Testimony begins in trial of man accused in DeRidder motel slaying

DERIDDER — The trial of a DeRidder man charged with the first-degree murder of a woman at a local motel began Wednesday in 36th Judicial District Court as members of the jury heard witness testimony.

Wayne Hassien, who has had a room at Dee’s Motel for seven years, said he was with owner James Bethard when the body of 28-year-old Sonya Ortego was discovered March 24, 2016. He said he had seen the defendant, Jackie L. Pruitt, staring at the door to the room Ortego shared with her fiance, Matthew Jansen, the morning of her death.

“Something just didn’t feel right with him,” Hassien testified.

He said he heard banging and voices coming from Ortego’s room at about 6 a.m. that morning, but assumed the couple was arguing.

“They didn’t fight regularly, but they did argue from time to time,” Hassien said. “It seemed pretty normal for a couple, and I just figured the noises I heard were them.”

Hassien told prosecutor Richard Morton that he suggested Bethard check Ortego’s room to see if it was damaged during the argument.

“Nobody was expecting what we found in that room,” he said.

Hassien also testified that Pruitt knocked on his door previously that night to ask for cigarettes, and that he was drinking from a small bottle of whiskey.

“I heard from some of the other tenants that he was going room to room asking others for cigarettes, too,” Hassien said.

Bethard said Pruitt showed up at his motel March 23 to request a room for that night only. He said Pruitt told him he was coming into town and was given the room next to Ortego because it was the only one available.

The trial will resume at 10 a.m. today.””Gavel Courtroom graphic(MGN Online)

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