Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Eastern Pa. man sentenced to 40 to 80 years after plea in slaying of Eritrean immigrant

The 22-year-old Hagos Mezgebo escaped a life in war-torn Africa only to be gunned down in the streets of Allentown, seemingly for no apparent reason.
But Enrique Manuel Ortiz showed no signs of remorse, nor did he offer any semblance of apology, as he was sentenced Monday to 40 to 80 years in prison for the murder.
"He basically said he had nothing to say because nothing he could say would give him any less time in prison," said Lehigh County First Deputy District Attorney Steven Luksa.
Ortiz pleaded guilty to third-degree murder Monday. Prosecutors originally sought first-degree murder charges, which could have led to the death penalty.
Ortiz shot Hagos Mezgebo to death on Jan. 7 near the corner of Emmett and Fountain streets. Ortiz was parked on the street there, along with his girlfriend, when Mezgebo passed by on the sidewalk.
Ortiz was in a furious mood after having been thrown out of an Allentown nightclub. He did not know Mezgebo, but authorities have speculated Ortiz may have shot him for looking at Ortiz or saying something to him as he passed by.
But Luksa said Ortiz has not made clear why he shot Mezgebo, and he does not expect him to ever make it clear. Monday's guilty plea and sentencing hearing was the first time Ortiz had even acknowledged being on Fountain Street that night.
"The motivation behind this is still unknown," Luksa said. "What I do know is that there is no evidence he knew or had ever associated with Mr. Mezgebo prior to that evening."

Ortiz was sentenced by Lehigh County Judge Robert Steinberg.
Mezgebo previously lived in the war-torn African nation of Eritrea before fleeing the nation in 2008 and coming to the United States with the help of Catholic Charities, a program of the Diocese of Allentown.
"This was a tragic turn of events for Mr. Mezgebo," Luksa said. "He was able to extricate himself from a terrible situation in Eritrea and start putting down roots here, only to die because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Ortiz also threatened three women at gunpoint on Walnut Street after mere minutes after Mezgebo was killed.
Ortiz was speeding down Walnut Street, fleeing the Fountain Street scene, and nearly struck a car that had been double-parked on the road dropping off one of the girls at home.
Natasha Collazo previously testified that Ortiz drew his gun as he exited the car and waived it at the girls as he argued with them. He threatened to "cap" them all, she said, and at one point placed the gun under her chin.
Wearing a blue prison jumpsuit and shackles, Ortiz did not speak during Monday's testimony. He occasionally looked back at the courtroom audience, and slouched in his chair or shook his head during some of the testimony.
"I just called his bluff and said, 'Well, if you're so tough, why don't you just do it?'" Collazo previously testified. "He said, 'Obviously, you don't know who I am.'"
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