My Vida Umbrada
"My Peace" Statement Written During Covide-19
Rene Angel Ortiz
Wrongly Convicted of 2nd Degree Murder and
Sentenced to Life without Parole
Rene Angel Ortiz has always maintained that he is innocent of a murder for which he is serving a sentence of life without parole in Pennsylvania. The following is Rene Angel Ortiz’s account of the events that led to his wrongful conviction. The synopsis is written by Gerry Givnish, Art for Justice Board member, Founder and past Executive Director of the Painted Bride Art Center. Gerry was a volunteer art teacher at Graterford Prison from 1998 – 2006 when Rene was a participant in the art workshops. Gerry has supported Rene Ortiz’s fight for justice for many years.
On October 5, 1990 Harry Cronce and his girlfriend, Dawn Holmes, were riding around in the North Philly Barrio looking for cocaine. They were hailed by several young Latino males who were selling drugs. While the sale was in progress one of them decided to rob Cronce. Reaching into the car to grab money and drugs, he stabbed Cronce with an ice pick. Cronce died a week later in Temple Hospital. Dawn Holmes survived and testified at the trial.
About one week after Cronce died, Hector Flores, a 15 year old in the company of his mother, went to the police with a confession. He said that he was accompanied during the crime by a person named “Spade” who wielded the ice pick and stabbed the victim. Since Rene Ortiz was known by the street name “Spade” he was eventually picked up and questioned by the police. On October 23 Sergeant John Rechner led a ten hour interrogation during which Rene’s right hand was cuffed to a chair and he was denied food.
Rene Ortiz did not give Officer Rechner a confession. Rene says that Officer Rechner had him sign several blank sheets of paper on a clip board, promising Rene that he would be released after he signed the blank papers. After Rene signed the blank papers, Officer Rechner left the room. He returned about an hour later with a confession, which Angel had not given, typed above Angel’s signature.
Rene says that he was then unfastened from the chair and refastened with handcuffs on his hands held behind his back. Rene was put into a cell to await trial which would take place six months later. The false confession, which Rene did not write, became the basis of the prosecution’s case against him.
From May 17 to June 4, 1991, four young Latino men were tried together for the murder of Harry Cronce. Rene was represented by Charles Mirachi, a court appointed lawyer. Officer Rechner’s version of the crime, which was written by someone other than Rene and placed above his signature, was read in the courtroom and became part of the evidence. Officer Rechner testified that the interrogation lasted 2 hours and that Rene was told that he was free to leave at any time. Rene was not called to testify. Therefore the jury never heard Rene’s account of the events. All of the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to life without parole.
In his most recent PCRA Rene Ortiz stated that his confession was falsified – that it was a crime narrative written by the police after he had signed a blank piece of paper. The alleged confession was typed above his signature. This PCRA was dismissed in September 2019 as untimely and without merit by Judge Genece Brinkley. Judge Brinkley was to issue details of her reasons for dismissal by January 2020. This document, not yet issued, is now due in July 2020. Once the dismissal is finalized, Rene Ortiz’s attorney will appeal the Judge’s ruling with new evidence.
This evidence goes to the heart of Rene Ortiz’s falsified confession – as the homicide unit that handled Rene’s case in 1990 is the same unit that led to exonerations of Anthony Wright, Shaurn Thomas and Willie Veasy. The tactics of the police in this homicide unit, authoring a crime narrative and coercing its signing after lengthy, unrecorded interrogations, were used to wrongly convict other individuals. Mr. Ortiz will appeal the dismissal arguing, with the history of the homicide unit’s misconduct established, that police misconduct produced the confession.
Statement During Covid-19, May 21, 2020
Here I am – 30+ years incarcerated, serving a life sentence for a crime I’m innocent of. Yet, I never felt so much peace – so much God given peace. If I would have known of this spiritual anointment in the past, it would have been my only high.
While I work in the prison block cleaning and disinfecting to kill any trace of coronavirus, I listen to the depressions, anxieties, the hurt, confusion coming from - not just fellow inmates, but family, friends, DOC staff . These anxieties are off the chart - nothing I have experienced before. So much anguish and hurt expressed unfortunately by pinpointing blame, like arrows finding their spot – or trying to.
I share God’s mercy and love with them knowing that my Father’s message is that through His strength and grace we can accept every change in our lives. God has made us resilient and intelligent so that we can make the changes we need to survive.
Yes, our lives have been altered and changed, but we will prevail. God has given us the grace to adapt. This will be our legacy. Be brave, help ourselves, held others. Trust we will prevail in God’s mercy and grace.
I am at peace! I thank God for everything. We are in a storm that will pass. I know we will get through this and come to appreciate all the help and support that others have given us. The lesson that I hope we learn is that working together we created a safer and more healthy environment.
Trust in God and that trust will be passed on from hand to hand. The storm will pass and we will adapt. This will be our legacy. God bless us all.
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