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Ortiz found guilty of manlaughter in 2019 death of Carroll

A four-day trial concluded on Friday with a jury rendering guilty verdicts for an area man accused of murder in St. Francois County.

The defendant, Oscar Ortiz Jr., of Park Hills, was standing trial last week for charges including second-degree murder and armed criminal action related to the 2019 homicide of 34-year-old Adam "Scooby" Carroll of Park Hills.

After hearing testimony from 18 witnesses and reviewing multiple evidentiary exhibits, it took a jury more than five hours of deliberation to find Ortiz guilty of a lesser charge of second-degree involuntary manslaughter, as well as armed criminal action, and tampering with physical evidence and two traffic offenses.

Ortiz was represented at trial by Special Public Defender Carl Kinsky, while St. Francois County Prosecuting Attorney Melissa Gilliam tried the case on behalf of the state. Presiding over the trial was Circuit Judge Wendy Wexler Horn.

According to court records, just after midnight on July 1, 2019, officers with the Park Hills Police Department were dispatched to a home in the 700 block of Third Street for a 34-year-old male who had been shot in the head and was not breathing. Police arrived to find Carroll lying on the floor in the rear bedroom of the home with a gunshot wound to his head. An autopsy revealed that Carroll had been shot with a .45 cal. pistol and the bullet entered behind the man's left ear, coming to a stop inside his brain.

Carroll's girlfriend, 33-year-old Crystal Nash, lived at the home with her young son and her roommate Jessica Roberts, who were all present at the time of Carroll's death. Nash was reportedly the only one to witness the shooting and stated that Ortiz had fired the lethal round.

Ortiz was located after crashing a car shortly after midnight on the night of the shooting. He was reportedly driving too fast, lost control, and overturned his vehicle in the 4700 block of Flat River Road. Ortiz was transported to Parkland Health Center by the St. Francois County Ambulance District, where he was treated and then placed under arrest.

Ortiz was charged the next day.

After being continued several times, the trial began on Oct. 12 with jury selection. The selected jurors took their seats in the jury box and heard opening statements from the state and defense.

It was the defense's position that reasonable doubt of Ortiz's guilt existed due to inconsistent witness statements and the testimony of a witness alleging Nash had admitted to shooting Carroll in self-defense.

The state would argue that Ortiz was the shooter based on the witness testimony, the position of the gunshot wound, and a .45 cal. shell casing found at the scene that matched the brand of .45 cal. ammunition found in the trunk of the car in which Ortiz had crashed. There was also the presence of green paint that had been thrown on Nash by Carroll before the shooting and later found on Ortiz's arm and clothing at the hospital, placing him at the scene of the crime.

The jury began hearing witness testimony on the second day of the trial. The state first called Nash to the stand, who said Carroll had been attacking her and chasing her with a hatchet before Ortiz pulled the trigger. She recalled sitting on her bed, Carroll was at the foot of the bed, and Ortiz was standing in the doorway. She said Ortiz shot Carroll and then gave her and Roberts a hug, saying to them, "never let a man beat you like that."

Throughout her testimony, which took up most of the trial's second day and a portion of the third day, Nash broke down emotionally several times, often refusing to answer questions and becoming heatedly argumentative with defense attorney Kinsky on cross-examinations.

Kinsky referenced previous depositions conducted with Nash when the woman would provide inconsistent answers to his questions. He referred to the deposition transcripts multiple times while questioning Nash on the stand. Nash would refute several statements recorded in the deposition transcript, even suggesting that the transcript had been altered.

Nash said the weeks leading up to Carroll's death were tumultuous. Police were called to her home for domestic disturbances before Carroll's death. The two had gotten into a fight in the hours before the shooting, and Nash called police, which reportedly angered Carroll as he believed he had a warrant out for his arrest. Police told Carroll to leave the residence, so he rode a bike to Lewis Park nearby.

Nash testified that Ortiz and Brittany Marler pulled into her backyard in a white car while Carroll was away. She said Ortiz was carrying a six-pack of beer under his arm, and she saw Marler hand him a gun. She recalled seeing Ortiz holding the firearm and wearing one glove.

At some point, Nash said they were all hanging out near the back porch area. By then, Marler was in contact with Carroll, who was still at the park, by cell phone and was grabbing drug paraphernalia for him in the back bedroom.

Nash said she spoke to Ortiz about why he was there, noting that he was disgruntled and angry about something. She said she had a .380 cal. handgun under her mattress for protection, but the gun had been jammed or disabled. She mentioned that Ortiz told her to get the gun, so she retrieved the weapon and gave it to him. She told police that Ortiz had shot the .380 cal. gun several times off the back deck of the house and then gave it back to her. A detective later testified that the .380 cal. handgun was seized but returned to Nash a few weeks later after it was determined the firearm was not the same caliber as the one used in the shooting.

A short time after Nash put her gun back under her mattress, she said Ortiz asked her to go get Carroll, and she became scared.

