More than a year into their investigation of the Ortiz family triple homicide in El Rancho, New Mexico, authorities received a case-breaking tip that implicated a local troubled teen.
Parents Lloyd and Dixie Ortiz, along with their 21-year-old son, Steven Ortiz, were murdered at their home on Father’s Day 2011. The family was found deceased that morning by the Ortiz’s daughter, Cherie Ortiz-Rios, who lived next door and called 911 to report the gruesome slaying.
When investigators arrived at the scene, they discovered Dixie in the master bedroom with trauma to her right temple. Lloyd was located in the backyard and had sustained several injuries to his upper head and torso.
In the kitchen, Steven had been struck multiple times in the head and shoulder area, according to “An Unexpected Killer,” airing Thursdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
An autopsy report later revealed the family’s wounds were the result of impact trauma made by a pickaxe, which was ultimately found in a field neighboring their residence. Although no offender DNA was detected on the murder weapon, a witness told law enforcement there was a reason for the lack of evidence — the attacker had been wearing socks over his hands at the time of the assault.
Ashley Mae Roybal claimed that on the night of the slaying, she dropped off her cousin, Jose Roybal, 15, and his friend, Nicholas Ortiz, 16, outside of the Ortiz house to burglarize it. She then returned home, and about 30 minutes later, Nicholas called her for a ride.
When Ashley picked him up, she noticed he had blood on his pants, a sock on his hand and a trash bag tied around his right foot. He confessed he had killed Lloyd, Dixie and Steven and discarded the weapon near the crime scene.
Investigators learned that Nicholas, who has no relation to the family, was friends with Cherie’s son and had lived at Cherie’s house for several months prior to the murders. After Cherie caught him stealing money and getting into trouble at school, she sent Nicholas back to his own family and never saw him again.
To corroborate Ashley’s claims, authorities examined the group’s phone logs, showing that communications between Nicholas, Ashley and Jose peaked around the time of the slayings.
When questioned about his involvement and confronted with the cellular records, Nicholas denied having anything to do with the triple homicide and quickly ended the interview.
Investigators then spoke to Jose, whose testimony proved to be a match to Ashley’s story. Jose claimed Ashley had brought them to the Ortiz house, and when she left, Nicholas said he wanted Jose to “go in with him, to go kill.”
“I told him no, I didn’t want to. I was scared,” Jose told authorities. “When he started walking towards the house, I ran to the river.”
Once he met up with Ashley and Nicholas after the murders, Jose said Nicholas “was white as a ghost” and that he confessed to killing the three family members.
On Feb. 12, 2015, an arrest warrant was issued for Nicholas, and he was picked up by New Mexico State Police.
"There were five total charges on the criminal complaint that I gave him,” New Mexico State Police Agent Kraig Bobnock told “An Unexpected Killer.” “He said, ‘I don’t agree with two of these charges on here.’ And there were only two charges that were different from murder. So, it’s an omission to me. I knew I had him at that point. It was him.”
Nicholas was brought to trial four months later, and prosecutors argued he killed the family in a robbery gone wrong. Both Ashley and Jose testified against him.
In the middle of proceedings, however, Jose changed his testimony and said that it was Ashley who had instructed them to kill the family, claiming she gave them socks to cover up their hands and plastic bags for their feet to avoid footwear impressions.
He also testified that Ashley gave Nicholas the pickaxe to carry out the murders.
Jurors were deadlocked, and a mistrial was declared. The case went back to trial the following year, and Nicholas was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder and one count each of aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon and conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon, reported local newspaper the Albuquerque Journal.
He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Ashley pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit aggravated burglary and tampering with evidence and was given 20 years in prison with six years of her sentence suspended, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
For his cooperation, Jose was given full immunity and never charged in connection with the case.
To hear more about the investigation, watch “An Unexpected Killer” on Oxygen.
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