Puerto Rican boxer Félix Verdejo Sánchez turned himself in Sunday hours after authorities announced they had identified the body of a woman who was carrying his child and went missing last week.
Verdejo, 27, is charged with kidnapping resulting in death, carjacking resulting in death and killing of an unborn child, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Puerto Rico on Sunday.
The complaint said the victim, identified as Keishla Rodríguez Ortiz, 27, was reported missing on Thursday. Her body was recovered in the San Jose Lagoon in San Juan on Saturday, the complaint said, and she was identified via dental records, according to a statement released by Puerto Rico’s Institute of Forensic Science on Sunday.
Verdejo self-surrendered on Sunday, Lymarie Llovet, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Puerto Rico, told NBC News. He appeared in court Monday morning, where he was ordered held without bail.
The criminal complaint said a witness to the crimes told the FBI that Verdejo contacted the witness asking for help terminating the pregnancy of Rodríguez Ortiz, who had “told Verdejo that she was pregnant with his child based on a pregnancy test.”
Verdejo and Rodríguez Ortiz met up near her home and drove separately to meet the witness, the complaint said. When they got to the meeting place, Rodríguez Ortiz got into Verdejo’s car.
The complaint said that after a conversation between the pair, Verdejo punched Rodríguez Ortiz and then injected her with “a syringe filled with substances purchased from a drug point in Llorens Torres,” a large housing project in San Juan.
Verdejo and the witness then tied Rodríguez Ortiz’s arms and feet with wire and tied her to a block, the criminal complaint said.
The witness, in Rodríguez Ortiz’s car, and Verdejo, in his own car with Rodríguez Ortiz tied up inside, drove toward the Teodoro Moscoso Bridge over the San Jose Lagoon, the complaint said. Verdejo and the witness allegedly threw Rodríguez Ortiz off the side of the bridge.
Verdejo then shot at Rodríguez Ortiz with a pistol from the bridge above, according to the complaint.
The status of the witness, who has not been identified, is not public information, Llovet said.
Cell phone records and surveillance footage from the bridge helped investigators locate Rodríguez Ortiz’s body. Her car was found abandoned in Canovanas, about 13 miles from the bridge, on Friday. And police found at least one shell casing on the bridge, according to the criminal complaint.
Rodríguez Ortiz had recently told her family that she was pregnant, police interviews revealed, according to the criminal complaint.
Keila Ortiz, the victim’s mother, told reporters that her daughter had called her before she vanished Thursday and told her that Verdejo was going to her house to see the results of a pregnancy test.
“I told her, ‘Be careful,’ because he had already threatened her,” Ortiz said, according to The Associated Press. She said Verdejo had told her daughter not to have the baby, mentioning his career and family.
Verdejo is married and has a young daughter but had known Rodríguez Ortiz since middle school and kept in touch with her, her parents said. They reported her missing after she didn’t show up for her job at an animal grooming business.
Verdejo represented Puerto Rico at the Olympics in 2012, the same year he became a professional boxer competing in the lightweight division. His career was temporarily sidetracked after a 2016 motorcycle accident that put him in the hospital.
The first two charges Verdejo faces carry a maximum penalty of death, according to court documents filed Sunday. But a decision had not been made whether to pursue the death penalty, the documents said.
The killing of an unborn child carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, Llovet, the U.S. attorney’s office spokeswoman said.
Verdejo’s attorney, Jose F. Irizarry-Perez, said Monday that he and his client had no comment.
Top Rank, a boxing promotional company based in Las Vegas, which represents Verdejo, said in a statement that the company’s “thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Keishla Marlen Rodriguez Ortiz, and with the entire Puerto Rican people in this time of mourning.”
“We are deeply disturbed by the news reports and will continue to monitor the evolution of the case as it progresses,” the statement said.
The case has outraged many in Puerto Rico, where another woman was recently found burned to death after she filed a domestic violence complaint that a judge dismissed. A Superior Court judge has announced an investigation into that decision.
Hundreds of people gathered Sunday at a bridge that crosses the lagoon where Rodríguez’s body was found to demand justice for her and other women killed, with some throwing flowers into the water below.
Gov. Pedro R. Pierluisi, in a statement Sunday, said, “There should be no doubt that we are in a state of emergency due to gender violence.”
“The pain, anger and indignation that we feel every time we witness a crime of gender violence has to be kept alive in us so that we do not rest in our responsibility to protect, prevent and abolish this evil, as well as to do justice for all the victims,” Pierluisi said. “We are better than this and we have to prove it.”
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