Marler and Nash left in Nash's car to pick up Carroll from the park. All three reportedly returned to Nash's house, where Ortiz was still present. Once there, Carroll began cooking some noodles on the stove. Nash testified that Ortiz and Carroll started to argue in the kitchen. Marler testified that Carroll maintained a very calm demeanor while Ortiz was doing the yelling initially. Nash said she was in her bedroom at the time and couldn't hear what they were yelling about because Carroll had turned on loud music.

Marler stated that she went to the front of the house to check on Nash's son, who was asleep in the living room. She said Carroll gave her a hug and told her it would be best if she left because of the ongoing confrontation with Ortiz.

Nash said Carroll came back to the bedroom to eat and continued talking to Ortiz, who was standing at the bedroom doorway. She explained that she didn't know what they were talking about, but the situation escalated as Carroll threw the hot noodles on her and began throwing other items at her while yelling. She said he was throwing anything he could grab, including green model paint.

Carroll would often carry a hatchet, which Nash testified he had just before he was shot. She recalled that Carroll hit her bedframe with the hatchet while accusing her of having sex with another man. According to Nash, Carroll sliced her finger with the hatchet leaving a scar, which she showed to the jury.

Nash testified that Ortiz pointed a gun at her and Carroll and said, "if you keep beating on this b----, I'm going to kill her, you, and everyone." Nash said it was when Carroll began attacking her once more that Ortiz shot the man in the back of the head. Nash described hearing two shots, which was later refuted by a detective's testimony who said there was no evidence of a second round being fired.

She further described how Carroll remained standing briefly before dropping to the floor near the bedroom door area. Crime scene photos presented to the jury showed a hatchet lying next to Carroll's legs.

Marler later testified that she left the house, as Carroll suggested before the shooting, and was walking to a friend's house close by. The woman recalled hearing the gunshot as she was about a block away from Nash's house. Marler said she had a bad feeling and texted Carroll to see what was going on. She explained that she received a text message from Nash stating Carroll had been shot.

Ortiz's attorney asked Nash if she had called 911 after the shooting. She testified that Ortiz hung around the house for about 15-20 minutes before leaving and said she couldn't call the police until he had left. Once on the phone with emergency services, Nash was advised to try CPR because she thought Carroll was still breathing. She refused to do CPR because she was trained not to perform the procedure on someone with a gunshot wound to the head.

Police arrived and cleared the house, separating Nash and her roommate, Roberts, in order to collect witness statements. Marler had also come back to the house. The three women, along with Nash's son, were transported to the police station for questioning.

Former Park Hills Detective Craig Newberry was called to the scene. This investigation was his first homicide case. He began processing the scene and collecting evidence, including an unfired .45 cal. round, a spent .45 cal. round, a rubberized glove, and a beer can. The detective took several photos of the scene, including areas where fresh green paint had been splattered.

The state called Newberry to the witness stand to explain the details of the investigation. He said he was en route to the police station after leaving the scene when he received a call notifying him of Ortiz's car crash on Flat River Road. He went to Parkland Health Center, where Ortiz was being treated for injuries. Ortiz was unconscious at the time, but Newberry was able to take photos of green paint on the suspect's hand and forearm.

While on the stand, Newberry identified clothing belonging to Ortiz, which he seized as evidence at the hospital. He pointed out green paint found on Ortiz's shirt, pants, and the bottom of one of his shoes.

While at the hospital, Newberry performed a gunshot residue test on Ortiz's hand. A Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) Crime Lab criminalist testified that Newberry did not remove the plastic wrapping strips on the gunshot residue testing stubs used in Ortiz's test. Because of the error, the crime lab did not process Ortiz's gunshot residue test.

On cross-examination of the crime lab criminalist, the defense pointed out that gunshot residue testing was performed on Nash and Roberts. Both tests were positive for the presence of gunshot residue. The criminalist noted that the presence of gunshot residue does not mean the person fired a gun but does indicate a gun was fired near the person.

The criminologist said the black glove found at the house was also tested and showed gunshot residue particles.

After leaving the hospital, Newberry testified he went to the police station to interview Nash, Roberts, and Marler. The defense played an approximately six-minute-long audio recording of Nash's recount of events for the jury.

The defense asked Newberry why he did not seize the hatchet as evidence, to which he explained that Nash said the hatchet had nothing to do with the shooting. He said she never mentioned Carroll chasing her with the hatchet during their interview.

The detective noted that Nash was accused of lying to the grand jury by saying that the hatchet had nothing to do with the case. He also agreed with the defense's argument that the woman's story kept changing as the investigation continued.

Nash's testimony had concluded earlier when she became increasingly uncooperative during the defense's questions in cross-examination. At one point, she began playing with a small Rubik's cube while on the stand. She then appeared to digress into a childlike state, calling Kinsky "a bad man," and was excused shortly after that.

Newberry testified he went to the tow yard where the car Ortiz had crashed was impounded. The detective obtained a search warrant and photographed the car and its contents. He found a box of .45 cal. ammunition that matched the brand of .45 cal. rounds found at the scene. He also found a cellphone, but that was determined not to belong to Ortiz. The car was also registered to someone else.

The .45 cal. pistol was recovered by police in the possession of Erica Coulter at an address on Water Street in Bonne Terre.

