The man accused of fatally shooting a fellow immigrant, then enlisting his cousin and estranged girlfriend to help burn the body has been sentenced to life in prison.
Last month a Pulaski County jury deliberated for about three and a half hours Thursday afternoon — finding 36-year-old Humberto Mesa-Vasquez (also known as Alejandro Vasquez Cabrera) of Somerset guilty of Murder, second-degree Arson, Tampering with Physical Evidence and Abuse of a Corpse in connection to the February 2018 homicide of 38-year-old Jorge Martinez.
Martinez was found the morning of February 24, 2018, in a burnt out vehicle on Rush Branch Road. His cause of death was later determined to be a .25-calibre bullet to the head.
During the course of the trial, jurors heard evidence that Martinez was shot at the 431 S. Main St. apartment of where Mesa-Vasquez had been staying with his cousin, Heberto Romero-Ordonez and Ordonez' father, both of whom worked with Martinez.
Testimony from Ordonez indicated that Mesa-Vasquez ordered Ordonez to help him dispose of the body while his father was to clean the scene. Mesa-Vasquez also enlisted the aid of estranged girlfriend Gloria Ortega to transport the body in her Chevy Tahoe. She and Ordonez followed Mesa-Vasquez as he drove Martinez' Ford Escort to a secluded spot on Rush Branch Road. The two men then transferred the body to the driver's seat of that vehicle, which Mesa-Vasquez then doused with gasoline and set ablaze.
Both Ordonez and Ortega testified they acted out of fear of Mesa-Vasquez. They also were charged and ultimately accepted plea deals before trial for Complicity to Commit Tampering with Physical Evidence with recommended sentences of three years. Ordonez' father was never charged and ultimately deported to Mexico.
Department of Corrections information indicates that Ortega, 60, has been paroled for possible deportation after being formally sentenced on August 16. Ordonez, who took an Alford plea on August 29, isn't scheduled to be formally sentenced until October 18.
One thing that no witness established at trial was a motive. The defendant himself did not testify. During formal sentencing last Friday, defense attorney Andrea Simpson asked Pulaski Circuit Judge David Tapp to either grant a new trial or issue a judgment notwithstanding the verdict.
Simpson argued that the physical evidence presented at trial indicated her client had been present, it didn't directly show who actually shot Martinez. She also pointed out several contradictions in the testimony of Ortega and Ordonez as well as the possibility of jurors reaching to another verdict given the chance to hear instructions she had asked for but were ultimately not included in the jury instructions.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney David Dalton argued that the instructions given to the jury were appropriate based upon the evidence, and that witness credibility is a matter for the jury. Judge Tapp ultimately agreed, noting that the jury instructions were based on prior case law.
"Based on the totality of the evidence, I don't think it's a close call," the judge said in denying the motions for a new trial or judgment.
Simpson then asked Judge Tapp to impose the minimum sentence of 20 years — citing her client's lack of prior felony record, his support of his family back in Mexico and efforts to help others, including a drawing he had done for the American Cancer Society's Relay For Life.
"He's a very talented man who cares for his fellow human beings," she said.
Judge Tapp expressed his appreciation for what Mesa-Vasquez had done for the Relay but again reiterated his belief that enough evidence had been presented for the jury to convict. The judge also noted the "rather gruesome circumstances" of the murder and that in maintaining his innocence, Mesa-Vasquez offered "no acceptance of responsibility" that often comes with pleas for leniency.
Tapp did suspend a fine associated with the Abuse of a Corpse misdemeanor conviction because it would not be collectible with Mesa-Vasquez in prison. He otherwise imposed the sentenced as the jury recommended — life for the murder charge, 20 years for arson, five years for tampering and 12 months for the misdemeanor.
As required by Kentucky statute, the lesser sentences must run concurrently with the life sentence. Mesa-Vasquez will be eligible for parole after serving 20 years. Simpson advised Judge Tapp that her client intends to appeal the conviction.