More than a week after David Ortiz was shot as part of what police have called a murder-for-hire plot, authorities in the Dominican Republic now say the former Red Sox star was not the intended target.
Attorney General Jean Alain Rodríguez Sanchez told reporters Wednesday that a friend of Ortiz – who shared a table with him at a patio bar in Santo Domingo – was the target of the bungled hit.
The suspected gunman was only sent a blurry photo of the friend identified as Sixto David Fernandez, who was wearing clothes similar to Ortiz that night, prosecutors and police said. Authorities said the lighting made the shooter confuse one for the other.
While police said the men were dressed similarly, they have different physical appearances.
Ortiz is 6’3 and 250 pounds, according to the Red Sox, and is one of the Dominican Republic’s most recognizable celebrities.
“The fact that David Ortiz wasn’t the target doesn’t change anything,” Rodriguez Sanchez said. “The law is the same for everybody.”
The extraordinary twist in the case came less than a week after a prosecution spokesman dismissed reports that Ortiz was not the intended victim, saying he doubted any Dominican would not recognize the ex-ballplayer.
Erick Montilla, the spokesman, was responding to media reports in which the accused gunman was quoted as saying he confused Ortiz with his actual target. “He goes directly to where the victim is and shoots without hesitation,” said Montilla said last week, referring to video of the shooting.
But prosecutors told CNN Wednesday night that evidence uncovered this week pointed them in a different direction, with Ortiz as a victim of a botched hit.
Who was behind the alleged hit?
Police have identified the mastermind of the attack as Victor Hugo Gomez, a cousin of Fernandez.
Gomez was convicted in 2011 of several crimes in the Dominican Republic but has since been released from prison. Authorities say they believe Gomez ordered the killing because he suspected Fernandez turned him in to Dominican investigators back in 2011.
The attorney general said Gomez has alleged ties to Mexico’s Gulf Cartel, and is wanted by the US Drug Enforcement Administration. The attorney general said Gomez is believed to have arranged the hit from the United States.
A total of 11 suspects are in custody. Gomez and two other suspects are still on the run, said Maj. Gen. Ney Aldrin Bautista Almonte of the Dominican Republic National Police.
The other suspects were identified as Luis Alfredo Rivas Clase and Alberto Miguel Rodriguez Mota, the man who police said took a photo of Fernandez at the bar that was eventually shown to the gunman.
Who paid for the botched hit?
On Monday, CNN obtained Dominican court documents that identified Rodriguez Mota as the person accused of paying for the attempted hit. Rodriguez Mota faces attempted murder charges in the case.
The documents dated Saturday stated the suspects “in a coordinated manner” had “tracked” Ortiz before the shooting.
When asked by CNN why investigators were putting forth a different scenario now, Prosecutor Milciades Guzman said the focus of the investigation changed Tuesday, when investigators discovered that Ortiz was not the intended target.
A spokeswoman for the prosecutor told CNN on Wednesday night the document was prepared before investigators found evidence linking Fernandez to the shooting and that’s why his name doesn’t appear on it.
“At that point, the case’s theory led us to believe the target (of the shooting) was victim David Ortiz,” said Julieta Tejeda, communications director for the prosecutor’s office.
What we know about Alberto Miguel Rodriguez Mota’s alleged role
Rodriguez Mota met with another suspect, Gabriel Alexander Perez Vizcaíno, to discuss a plan one week before Ortiz was shot, according to the indictment.
Perez Vizcaíno was the go-between for Rodriguez Mota and another suspect accused of helping orchestrate the hit from a Dominican prison, identified as Jose Eduardo Ciprián.
According to court documents, Ciprián and fellow inmate Carlos Alvarez helped coordinate the shooting and distributed a $7,800 payment to the “sicarios,” or assassins.
On the day of the shooting Ciprián is believed to have texted from his prison cell a photo of Ortiz to Perez Vizcaíno, who is also known as “El Hueso” or “The Bone,” according to the court documents.
Perez Vizcaíno then met with a “criminal group” at a gas station to show them the photo of the person they were to “liquidate,” according to the indictment.
On Monday, Perez Vizcaíno was given a year of pre-trial detention at a court hearing, according to Jose Hoopelman, an attorney for David Ortiz.
It is not clear why Rodriguez Mota would have paid nearly $8,000 to kill Ortiz or if he was acting on someone else’s behest.
How the shooting unfolded
Ortiz was sitting on a crowded bar patio in Santo Domingo the night of June 9 when a gunman walked in, pulled out a Browning Hi-Power 9mm and shot him once in the lower back.
The bullet passed through Ortiz, perforating his intestines and internal organs and hit his friend, TV talk show host Jhoel Lopez, in the leg.
The accused gunman, Rolfi Ferreira Cruz, fled the scene on foot. His alleged getaway driver, Eddy Vladimir Feliz Garcia, stalled out his motorcycle as he attempted to flee. An enraged crowd pummeled him before turning him over to police.
Ferreira Cruz, 25, was indicted in the United States Thursday for conspiring to distribute heroin, according to federal prosecutors in New Jersey.
He faces one count of conspiring to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin and a quantity of cocaine, possessing with the intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin and a quantity of cocaine, and possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, Craig Carpenito, US Attorney for the District of New Jersey, said in a statement.
The status of the cases
Many of the accused come from poor neighborhoods and appear to be foot soldiers in an alleged plot against one of the greatest athletes the Dominican Republic has ever produced.
Several of them denied involvement as masked officers hustled them into court for a hearing on Friday. At the hearing a judge ordered nine of the suspects to remain in jail for at least a year while awaiting trial.
The alleged gunman, Ferreira Cruz, was arrested Wednesday and confessed to the shooting, prosecutors told CNN.
The alleged gunman, Ferreira Cruz, was arrested June 12 and confessed to the shooting, police said.
CNN’s Patrick Oppman and Angela Barajas reported from Santo Domingo and Nicole Chavez wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Ray Sanchez contributed to this report.