Coulter testified she and Treay Griffin, Ortiz's stepson, had previously had a relationship, and Griffin called her in the late hours of June 30-July 1, 2019, asking if he could come over and talk. She was living with Michael Rose at an address on Flat River Road at the time.

Coulter said when Griffin arrived, she saw a black and gray pistol sticking out of the waistband of his pants and explained that he had the weapon on him the entire time he was at the house. Later in the day, she and Griffin went to St. Louis with another man to get drugs.

Minutes after returning to the house, Coulter said police showed up at the residence, and she was taken into custody. She had heard about the shooting and was questioned at the police station.

Following a police interview, Coulter said that she returned to the house and found the pistol in her closet. She was surprised to find it there as the police had previously searched the house and figured they would have seen it.

Coulter said she put the gun in a backpack and took it to a friend's house in Bonne Terre. Police showed up at the Bonne Terre address shortly after her arrival and seized the backpack with the gun inside.

The prosecutor showed Coulter the weapon, but she said she did not recognize it.

The prosecution later called an MSHP Crime Lab firearms and tool mark examiner to the stand, who testified that the markings on the inside of the gun's barrel matched the markings of the bullet that killed Carroll.

The state's other expert witnesses included Dr. Russell Deidiker, the forensic pathologist who performed Carroll's autopsy.

Deidiker testified that the bullet that killed Carroll entered behind the man's left ear and traveled up and to the right, where it remained lodged inside his brain. He said Carroll had 2,600 ng/ml of methamphetamine in his system at the time of death, as well as THC. The pathologist explained that the level of methamphetamine was in the toxic range and could cause a person to act violent or angry, depending on the user.

Marler, testifying for the defense, was the last civilian witness who was called to the stand.

Marler recalled being at a gathering at a house near Wilson-Rozier Park in Farmington on June 30, 2019, where she saw Griffin and Ortiz. She said Griffin was extremely "f--- up" on heroin, and she and Ortiz put him in bed.

Marler recalled Ortiz taking cash out of Griffin's pocket and said she saw him remove a firearm out of Griffin's pocket and lay it on the bed. She testified that she never saw the gun again.

Marler said a little later, she had to stop Ortiz from drinking because he was so intoxicated that he couldn't even form a sentence. She testified she drove to Nash's house, with Ortiz in the car, in order to retrieve a purse she had left there.

Marler said when they pulled into Nash's backyard, Nash and Roberts came outside. Nash was frantic, according to Marler, yelling that Carroll had chased her with an ax earlier and telling Marler to call him.

While changing into some shorts in another room, Marler said she heard a loud bang and came out to see Ortiz with a gun in his hand pointed at the ground near the back deck. Nash told Marler that Ortiz was trying to prove something and had shot the weapon off the back deck. Marler recalled seeing Nash get the gun back from Ortiz but didn't know what happened to it after that.

Marler's testimony appeared to align with Nash's recollection of events. She spoke of the two picking up Carroll from the park, going back to Nash's house, and Carroll yelling at Nash. She also recalled Ortiz and Carroll arguing before she left.

Marler went on to say that after they were questioned at the police station, following the shooting, she was with Nash at her house, trying to comfort her because she thought that's what Carroll would have wanted.

She said they were sitting on Nash's bed, and Nash was crying and rocking back and forth. She said that's when Nash admitted to her that she was the one who shot Carroll.

Marler explained that Nash said to her, "when he came at me with his mad face, I leaned over, grabbed the gun, and shot him." Nash told Marler that flames came out of the barrel, according to Marler's testimony. Marler said that Nash appeared to be fake crying.

Marler said it was approximately a month later that Nash made threatening comments toward her. She said Nash told her that "what happened to Scoob (Carroll) was going to happen to you."

Marler said she then called Park Hills Officer Jeff Womble and told him she had information pertinent to the case on July 28, 2019.

Womble testified that he texted Det. Newberry, explaining that Marler had new information about the shooting and he needed to contact her as soon as possible. Newberry reportedly responded with a text that read, "Monday morning."

Marler said that she never received any call back about the information.

The jury then heard deliberation instructions and closing arguments from Gilliam and Kinsky before heading back to the jury room for deliberations at 6:20 p.m. on Friday.

A few hours into deliberation, the jury sent a note out that said they were deadlocked but shortly after sent another note indicating that they wished to continue deliberations. They returned with their verdict at approximately 11:38 p.m.

After the verdict was read, Carroll's family members, who had been observing the trial the entire time, were noticeably relieved and appeared pleased with the outcome of the trial.

"Oh my God, my son can rest in peace finally," said Carroll's mother, Theresa Kelly, with tears in her eyes outside the courtroom.

Carroll's father, Ronald Carroll, and stepmother, Rhonda Carroll, said they thought the prosecutor did a fantastic job trying the case and said they feel that justice was served.

"I just want to thank the jurors for their hard work in this case and for continuing to deliberate until they had a unanimous verdict very late on Friday night," said Gilliam.

Ortiz will appear before Judge Wexler-Horn for sentencing on Dec. 17. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Bobby Radford is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at bradford@dailyjournalonline.com

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