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Death Row Diaries: A wounded child saves family after mother is killed by Ignacio Ortiz

Posted: 2:14 PM, Apr 23, 2016
Updated: 2018-07-26 22:47:34Z

Arizona’s most notorious death row inmates past and present have incredible stories. 

A wounded 8-year-old child fights the flames of her burning house to rescue her wounded older sister and baby brother after her mother was murdered by death row inmate Ignacio Ortiz.

IGNACIO ALBERTO ORTIZ

Date of Birth: December 21, 1941

Executed: October 27, 1999

1974:

Ignacio Ortiz and his wife Mary became godparents to the youngest child, “Baby Charlie,” of Charlie and Manuelita McCormack. Three years later, in 1977 the McCormack’s were having marital difficulties and separated. During that time Ortiz would help out around the house and with the children. There was even some suggestions that Ortiz and Manuelita had an affair.

Eventually, the pair reconciled, but Ortiz would still come around the house to see Manuelita and the kids, 3-year-old Charlie, 8-year-old Bernice and 9-year-old Patricia. He would visit while Charlie was at work, even though Manuelita discouraged the visits.

It was about 10 p.m. on December 21, 1978 when Charlie left for work. Soon after 8-year-old Bernice went into the kitchen to get Charlie a glass of water.  

When she went for the water, she saw Ortiz with his hands around her mother’s throat. Bernice ran back to her room and woke up her sister, Patricia.

After the stabbing, Ortiz went into the children’s room and told them he was going to call an ambulance for their mother.

Ortiz poured gasoline on Manuelita and the bedroom doorways

However, Ortiz poured gasoline on Manuelita and the bedroom doorways. He also placed a “delayed ignition device” under a pile of clothes at the foot of the baby’s bed.

Before leaving the house, he told the children not to leave until the fire department arrived.

However, the fire department never came, and Ortiz returned to the bedroom saying Manuelita wanted to see Patricia. When Patricia entered the living room, Ortiz grabbed her and stabbed her twice in the chest.

Patricia ran to her mother’s room, collapsing on the bed

Patricia ran to her mother’s room and collapsed on the bed.

Hearing her sister’s screams, Bernice ran out and was also caught from behind and stabbed in the chest. Bernice managed to return to the bedroom where Charlie was playing.

Bernice, smelling the smoke, helped her injured sister and  brother get out of the house

Ortiz ignited the gasoline in the home and left.

Bernice, smelling the smoke, helped her injured sister, Patricia, and brother, Charlie, get out of the house. She and Charlie struggled to get to a neighbor’s home. Patricia collapsed and nearly died on the sidewalk outside the home.

The cause of death for Manuelita was officially ruled a stabbing, however, the pathologist said it was possible that she was still alive when the fire started.

Ortiz was arrested the next day and while he was in jail awaiting trial, he offered $10,000 to hire another inmate to kill the children and the rest of the family.

On July 2, 1979, Ortiz was convicted of murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault and arson of an occupied structure.

Judge Ben Birdsell gave Ortiz the death penalty on the murder conviction. After nearly 20 years of appeals and court proceedings, Ortiz was executed on October 27, 1999.

Ortiz’ last meal:

  • 2 Fried eggs with 4 oz. Pace hot sauce
  • 4 strips bacon
  • 12oz sirloin steak
  • French fries with ketchup
  • Vanilla ice cream
  • Milk
  • Hot coffee

Ortiz’ last words:

“Jesus Christ is the Lord." He then repeated the words in Spanish. Finally, he said, "Heavenly Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."

Ortiz did not acknowledge the victim’s families who were present or the one daughter who witnessed his execution.

Information gathered from AZ. Attorney General's Office, AZ. Dept. of Corrections and

149 F.3d 923

Ignacio Alberto ORTIZ, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
Terry STEWART, Respondent-Appellee.

No. 96-99024.

United States Court of Appeals,
Ninth Circuit.

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