’s the first to go to trial since Gov. Rick Scott removed her from those cases.

"I'm confident the supreme court is going to give it back to her," Weeden told News 6 after the trial.

Neighboring State Attorney Brad King was appointed by Scott to oversee the 23 death penalty cases as a special prosecutor. King announced last week that he intended to seek capital punishment for Rosario.

Sentencing for Rosario is scheduled for the week of May 29. 

"My mom is up there and looking down and resting in peace," Ortega's daughter, Elena Wilson told News 6.

Earlier Wednesday, the state called two witnesses to the stand. The defense rested without calling any witnesses, including Rosario.

After opening statements Monday, there were several people who took the stand, including a fire rescue member who worked the case and a forensic pathologist to go over Ortega’s autopsy.

Also among those testifying was Ortega’s daughter, who talked about the last time she spoke with her mother.

"I would call her every night and there were things that we would go through," Eleana Wilson said. "‘Mom, did you lock the door?' 'Did you put (on) the chain,’ you know, and ‘Did you leave the light on’ and make sure that she was going to be OK in that house by herself. Every single day."

Detective Nicholas Incontrera with the State Fire Marshal testified and said the investigation showed that three fires were started in Ortega’s home, all independently ignited.

Sara Zydowicz, the medical examiner who performed Ortega’s autopsy, testified that the victim had injuries to her brain, fractures to the skull by a blunt force.

She said Ortega was likely still alive when the fire was lit, because of evidence of soot in her nostrils.

About the Authors: