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Brought to Justice

Suspect pleads guilty in dancer Maria Isabel's death

By Ed Young
Published on LatinoLA: March 3, 2003


Brought to Justice


Johnny Andres Ortiz, a thirty two-year-old, pasty-faced Columbian national, pled guilty to the second-degree murder of Maria Isabel Fernandez in Pasadena Superior Court. The plea marks the beginning of the end of a five-year ordeal for the family, friends and fans of Maria Isabel, a rising young star in the flamenco dance world.

In a loud but not particularly clear voice, Andes repeated "Yes" to the instructions of presiding judge Teri Schwartz, acknowledging that he was guity of killing Maria Isabel, with the special circumstance of the weapons (two knives). He thus avoids a possible first-degree verdict, accepting 16 years to life in lieu of a possible 25 years to life. He waived his right to a trial by jury, as well as all state and federal appeals. The 18 months he spent hiding in Mexico will not apply to his sentence, but the time he has spent in custody in the US, since August of 2000, will.

Ortiz, dressed in the drab, poorly fitting orange jumpsuit of county inmates and sporting the heavy chains and manacles of a ruthless killer, seemed to retain his equanimity throughout the proceedings, possible evidence of sucessful medication. But the signs of strain on the family and friends of Maria Isabel were clearly evident, pain etched on the faces of Sally de la Peza, her guardian when Miguel was out of the country, and best-friend Judy Sanchez.

Looking somewhat less smug than in earlier court appearances, he seemed uncomfortable in the telescopic lens of a newspaper cameraman, and turned away repeatedly from its shutter. But he had to face his intepreter to make his plea, and this is when the shots whirred incessantly. It was a long way from my first encounter with this individual, when he was dressed smartly in a polo-shirt and sports jacket, closely guarding Maria Isabel at Alegria, a flamenco club in Long Beach, in the fall of 1998.

"Johnny, we hardly knew ye..."

Sentencing will be on March 27, at 8:30 a.m., at Dept. "E" of Pasadena Superior Court, 300 East Walnut Street. Assistant District Attorney Miriam Thompson and Maria Isabel's dad, Miguel, are strongly urging her friends and fans to attend this denoument. "There is no better time or way to show your support for Maria Isabel," her dad said. "We also need statements from her friends, fans and students for inclusion in her file to be submitted to the parole board considering the killer's fate in the future."

Please direct your letters about Maria Isabel to: "California Parole Board, c/o Marian Thompson, Asst. D.A." and send them to "Miguel Fernandez, c/o Maria Isabel Fund, Inc., P.O. Box 1617, Claremont, CA 91711-8617" or e-mail to mfernan447@aol.com. All letters must be received by March 24. To make things easier, sample letters are available to use. Contact roigjoven@hotmail for examples. E-mail petitions are encouraged as well.

If you cannot attend the sentencing hearing, please send a letter. A few words spoken from the heart will make a difference, and the more letters received, the better. It does not matter how well or how little you knew Maria Isabel, or even if you never saw her dance. All who hunger for justice cry out in her name. "I'm worried about the killer using his charm on the parole board thirteen-and-a-half years from now," said de la Peza.

Who will speak for someone who cannot speak for herself?

Maria Isabel Fernandez was widely admired and universally loved. I think of her often, especially when I dance.






About Ed Young:
Ed Young is a founding board member of the Maria Isabel Fund, Inc., which awards scholarship in the performing arts to inner-city college students. For more information, please visit http://www.mariaisabel.org.




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