Florida

Judge will weigh death sentence for man convicted in 83-year-old woman's murder

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Lawyers for a man convicted in an 83-year-old woman’s murder will try to convince a judge not to sentence him to death, despite a jury unanimously recommending capital punishment 11 months ago.

Juan Rosario was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Elena Ortega, who lived in his neighborhood. Prosecutors said he broke into her Turnbull Drive house to rob Ortega. He set three fires around the house to cover his tracks and, when Ortega woke up and saw him, beat her with a blunt object, prosecutors said.

Rosario’s attorneys are arguing that he is intellectually disabled and should not be sentenced to death. A neuropsychologist examined him and said his IQ is 72 — meaning he has “significantly below average intellectual functioning,” court records show.

The hearing is set to begin at 9 a.m., though Rosario’s attorneys have asked the judge to delay it and give them more time to prepare. He has been awaiting sentencing since a jury recommended a death sentence on June 2, 2017.

The case against him was based in large part on testimony from his then-girlfriend, Janet Gutierrez, who told investigators that he came home the morning of Sept. 18, 2013 with blood on himself and confessed to her. Investigators found some of Ortega’s belongings buried in Rosario’s yard, where Gutierrez said she buried them to help cover Rosario’s tracks.

Gutierrez was not charged in the case.

Ortega was a Cuban immigrant who escaped in her youth and built a life in the U.S., having a son and a daughter.

“She was my cheerleader, my best friend, my guardian angel,” her daughter, Elena Wilson said last year. “I truly don’t wish this on anyone. Until this day, I still repeat the word ‘mom’ many times every day, looking for her love, her attention, her guidance.”

This is a developing story. Please check back for more details.

glotan@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5774

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