Schenectady County

Two different accounts of accused killer in Schenectady

Attorneys give two different accounts of the man accused in last year’s horrific killing on Union St
Crime-scene tape surrounds the property at 1330 Union St. in Schenectady on Sept. 3, 2015.
Crime-scene tape surrounds the property at 1330 Union St. in Schenectady on Sept. 3, 2015.

Attorneys give two different accounts of the man accused in last year’s horrific killing on Union Street, according to new court filings.

Stephen Signore, the attorney for 44-year-old Harold Michael Ortiz, cited a long history of mental illness and suicide attempts in Ortiz’s past. The depictions came in a motion filed recently asking that doctors determine Ortiz’s competency for trial.

Philip Mueller, the prosecutor in the case, described in his own paperwork a cool and collected Ortiz, someone who repeatedly denied to police he did anything wrong, discussed his criminal history, and started reciting his Miranda rights from memory to officers.

Ortiz has been held since Sept. 2, accused of attacking and killing 55-year-old Valerie Washington at 1330 Union St. and attacking and leaving for dead another resident of the building, 65-year-old Ralph Carson.

Authorities found Carson and the body of Washington that afternoon.

The crimes were discovered after Ortiz told his brother of the attack on Carson and after the brother turned that information over to police. Law enforcement arrived at 1330 Union St. minutes later and soon had Ortiz in custody.

They found Carson alive under a pile of debris in the basement. They also soon discovered Washington’s body under another pile of debris. Ortiz had agreed to rent another apartment in the building just before the attacks.

Ortiz faces charges of second-degree murder, second-degree attempted murder and first-degree kidnapping, among other charges.

A pretrial hearing in the murder and attempted murder case was scheduled for last week, but the court postponed it for consideration of Signore’s competency motion.

If the judge in the case orders Ortiz to be examined, two doctors — and possibly a third if there is disagreement — would assess Ortiz’s current state of mind and file reports with the court. The judge then would make the final ruling.

The process could take one or two months to complete.

If Ortiz is found competent, the case would resume its regular progression toward trial. If he is found not competent, he would continue to be held and re-evaluated at a later date.

Signore cited a lengthy mental-health history for Ortiz that dates to 1991. Ortiz spent 17 years in state prison — his full sentence — from 1998 to July 2015 for an attempted murder in Brooklyn in 1998.

Signore wrote that courts ordered Ortiz held on mental-health issues three times in 1996 and 1997.

His motion includes citations that “on a number of occasions” Ortiz heard voices and made what Signore called multiple suicide attempts over the years. Signore wrote Ortiz tried killing himself by ibuprofen overdose, hanging and cutting himself with a razor blade, and has even swallowed razor blades.

Mueller, however, argued that Signore cites previous mental-health incidents but gives no current assessment of his dealings with Ortiz.

He also cited in detail Ortiz’s interactions with police during questioning and the nature of the charged crimes.

“He looted the apartments of both victims, stole valuable property from both, and attempted to conceal his crimes by burying his victims,” Mueller wrote.

To police, Ortiz demonstrated a deep understanding of criminal procedures, repeatedly denied wrongdoing, and knew police were recording him without being told. Police also said he invoked his right to an attorney and complained of being subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment” after sitting in the interview room mostly alone for seven hours, given water and cigarettes, Mueller argues.

Reach Gazette reporter Steven Cook at 395-3122, [email protected] or @ByStevenCook on Twitter.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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