Trial begins for man charged with murdering teen due to July 4 fireworks

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The trial for an Austin man accused of shooting and killing a 19-year-old that was setting off July 4 fireworks with his friends began Tuesday morning.

Jason Roche is charged with the murder of Devonte Ortiz.

Police say Ortiz and his friends were setting off fireworks at the Pleasant Hill Apartments on Anken Drive in the early morning hours of July 4 in 2018. According to investigators, Roche told the young men to stop, went back in an apartment, then came back out later and began telling them to stop shooting off fireworks again.

That’s when investigators say the situation escalated and Roche shot Ortiz. Ortiz later died in the hospital.

In opening statements Tuesday morning, the prosecuting attorney said Ortiz did have a gun, but had set it down by a tire away from him before he was shot. The prosecution said Ortiz was not a threat when he was shot and that two separate cell phone videos from that night will show that.

Roche’s defense attorney told jurors that Roche was defending his father. He said Roche’s father is elderly and disabled, with a service dog that was getting worked up by the fireworks being shot off at around 1 a.m.

The defense says the first time Roche went outside and told the young men to stop shooting off fireworks, there was racially charged language on both sides. 

After that, Roche’s attorney said Roche went back inside and got dressed and ready for his overnight construction job downtown. He told jurors Roche had a gun license and would wear a gun every night for safety reasons, working downtown. According to Roche’s attorney, that’s why Roche had a gun on him when he went back outside and confronted the group setting off fireworks again.

Roche’s attorney told jurors that there may have been multiple guns among the group of young men, and that Ortiz pulled what looked like a machine gun out of a vehicle, then put it down.

After some arguing, Roche’s attorney said Ortiz pushed Roche’s father and that Roche turned around, saw that his father had been pushed and shot Ortiz once, believing he was protecting his father from deadly force.

A witness who called 911 shortly before Ortiz was shot told the court that she saw Roche pointing his gun at the young men, nudging some of them in the head with the gun before shooting Ortiz.

Prosecutors played her 911 call in the courtroom. She could be heard frantically screaming, “Somebody’s been shot,” then, “He’s been shot in the chest!”

Ortiz’s mother told the court when she was alerted that her son had been shot, she ran out and saw Roche holding a gun and Roche’s father kneeling over her son, cussing.

On Monday, prosecutors brought in five witnesses — four were in attendance when Ortiz was shot and killed, the other was an investigator employed by the Austin Police Department. Prosecutors are expected to bring five more people to the witness stand.

KXAN will continue to provide updates as the trial progresses.

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