A 22-year-old Johnstown man with no prior criminal record admitted Tuesday that he fatally stabbed a man to get money for his drugged-out girlfriend.

Miguel Angel Ortiz pleaded guilty before Cambria County Judge Gerard Long to third-degree murder and robbery in the Nov. 15 assault on a Windber man, a British immigrant.

Under a plea bargain, Ortiz will be sentenced to the maximum jail term of 20 to 40 years for the murder. For the robbery, he will receive a consecutive sentence still to be determined by the judge.

Ortiz was charged in the death of 41-year-old James Andrew Moulton, who was confronted as he walked through a dark alley in the city’s Oakhurst neighborhood.

Ironically, Johnstown police said that – while Ortiz stole the victim’s wallet, which contained ID cards – it apparently contained no money.

Ortiz had been drinking at a West End bar, where he told a patron he was going to do “something bad” to get money for his girlfriend, Assistant District Attorney Forrest Fordham told Long in county court.

His girlfriend reportedly was an addict and needed the money to buy drugs, Fordham said.

The victim was stabbed once in the chest and once in the back, Fordham said.

Ortiz entered the plea just before a jury was to have been selected to hear the case.

“He felt it was in his best interest to enter the plea. He was facing a life sentence without the possibility of parole if convicted of either first- or second-degree murder,” Altoona defense attorney Mark Zearfoss said afterward. “He’s still a young man and has absolutely no record of violence whatsoever.”

Prosecutors had decided months ago that they would not seek a death sentence for Ortiz.

Moulton reportedly came to the United States several years ago and settled initially in Florida before later moving to the Johnstown area and marrying a local woman.

Fordham said prosecutors and police had consulted with Moulton’s widow, Sandra, as well as his extended family in England about the plea.

“They wanted closure. They felt that the sentence for third-degree murder would be satisfactory, and we indicated there would be additional time for the robbery. They were OK with that. They were spared the ordeal of going through a trial,” Fordham said.

Ortiz’ cousin, Miguel Suarez, 24, of Johnstown, is expected to enter a guilty plea soon in a related case, Fordham said. A date has not yet been set for the plea.

Suarez was charged with obstruction of justice and evidence tampering for allegedly disposing of the murder weapon, the wallet and its contents.



Sandra K. Reabuck can be reached at 539-5320 or sreabuck@tribdem.com.

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