JONESBORO — A Riverdale man who preyed on Hispanic women business owners across Atlanta, raped and murdered a 17-year-old Morrow girl on her lunch break and lay in wait to bludgeon and stab a Forest Park woman to death in her own home will spend the rest of his life behind bars.
Clayton County Superior Court Judge Robert Mack sentenced Gerardo Artemio Ortiz Hernandez, 40, of Mexico, to seven consecutive life terms, three without parole, four with the possibility, plus 255 years, all to be served consecutively. Mack added a deportation order on completion of Hernandez’ sentence.
Chained hand and foot, Hernandez pleaded guilty to a long list of charges in the 2010 carjacking, rape and murder of Monica Ambriz, 17, of Morrow, and in the murder of Maria Rivera, 61, of Forest Park. Several of the 51 charges were nolle prossed, vacated or merged into other charges. Hernandez was arrested following a string of armed robberies across metro Atlanta, including Henry and DeKalb counties.
The murders were particularly brutal. Hernandez used the same pair of scissors to stab both victims and strangled them. Ambriz’ body was not found until it was too decomposed for her family to view. Assistant District Attorney John Fowler said that when police found Rivera’s body, they thought her head had been blown off — not that she actually had been beaten to death.
Hernandez escaped the death penalty because, after he had confessed to several crimes, he said he didn’t want to talk any more but a detective told him he had to. That violated the Constitution, so Mack threw out the confession.
As Fowler enumerated the charges against Hernandez, Rivera’s weeping daughter called out, “Oh, my gosh.”
Fowler asked Hernandez whether he understood the charges against him, the penalties for each and whether he knew he could plead not guilty and demand a jury trial.
“Yes, sir,” Hernandez replied.
District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson said, “Judge, this is the first time I’ve ever filed a notice of death (penalty),” adding that the only reason the state would not pursue it was because the confession was thrown out.
Esmeralda Herrera, Ambriz’ mother, wept as she spoke through an interpreter. Ambriz’ father Valente, brother Brian, sister Maria, aunts Elda and Mayra and cousin Yesenia were also present.
“I want to ask him, what did you do to my daughter to kill her?” Herrera wept. “That day I found you in the truck, you knew I was looking for her .... If you would have told me right then, I could have found her in time ... she was dead. I couldn’t see her (because her body was too decomposed).”
Rosa Rivera, Maria Rivera’s daughter, supported by her partner John Echeverria, addressed the court in English. Her late brother, Roberto, had found his mother’s body.
“Judge Mack, I just want to talk about my mom,” Rivera said. “She was a great lady .... I can feel her spirit ... She was a hard-working woman.”
Rivera said her younger daughter was 5 at the time of the murder. “My mom duct-taped a pool for her when she was little. She never forgets that.”
Hernandez smirked during the proceedings, during which Lawson repeatedly asked “out of an abundance of caution” whether Hernandez needed a court interpreter.
Hernandez said he did not and made a point of doing his own consecutive translation, speaking a few sentences in Spanish, then repeating them in English, matter-of-factly.
“I just want to answer some questions with the Ambriz family,” Hernandez said of Ambriz’s rape and murder. “It was no reason. I never had a reason. I was just going to take the truck.” But, he said, she screamed. “I don’t wish nobody to do nothing like that to my family. I been losing family too, so I know how bad it is.”
Addressing Rivera’s family, he said, “I don’t know why this thing happened. I was tempted with money and in my time of need, I went for it. It was never in my mind to do harm to her. She just caught me. ... things happened the way they happened.”
He asked for forgiveness. Rivera shook her head no. Then Mack sent him away for the rest of his life.