A Swannanoa man pleaded guilty on Wednesday to one count of second-degree murder in the 2013 death of Asheville artist and musician Christopher Ortega, Buncombe County District Attorney Todd Williams announced today in a written news release.
Juan Carlos Jimenez, who also pleaded guilty to 10 counts of first-degree exploitation of a minor and 10 counts of second-degree exploitation of a minor, will serve more that 25 years in prison in connection with the death of Ortega.
Family and friends of Ortega pushed the media for attention, and the police for action, as the investigation into homicide crept forward. Several exhibitions in his honor were held in Ortega’s hometown of Fayetteville, N.C., and a website and Facebook Page were established to keep awareness high. During one point in the investigation, Alan Sheppard, owner of Alan’s Jewelry and Pawn, a prominent Asheville businessman offered a $2,500 reward for information leading to an arrest. Ortega worked at the West Asheville pawn shop as a music specialist.
The incident apparently revolved around both men’s relationship with a minor girl, according to police documents and media reports. The 35-year-old Ortega was found dead in his apartment on Coleman Avenue in North Asheville in October 2013. The cause of death was listed as asphyxiation, according to police records.
At one point during the investigation, a girl fled Jimenez and went to police, telling them he had admitted to her that he killed Ortega to protect her from being abused by Ortega, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported, citing search warrants. Police, who talked with the girl in December 2013 and again in January 2014, arrested and charged with Jiminez later that January with sexual exploitation of a minor, then several months later charged him in connection with the death of Ortega, according to the news report.
“This case involved disturbing facts and a young woman under the age of 18 who was victimized by Jimenez’ conduct. Under these circumstances the DA’s Office would not accept anything less than a term of 25 years in prison,” assistant District Attorney Rodney Hasty said in the written news release.
Williams, in announcing the pea agreement and sentencing, said the deal “was offered to save the minor victim as well as the victim’s family the trauma of a trial. The family agreed with the plea offer and this result. I thank Assistant District Attorney Rodney Hasty for his diligent work in bringing this defendant to justice.”