An Escondido man who stabbed his wife to death outside their children’s bedroom and fatally stabbed and shot her sister was sentenced Monday to two terms of life in prison without parole.
Last month, a Vista Superior Curt jury found Juan Carlos Ortega, 38, guilty of two counts of first-degree murder as well as special-circumstance allegations of lying in wait to kill his wife and committing multiple murders.
He was also found guilty of two counts of felony child endangerment and one count of arson, and received an additional sentence of 26 years to life.
Veronica Soto Ortega, 30, was found dead outside the bedroom of her sleeping children on Aug. 9, 2018, hours after her sister Ana Gabriela Soto, 26, was found in the back of a burning SUV.
At trial in December, Deputy District Attorney An Dang told the jury that not long after midnight on the day of the killings, Ortega left his car at a Park & Ride at the edge of San Marcos,
She said Ortega walked about three miles to the central Escondido apartment he had once shared with his wife.
The prosecutor said Juan Ortega — who she said was obsessed with the idea his estranged wife might see someone else — watched and waited outside the apartment. “About 3:15 a.m., he entered, ready to kill,” Dang told the jury.
Dang said the defendant stabbed his wife to death, and stabbed and shot his sister-in-law. She said Ortega put his sister-in-law’s body into his wife’s car and drove off.
At Country Club Drive and Kauana Loa Drive, just east of Escondido, the defendant poured lighter fluid over the body, set it on fire, she said.
He then made the 1.5-mile walk back to his vehicle on Nordahl Road, Dang said.
A passerby found the burning vehicle and called 911.
After investigators found Soto’s body, they went to the apartment of the registered owner — her sister. On the walkway outside the apartment, they found a blood trail.
Inside, they found Soto Ortega dead in her living room — bludgeoned and stabbed, a blanket thrown over her body.
Her body was not far from a closed bedroom door. Inside that room, her daughters, ages 4 and 5, were asleep.
Juan Ortega’s attorney told the panel that it had been self-defense. He said his client wanted to talk to his estranged wife when her sister-in-law pulled a knife on him, and the three of them ended up in a fight.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, an average of 13 women are killed each year in the county as the result of domestic violence between 1997 and 2021.