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Man unapologetic as he admits gunning down an Eritrean

 

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Enrique Ortiz pleads guilty, says, 'Why should I … apologize to his family?'

By Kevin Amerman, Of The Morning Call

6:59 p.m. ESTFebruary 11, 2013

An Allentown man unapologetically admitted gunning down an African refugee he didn't know last year during a night when he also assaulted his girlfriend and threatened to shoot other strangers.

Enrique M. Ortiz, 26, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, illegal gun possession, carrying a firearm without a license, possession of cocaine, simple assault, two counts of reckless endangerment and three counts of terroristic threats, all with the emotion of someone ordering a takeout meal over the phone.

Judge Robert L. Steinberg, who immediately sentenced Ortiz to 40 to 80 years in state prison, tried to evoke some kind of emotion by explaining to Ortiz that his victim, 22-year-old Hagos F. Mezgebo, left war-torn Eritrea in the Horn of Africa and resettled in the city through Catholic Charities only to be gunned down "in the mean streets of Allentown." The judge even pulled out a map to show Ortiz where Mezgebo came from so he could imagine his victim's journey to the United States for a better life. Still no emotion from Ortiz.

"What can I say to convince you to give me less time?" Ortiz asked, noting his plea called for a fixed sentence, so there was no need to speak. "So why should I sit here and apologize to his family?"

 

The judge replied: "Most decent human beings, when they've done something wrong, want to express their sorrow."

"I can only conclude you really have no regard for anybody but yourself," the judge said.

Ortiz, represented by attorney David Nicholls, had been scheduled to go to trial next month. Prosecutors had been seeking a first-degree murder conviction and the death penalty for Ortiz.

Ortiz shot Mezgebo in the head and thigh around 1 a.m. on Jan. 7, 2012 on Fountain Street, near Ninth and Chew streets.

Authorities say Mezgebo has just left the B&B Piano Bar at Ninth and Chew streets, where he had been celebrating the start of the Orthodox Christian holidays when he came upon Ortiz, who was sitting in a car and arguing with his girlfriend after being kicked out of the Maingate Night Club on 17th Street.

The girlfriend, Nicole Olesak, said Ortiz got out of the car and returned after gunshots rang out.

Lehigh County First Assistant District Attorney Steven Luksa said the two men didn't appear to know each other and had no previous run-in that night. He speculated Mezgebo, who was learning English, may have looked at Ortiz or said something while Ortiz argued with his girlfriend.

Luksa has said it's also possible it was a case of mistaken identity.

"I wasn't out looking for him and trying to kill him," Ortiz said Monday.

Two teenagers previously testified they were on Fountain Street when the shooting erupted. They ran and ducked onto a porch. Luksa said the porch was hit by bullets, but the teens avoided injury.

Authorities say after Mezgebo was gunned down, Ortiz sped away and nearly ran into a car double-parked on Ninth Street. He got out of his car and pulled out a gun as he argued with three women. Luksa said he told the women, "I could shoot all of you." One, not knowing Ortiz had just killed someone, said "go ahead." Luksa said Ortiz then placed his gun on the woman's chin before fleeing.

Ortiz drove to the Super 8 Motel on Airport Road, where he and Olesak were staying. At the motel, Ortiz allegedly roughed up his girlfriend and she eventually left him. The next day, she filed a police report and told police about the shooting.

After police released a wanted poster, Ortiz was arrested Jan. 9 in a car where they said cocaine was found. Police said they also found a 9 mm handgun with a scratched-off serial number under Ortiz's seat.


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