The Justice Files: Reaching out to help solve 1969 cold case murder

Justice Files

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – They waited nearly 52 years to get their answer.

Patience and perseverance paid off for the family of Leroy Ortiz.

His 1969 murder was solved.  Monday, the Weber County attorney told ABC4 that Richard Rios Jr. killed Ortiz.  

“I am so thankful and overjoyed,” Ortiz said.

Leroy Ortiz was last seen leaving his Ogden home in 1969.  About three weeks later, his body was found in a diversion dam near Slatterville.

There were suspects but not enough evidence to make an arrest and it turned into a cold case.

Authorities and the family are unsure of the motive.  Jealousy and revenge were mentioned.

For five decades, the family waited for justice but the case remained unsolved.  Two years ago, the family turned to the Utah Cold Case Coalition for help.

The non-profit group investigates cold cases in Utah.

“When the Utah Cold Case Coaliton was contacted by Sandra (Ortiz), I did an extensive interview of her,” said Jensen.  “All the flags seemed to point to Richard Rios.”

Jensen, an investigator with the coalition, met with a homicide detective at the Weber County Sheriff’s Office.  He showed them their Rios file and convinced him to re-open the case.

“I was all for it,” said Ortiz.  “This was a golden opportunity for me to be able to reopen my brother’s case, resolve it, and find some healing.”

Two years later, they got their answer. The evidence pointed to Rios.

“He was no stranger to acts of violence and tumultuous lifestyle,” Jensen said.  “He was responsible for 1966 burglary with two others and spent prison time.”

But Jensen said detective Steven Haney deserves credit for digging deeper into the sheriff’s vault.  It was Haney who found a 1969 police report from a witness who claimed Rios confessed to him about the Ortiz murder. It was enough for the county attorney to consider the case closed.

“(Haney) did an outstanding job,” said Jensen.

And that’s what the Utah Cold Case Coalition is all about, providing resources to families and law enforcement.  Last year, the coalition opened up the nation’s first non-profit DNA forensics laboratory which relies on public donations.

“We are here for law enforcement to turn to for financial aid, for DNA processing or even a second set of eyes to interview reluctant witnesses that would avoid law enforcement,” Jensen said.

It paid off for the Ortiz family.  Sandra Ortiz is grateful to the coalition because it ended years of anguish.  She now has advice to others who find themselves in the same situation.

“(You need) to have belief and to accept … what the answers are in the end because you don’t know,” said Ortiz.  “Here we are, almost 52 years later this March and we got our answers. But I never gave up hope. I prayed for many years.”

Ortiz also thanked Haney who was with the Weber County sheriff’s office before taking a new position with the county attorney.

Jensen said the coalition has about 400-cases that they are pursuing.  Anyone seeking help can contact them through their website.

Click here to download the ABC4 Utah News app for the first alerts on your phone. Sign up for the ABC4 Utah breaking news and daily newsletters.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

ABC4 PODCASTS

More Podcasts