Rising Boxing Star Accused of Killing Pregnant Woman, Faces Death Penalty

Felix Verdejo of Puerto Rico poses during the weigh-in for his lightweight fight against Bryan Vasquez of Costa Rica at Madison Square Garden on April 19, 2019 in New York City. He now stands accused of murdering a young, pregnant woman and could face the

Felix Verdejo of Puerto Rico poses in the course of the weigh-in for his light-weight combat towards Bryan Vasquez of Costa Rica at Madison Sq. Backyard on April 19, 2019 in New York Metropolis. He now stands accused of murdering a younger, pregnant girl Photograph by Sarah Stier/Getty Photographs.

Ladies got here by the tons of to grieve and to rally on the bridge the place the unconscious physique of Keishla Rodríguez Ortiz was thrown into the water two days earlier than. Her sister, Berenice, arrived sporting Keishla’s garments. Encircled by girls wrapped in Puerto Rican flags holding colourful protest indicators, she dropped to her knees and wept. 

Plastered to the railing on the bridge have been rows of images of murdered girls with their names written beneath. The ultimate spot was a clean white body with the phrases “The following one may very well be me.” 

That very same day, Could 1, Rodríguez Ortiz’s physique had been found in a lagoon outdoors San Juan, tied to a concrete block, decomposing after two days within the water. Household first recognized the physique by the tattoo on her again, a diamond etched slightly below her neck. Her lover, light-weight Olympic boxer Félix Verdejo, is nicknamed “El Diamante.” Regardless of the connection memorialized by the tattoo, Verdejo is married to a different girl.

Verdejo was charged on May 2nd with kidnapping and killing Rodríguez, 27, sending the boxing world right into a spiral of disbelief and self-examination because the status of certainly one of Puerto Rico’s most distinguished fighters collapsed. “This isn’t who we thought we knew,” Victor Bermúdez, a producer for Telemundo Sports activities, instructed VICE World Information. 

Verdejo, 27, was extensively seen as certainly one of Puerto Rico’s most promising younger boxers with a report of 27 wins and a pair of losses. Verdejo pleaded not responsible to the fees on Could 11 and if convicted, he might face the demise penalty. 

“We’re all dumbfounded. You couldn’t see Félix Verdejo being this sort of individual,” Bermúdez mentioned. “It’s not in his nature, however granted, we are saying that about somebody who steps into the ring to combat and placed on a violent efficiency… It’s only a change, and at any time it might go off.”

The connection between boxing and Puerto Rico’s long-standing epidemic of home violence final confronted public scrutiny in  2012, when former Governor Luis Fortuño famously mentioned, “Boxing nights are home violence nights in Puerto Rico.” The remark then was a response to information displaying surges in home violence circumstances and calls to girls’s shelters on nights when high-profile boxing matches have been proven on TV. 

Quite a few skilled boxers, from Puerto Rico and elsewhere, have been charged with home abuse, and plenty of have been allowed again within the ring to combat for payouts of thousands and thousands of {dollars}. “That is one thing that truthfully must be spoken about extra. It’s one thing that boxing has coated up for a very long time, or simply pushed apart,” Bermúdez instructed VICE World Information.

Distinguished Puerto Rican boxers, representing a number of the most seen idols for younger males, typically make reference to a violence-first model of masculinity that may permeate Puerto Rican society. “Boxing to Puerto Rico is the sport. It’s what Puerto Ricans eat and breathe,” Bermúdez mentioned. 

The Twitter bio of Verdejo’s long-term coach, Ricky Márquez, reads “serving to youngsters develop into actual males.” 

It’s that affiliation between boxing and masculinity that blurs the road between violence within the ring and violence in society, say girls’s rights activists. “Clearly it’s a violent sport and the supporters are largely males, and in valuing violence as a sport, you reproduce violent patterns and social gender roles,” Debora Hernández, an analyst for the Gender Fairness Observatory in Puerto Rico, mentioned.

However the soul-searching that Verdejo’s arrest prompted throughout the boxing group was not shared by everybody. Senator Rafael Bernabe, a member of the Puerto Rican legislature and the left-wing Movimiento Victoria Ciudadana occasion, criticized boxing on Twitter and acquired backlash from followers.

“Some followers, particularly broadcast journalists on TV, are saying the worst factor is that Verdejo ruined his profession, his future,” he instructed VICE World Information. “Nevertheless it doesn’t matter if that asshole ruined his profession. I’ve been saying that we ought to be having a dialog, not that we should always ban boxing instantly, however that we should always have a debate concerning the cult of boxing and what it teaches younger individuals.”

The homicide comes on the heels of an escalation in femicides in the course of the pandemic. Earlier this yr, the governor declared a state of emergency over gender violence. In 2020, an estimated 60 women have been murdered and in 2021 thus far, 11 girls have been killed, a median of roughly one girl each week. Activists say a startling variety of these murders are premeditated, deliberate days or perhaps weeks upfront, implying a chilling lack of recognition of a girl’s humanity somewhat than a sudden burst of anger. 

For a number of years, Puerto Rico has registered double the per capita fee of femicides than the speed within the mainland United States. A number of days earlier than Rodríguez Ortiz’s homicide, one other girl was killed , allegedly by her ex-boyfriend, who was accused of burning her physique in an effort to hide the proof. The girl, Andrea Ruiz, had requested a decide twice to grant a restraining order towards her ex-boyfriend, to no avail. 

Reeling from two murders within the span of every week, a number of home violence organizations despatched a listing of calls for to the Puerto Rican legislature. The Senate moved rapidly to behave on one of many calls for, passing a law to formally designate the distinction between customary murder and femicide, the homicide of a girl merely for being a girl. Beforehand, there was no authorized distinction. Activists say the regulation is a tiny step ahead on a protracted highway to decreasing the femicide fee. 

“This laws handed within the Senate on Monday, however it handed after a robust debate. In all probability, in a special second, it will not have handed,” Senator Bernabe mentioned. “One of many only a few good issues that has come out of this tragedy is that it has made extra individuals conscious of the gravity of the scenario, and they are going to be extra keen to help measures to attempt to clear up the difficulty.”

Over the previous week, celebrities, companies and boxing organizations have stripped Verdejo’s picture from their web sites. A Dangerous Bunny music video that includes Verdejo was faraway from the Web. Whether or not this represents a change in how the boxing world views violence towards girls is a murkier query. Verdejo’s managerial group, High Rank, quietly eliminated Verdejo’s image from its roster and launched a press release in help of Rodríguez Ortiz’s household, however has not formally dropped Verdejo as a shopper. 

Based on the federal indictment, Verdejo paid an confederate an unknown sum to assist him kidnap and homicide Rodríguez Ortiz. 

Rodríguez Ortiz’s mom known as Verdejo after she failed to indicate up for her job in a pet grooming parlor on April 30, however she later instructed reporters that he responded he had no thought the place she was. 

Based on Rodríguez Ortiz’s household, she was newly pregnant with Verdejo’s little one and he urged her to get an abortion. The household mentioned that he instructed her {that a} child born from an extramarital affair would tarnish his status as a champion boxer and an emblem of Puerto Rican satisfaction.  

On April 29, prosecutors allege, Verdejo drove Rodríguez Ortiz to a abandoned location, punched her within the face, injected her with a combination of heroin and fentanyl, certain her wrists and ankles, tied her ft to a concrete anchor, and threw her unconscious physique off a bridge into the water beneath. He shot at her physique twice with a handgun as she sank. 

Then, as safety digicam footage shows, Verdejo drove away in a Dodge Durango, a present from the auto firm, certainly one of his many company sponsors. 

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