Warning: Contains details of violence that may be triggering
The rise in violence against women in Puerto Rico led the island to declare a state of emergency in January that led to the implementation of policies addressing the rampant femicide. Now a pregnant woman is one of the most recent victims of gender violence. Former Olympic boxer Félix Verdejo Sánchez, also known as “El Diamante”, was arrested on Sunday for the kidnapping and murder of his girlfriend who was pregnant with his child. He appeared in court Monday morning, where he was ordered by the judge to be held without bail.
Keishla Marlen Rodriguez‘s body was discovered on Saturday in the San Jose Lagoon, CNN reported. and officials made a positive identification using dental records, according to a forensic report released on Sunday. Rodriguez was nearly two months pregnant when she told her mom Thursday morning that she was planning to meet with Verdejo to share the news of her pregnancy. Her mom, Keila Ortiz Rivera, told El Nuevo Día that she never showed up for work later that day which was unusual for her.
Verdejo, 27, who competed in the 2012 London Olympics, allegedly “had threatened her before to not have the baby, to get an abortion [because] he has his family, he is a boxer [and] a public figure,” she told the publication. She then asked her other daughter to call Verdejo who she says denied knowing about Rodriguez’s whereabouts. Verdejo has been married for nearly a decade to Eliz Marie Santiago Sierra and they have a young daughter which he’d often post about on Instagram.
According to an affidavit filed on Monday by FBI Special Agent Lorenzo Vilanova Perez, Verdejo contacted an unnamed witness on Tuesday, April 27 to ask for help in ending Rodriguez’s pregnancy. Two days later they made plans to meet near her home, Verdejo drove with the witness while Rodriguez drove herself to the meeting place. The witness shared that after they talked, Verdejo allegedly punched her in the face and injected her “with a syringe filled with substances purchased” in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital. Verdejo then reportedly restrained her with the help of the victim using wire and tied a block to her body. They then drove the two cars to the Teodoro Moscoso Bridge in San Juan and threw her body into the water. “Verdejo shot at the victim with a pistol from the bridge,” the affidavit states.
Police found Rodriguez’s abandoned Kia on April 30, using cellphone records and surveillance footage from the bridge, NPR reported. The day after her family reported her missing, police also found at least one shell casing on the bridge. Her autopsy has been completed, but her cause of death has not yet been released, The Washington Post reported.
Verdejo is charged with kidnapping resulting in death, carjacking resulting in death, and intentionally killing an unborn child, according to the U.S. Attorney’s statement. The kidnapping and carjacking charges carry a maximum penalty of death, with a maximum of life in prison for the intentional killing of an unborn child.
“For me, he (Félix Verdejo) is the culprit. 100% is him, him. I can point it out in any court. It was him, it was him and it was him,” Ortiz told El Nuevo Día. A GoFundMe was set up to help with funeral expenses and a memorial service.
Twenty seven percent of women in Latin America and the Caribbean suffered violence from an intimate partner at least once in their lifetime, 33 percent in South America, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperative and Development. There were 60 femicides in Puerto Rico last year — a 62 percent increase from 2019, according to the Observatory for Gender Equality. Puerto Rico registered the world’s highest per capita rate of women over the age of 14 killed by their partners in a 2012 report from the American Civil Liberties Union. At least one femicide was committed every week in Puerto Rico from 2014 to 2018.
Outside a federal court on Sunday, Ortiz held a photo of her daughter and called for justice, The Washington Post reported: “Verdejo is a murderer. … The diamond is my daughter,” adding, “I know God is going to help me to do justice for my daughter and my grandson.”
UPDATE, May 14, 2021
Verdejo pleaded not guilty to one count of carjacking resulting in death, one count of kidnapping resulting in death, one count of killing an unborn child and a count of using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. The second person indicted in her murder, Luis Antonio Cádiz Martínez, also pleaded not guilty. He was charged with one count of carjacking resulting in death, one count of kidnapping resulting in death and one count of killing an unborn child.
Though the death penalty is illegal in Puerto Rico, NBC reported that both men could face federal death penalty charges because the indictment included special findings. They report that Verdejo allegedly promised to pay Cádiz-Martínez to carry our her murder. Verdejo will be held without bail until his trial, the judge ruled.