Puerto Rican boxer Félix Verdejo was denied bail on Monday after being charged a day earlier with killing a woman who was thrown off a bridge and shot after revealing she was expecting his child.
The case has shocked the U.S. territory and sparked protests against domestic violence.
“This is a death penalty-eligible case,” said Judge Camille Vélez, The Associated Press reported. Vélez remanded Verdejo to federal prison.
The professional lightweight fighter, who represented Puerto Rico in the 2012 Olympics, turned himself in a day after authorities identified the pregnant victim found dead in a lagoon as his 27-year-old lover, Keishla Rodríguez Ortiz. The married suspect was charged with kidnapping and carjacking resulting in death and intentionally killing an unborn child.
Verdejo, 27, arranged to meet with the woman Friday morning after she told him she was pregnant with his child “based on a pregnancy test,” a witness who was with him at the time of the murder told investigators, the FBI said in a criminal complaint. Verdejo had contacted the unidentified witness asking “his help to terminate the pregnancy of the Victim,” the document states.
As the boxer and Rodríguez talked inside his car during the meeting, the accused killer punched her in the face and injected her with “a syringe filled with substances purchases from a drug point,” according to the complaint. He tied the victim’s arms and feet with wire, brought her to her own car and drove it to a bridge over the San José lagoon between San Juan and Carolina, authorities said.
Verdejo then removed the woman from the vehicle, tied a heavy block to her body and tossed her into the water, according to the FBI. The suspect also shot Rodríguez with a pistol after throwing her from the bridge, the complaint alleges.
Her body was found floating in the lagoon Saturday night, prompting an investigation that led to the federal charges against the boxer. The FBI said agents reviewed surveillance footage from the crime scene, analyzed cellphone data from the area and interviewed witnesses, including the unidentified person who drove with Verdejo to the bridge before the killing.
The woman’s disappearance and death fueled intense media coverage as the island struggles with a rise in violence against women. The case comes after a woman whose domestic violence complaint was dismissed by a judge was found burned to death, according to The Orlando Sentinel.
Rodríguez’s mother, who lives in Florida, said Verdejo had previously threatened her daughter.
“She was meeting him that morning. That was the last thing she told me when I spoke to her, that he wanted to see the pregnancy blood test,” Keila Ortiz told Puerto Rican news outlets.
The grieving mother called on both Verdejo and his wife to face charges. The FBI interviewed the wife, Eliz Santiago Sierra, but it was not immediately clear if she had any ties to the killing. Sierra told investigators that she did know that the suspect had a relationship with the victim, local newspaper El Nuevo Día reported.
“Puerto Rico mourns Keishla Rodríguez’s death. Our deepest condolences to her family and friends,” said Alexis Torres, secretary of Puerto Rico’s Department of Public Safety.
“The Puerto Rico Police Bureau and the federal agencies have worked long hours collaborating as a team to solve this cold murder expeditiously. Our police officers’ dedication, passion and experience were essential in solving this murder in 48 hours,” Torres said in a statement.
Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said the island is in a “state of emergency” due to a rise in gender violence.
“The pain, anger and indignation that we feel every time we witness a crime of gender violence has to be kept alive in us so that we do not rest in our responsibility to protect, prevent and abolish this evil, as well as to do justice for all the victims,” he said in a statement Sunday. “Every day we continue working to create a society that values life, respects human dignity and rejects violence in all its forms. We have to fight this battle until we win it.”
Verdejo has competed in 29 professional fights, winning 27 of them. His career was temporarily halted in 2016 because of injuries sustained in a motorcycle crash.©2021 New York Daily News. Visit at nydailynews.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.