Why was David Ortiz shot? The answer might soon become known.
Initially described as a robbery gone wrong, the June 9 shooting of the retired Boston Red Sox slugger in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic appears to be the culmination of an organized and premediated conspiracy.
Since the shooting occurred, 11 people have been arrested for alleged roles in the planning and execution of the life-threatening ambush on Ortiz. The suspects include two prison inmates who are accused of assisting in the plot. Other individuals have been questioned, meaning additional arrests could be forthcoming. Under Dominican Republic law, the suspects can be detained for a year or longer as the investigation proceeds. This dynamic provides law enforcement with ample time to interrogate suspects and search for evidence.
One of the suspects, Eddy Feliz Garcia, was arrested on the night in question. Garcia was the person restrained and badly beaten by witnesses at Dial Discotheque. It was in this popular night club where a man walked up from behind Ortiz as the 43-year-old former World Series MVP calmly conversed with a friend. The man raised a handgun and, with both hands on the firearm, shot Ortiz at point-blank range.
Although Garcia, 25, was initially identified as the shooter, law enforcement later clarified that Garcia was an alleged accomplice. Garcia had arrived at the club on a motorcycle with another arrested man, Oliver Moises Mirabal Acosta. After the shooting, Garcia tried to flee on the motorcycle. However, he fell and then faced the fury of the irate crowd.
The alleged shooter is 25-year-old Rolfy Ferreyra Cruz, who is also under arrest. He has told law enforcement that the highly-recognizable Ortiz wasn’t his intended target. The gun police believe was used in the shooting was found buried about 100 miles away in Mao, a city where one of the suspects resides. The gun is undoubtedly being tested by forensics to verify that it fired the bullet which entered Ortiz and is also linked to Ferreyra Cruz’s possession.
Yet another crucial defendant in custody is Gabriel Alexánder Pérez Vizcaíno, a.k.a. “The Bone.” Pérez Vizcaíno is regarded as the person who served as a go-between the person who financed the assassination plot (more on him below) and the persons hired to carry it out. Pérez Vizcaíno appears to have made an unwitting choice with key evidence. Court records obtained The Associated Press and other media indicate that a day after the shooting, Pérez Vizcaíno sold—rather than destroyed or hid—the gold-colored iPhone 6 he supposedly used to coordinate the attack. The sale was made to an unidentified woman for $180. It appears law enforcement has recovered incriminating evidence from this phone, which allegedly received a photo of the target (believed, but not confirmed, to be Ortiz).
Pérez Vizcaíno allegedly transferred payments from the financier of the assassination plot, Alberto Miguel Rodriguez Mota, to the hit men. Rodriguez Mota remains a fugitive. He is considered the possible architect of the crime, or at least the person who financially made it possible. If he is apprehended, Rodriguez Mota would be able to share substantial insight into why perhaps a dozen or more persons would plot to shoot Ortiz.
Ney Aldrin Bautista Almonte, director of the national police, has publicly shared additional details of the investigation. One detail is that the suspects were bribed with 400,000 Dominican pesos. In U.S. dollars, this payment is worth approximately $7,820. While such an amount might seem shockingly low for such a heinous crime, cost of living is a relevant point of context. According to Data USA, the median household income in Santo Domingo is the U.S. dollar equivalent of $15,940, or a little more than twice the bounty on Ortiz’s life.
Several of the suspects are also accused of committing various—and, as is currently understood, unrelated—crimes in the United States, specifically in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The suspects’ ties to the U.S. raise the possibility that some of the planning into the Ortiz shooting might have occurred within the jurisdiction of the U.S. If so, officials from New Jersey, Pennsylvania as well as federal officials from the FBI and other agencies would investigate (the New York Daily Newsreports that officials from the U.S. Drug and Enforcement Administration are “actively involved” in a related probe). Charges related to the Ortiz shooting could thus potentially be brought in the U.S.
Ortiz, 43, is currently recovering at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where the naturalized U.S. citizen resides with his wife, Tiffany, and their children. He has undergone multiple surgeries, including procedures to remove his gallbladder and parts of his intestines and colon. Although his injuries are debilitating, painful and life-altering, Ortiz is fortunate that the bullet didn’t kill or paralyze him. There is also optimism that he will make a full recovery. On Tuesday, the Red Sox announced that Ortiz’s condition had been upgraded to “good.”
While Ortiz understandably might not have plans to return to the Dominican Republic any time soon, he is nonetheless a crucial witness for law enforcement and prosecutors. He will be expected to cooperate fully in the Santo Domingo investigation and, if necessary, testify in any trials of the defendants. As they question the suspects and other persons of interest, Dominican law enforcement will seek relevant information from Ortiz. They are more likely to make such inquiries as he gradually recovers his health.
It’s not yet clear if law enforcement has determined, with sufficient certainty, the motive for the shooting. If they have, they haven’t publicly revealed it yet. That has not stopped rumors as to why Ortiz would be targeted for murder. The Daily Mailreports that Ortiz may have been friends, or had a relationship, with a woman who is married to an organized criminal. Whether that narrative is corroborated by evidence and witness testimony remains to be seen.
What is certain is that the shooting was neither random nor spontaneous. Further, the person or persons who wanted Ortiz shot had the resources to finance a multi-person initiative to organize and carry out the plot. The plan involved gaining information on Ortiz’s whereabouts at the time the shooting occurred. Planning also appeared to take time. Those involved kept their strategies sufficiently secret to prevent the plot from being thwarted in advance.
Given that most of the suspects were arrested quickly, it doesn’t appear the planners adequately contemplated the aftermath of shooting one of the most popular persons in the Dominican Republic and a beloved sports figure worldwide. Or they didn’t properly assess the risk of one conspirator being arrested and then, during interrogation, giving up information about other conspirators.
Along those lines, the fact that a group of defendants has been charged is an important point. Prosecutors may be using the “prisoner’s dilemma” to extract information from them. The dilemma is straightforward. Prosecutors offer a deal to one suspect whereby if he or she agrees to cooperate—and thus turn over crucial evidence, “name names” and implicate conspirators with damning testimony—this suspect will be rewarded with lower charges or a lesser punishment. The dilemma for the suspect is that if he or she doesn’t take the deal, prosecutors will offer the same deal to a second suspect. If that second suspect takes the deal, he or she could then implicate the first suspect. Complicating this analysis is the fact that a suspect who “rats” on their conspirators may then become the target of retribution.
Odds are, law enforcement officers and prosecutors know much more about the motive than has been revealed in their statements. They are in the process of extracting testimony and are likely cautious to not tip off others involved before apprehending them.
SI will keep you posted on the legal aftermath of the Ortiz shooting.
Michael McCann is SI’s Legal Analyst. He is also an attorney and Director of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law.