San Diego

Man Accused of Killing Wife and Sister-in-Law to Stand Trial on Murder, Arson Charges

Juan Carlos Ortega is accused of stabbing his wife to death, and stabbing and shooting her sister before putting her body in her SUV and setting it on fire

The man accused of stalking his estranged wife and killing her and her sister in their Escondido home last August will stand trial for the killings, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Juan Carlos Ortega appeared to wipe tears from his eyes at one point as prosecutors presented evidence against him. Ortega is accused of stabbing his wife Veronica Soto to death, and stabbing and shooting her sister Ana Gabriella Soto before putting her body in her SUV and setting it on fire.

"Mommy's gone," Ortega told his two children after he killed their mother, according to new testimony from Escondido Police Department Detective Ross Umstot.

Detective Umstot testified Veronica Soto was found in her small Escondido apartment with multiple stab wounds and Ana Soto was found in a burned SUV with stab wounds and a gunshot through the heart.

After initially denying involvement in the Soto sisters' deaths, Ortega admitted to detectives during interrogation that he was responsible, Umstot said.

Umstot testified Ortega told police he was essentially "stalking" his wife Veronica Soto, who was trying to get a divorce.

Ortega allegedly sat outside his wife's home for an hour before sneaking through a window at around 3 a.m. while their two daughters were sleeping.

He told police his sister-in-law came at him with a knife, and said his wife attacked him from behind. Ortega told investigators he stabbed both women amid the scuffle, according to Umstot.

Ortega then locked his children in the master bedroom, covered his wife with a blanket, took Ana to an SUV and burned the car with her body inside, Umstot said.

When asked why he didn't burn his wife's body, Umstot said Ortega told investigators, "I could not do that to my wife."

Despite his alleged admission of guilt, Ortega's immediate family maintains he's innocent.

"He didn't do it. That's what he told me, 'I didn't do it mama,'" Ortega's mother Carolina Soria said.

Ortega's two children, who now living with their grandparents, often ask for their father, according to Soria.

"She's missing dad a lot...she asks me for dad, she's crying, she asks me to show her pictures," Soria said through tears.

Ortega's defense attorney worked to poke holes in witness statements, noting that no gun nor knife were ever found in connection with the killings.

Ortega is looking at multiple charges including murder, arson, and child abuse, and could face life without parole or the death penalty if convicted.

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