A federal judge on Monday ordered Puerto Rican boxer Félix Verdejo held without bail after he was charged in the death of his 27-year-old pregnant lover whose body was found in a lagoon.
Verdejo is charged with kidnapping and carjacking resulting in the death of Keishla Rodríguez and with intentionally killing an unborn child. He did not make any comments during Monday's virtual hearing in which he relied on a translator.
“This is a death penalty-eligible case,” said Judge Camille Vélez.
A criminal complaint filed by the FBI accuses Verdejo of punching Rodríguez in the face and injecting her with a syringe filled with an unidentified substance bought at a public housing complex. It alleges he then bound her arms and feet with wire, tied a heavy block to her before throwing her off a bridge at 8:30 a.m. Thursday and then shot at her body.
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The complaint says a witness it did not identify helped Verdejo kidnap and kill Rodríguez.
The U.S. government has 30 days to present the case to a federal grand jury; meanwhile, a date for Verdejo's next hearing has yet to be announced.
Rodríguez, who was reported missing on Thursday after she didn’t show up for her job at an animal grooming business, was found in a lagoon near the U.S. territory's capital on Saturday. Officials identified her Sunday via dental records.
Verdejo and his attorneys previously declined comment, and police said the boxer did not originally cooperate and refused to answer questions.
Rodríguez’s family said she was pregnant with Verdejo’s child. Keila Ortiz, the victim’s mother, told reporters that her daughter called on Thursday and told her Verdejo was going to her house to see the results of a pregnancy test.
“I told her, ‘Be careful,’ because he had already threatened her,'' Ortiz said. She said Verdejo had told her daughter not to have the baby, mentioning his career and family.
Verdejo is married and has a young daughter but had known Rodríguez since middle school and maintained a relationship with her, her parents said.
Verdejo (27-2, 17 knockouts) represented Puerto Rico at the 2012 Olympics and became a professional boxer that year, competing in the lightweight division. His career was temporarily sidetracked after he was hospitalized following a 2016 motorcycle accident.
The case has outraged many in Puerto Rico, where another woman was recently found burned to death after she filed a domestic violence complaint that a judge dismissed. A Superior Court judge has announced an investigation into that decision.
Hundreds of people gathered Sunday at a bridge that crosses the lagoon where Rodríguez's body was found to demand justice for her and other women killed, with some throwing flowers into the water below. Another protest was organized on Monday, where people gathered near the governor's mansion to demand that officials do a better job of protecting victims of domestic violence.
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said at a press conference that his administration is addressing what he called a pattern of sexist and discriminatory violence.
"We recognize that this is decades old, and that it is regrettably a culture that needs to be corrected," he said. "There are multiple steps to take.”