Ralph Carson remembers going to the basement the weekend of Aug. 29 hoping to do his laundry, a prosecutor said Thursday.
He wouldn’t be able to leave that basement, authorities now say, until “multiple days” later, attacked and left for dead by his newest neighbor, Harold Michael Ortiz.
Acting on a tip, police and firefighters pulled the 65-year-old Carson — dehydrated, disoriented and near death — from underneath a pile of debris in a far corner basement room at 1330 Union St.
Near him, under another pile of debris, authorities found the decomposing body of Carson’s upstairs neighbor, 55-year-old Valerie Washington.
The man now accused of attacking both and burying them in that basement, the 44-year-old ex-convict Harold Ortiz, appeared in Schenectady County Court Thursday morning on a new 14-count indictment.
He faces top counts of second-degree murder, second-degree attempted murder and first-degree kidnapping. The murder and kidnapping counts each carry possible sentences of 25 years to life upon conviction.
Ortiz pleaded not guilty.
The indictment marks the first formal charges against Ortiz in connection with the death of Washington. Those who knew Washington have described her as a religious woman who loved her family.
The indictment also contains the first public identification of Carson as the man who survived the alleged attack by Ortiz.
And survive is what Carson did.
The current thinking, prosecutor Philip Mueller told The Daily Gazette on Thursday, is that Ortiz attacked both Washington and Carson separately, and that they were both in the basement for “multiple days.”
Carson, Mueller said, remembers little from his time there. He drifted in and out of consciousness.
He remembers the dark and light as the days passed.
“He was so dehydrated and so depleted,” Mueller said of Carson’s state upon discovery, “that he didn’t understand anything except that he was there and couldn’t move or get out.”
But he was alive.
“Yes,” Mueller said. “Barely.”
“It appears from the evidence that had he not been discovered the day he was discovered … there’s a good chance he would not have made it another day.”
Authorities still aren’t certain exactly when Ortiz allegedly attacked Washington or Carson, though they believe Ortiz attacked Washington first, Mueller said.
The indictment isn’t specific, placing both attacks only between Aug. 29 and Sept. 2. Through phone records and investigation, police put together some of the timeline. Police believe both were alive and well that Saturday, Aug. 29. Washington’s family has said she had phone contact with a local friend the afternoon of Sunday, Aug. 30.
Other evidence include’s Carson’s injuries themselves. He had injuries from the initial attack, but he also had injuries from his entombment: deep bed sores that take time to develop, Mueller said.
Mueller said Carson seems to be recovering. He continues to receive medical treatment for his substantial injuries.
Authorities found Carson and the body of Washington the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 2. Carson’s savior, according to documents previously released: Ortiz’s own brother. Ortiz allegedly told the brother of the attack on Carson and the brother turned that information over to police. Police arrived at 1330 Union St. minutes later.
Carson can’t pinpoint the time of his attack, but Mueller said a possible motive is that Ortiz feared Carson would discover Washington’s body.
Carson doesn’t recall suspecting anything was amiss.
“He just remembers going down there to check whether anybody was using the laundry,” Mueller said. “He wanted to do the laundry and that’s where the laundry was … and he says he was attacked when he was down there.”
Another possible motive: robbery and theft.
Ortiz faces first-degree robbery and first-degree burglary counts related to both Washington and Carson. He is accused of going through both apartments and taking items in the aftermath.
Both Washington and Carson had lived at 1330 Union St. for some time. Ortiz, however, had just moved in.
Ortiz was released from state custody July 10, having been held for his entire 17-year sentence on a Brooklyn attempted murder conviction, records show.
Mueller said Ortiz first saw the Schenectady apartment there Aug. 18 and agreed to rent it starting at the end of the month. He received keys Thursday, Aug. 27, in anticipation of power being turned on. However, he may have been in and out unauthorized prior to that, he said.
Police arrested Ortiz the day of the discoveries. He has remained in custody without bail since then.
He appeared in court Thursday with his attorney, Schenectady County Public Defender Stephen Signore. Judge Matthew Sypniewski presided.