Sex assault trial enters day 2

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May 24—EDITOR’S NOTE — This story contains graphic descriptions of child sexual abuse.

Jurors who will decide the fate of an Odessa man accused of sexually assaulting a toddler heard from the lead investigator on the case Tuesday, the second day of his trial.

Fabian Andres Ortega, 24, was arrested two years ago after Fern Garcia of Del Rio told authorities that Ortega told her via texts and video chats he’d been having a young relative perform oral sex on him and he planned to allow other men to use her for their sexual pleasure.

Garcia testified Monday that because Snapchat deletes conversations and videos within 24 hours, she began taking photos of them with her tablet so she could share them with authorities. Among the evidence she said she gathered was a picture of the bottom portion of a young girl’s face. Garcia testified Ortega told her the picture was an image of a 1-year-old relative.

Ector County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Heidi Zavala told jurors she began investigating Ortega in September 2020 after receiving a call from the victim’s mother. The Del Rio Police Department, FBI and Child Protective Services had already launched an investigation, but she took it over from them, she said.

Zavala testified she conducted a search of Ortega’s bedroom at his parents’ house in the hopes of finding his cellphone, but was unsuccessful. His father, Andres, however, told her he had deleted sexually explicit photos from that phone, she said.

Zavala also told jurors she had a forensic interviewer sit down with the child, but it was unhelpful because the child, who was actually 2 at the time, couldn’t speak complete sentences. She then went to Del Rio to speak with Garcia, collect her phone and tablet, and have her look at a photo lineup. Garcia identified Ortega as the man she’d met on Tinder, had one sexual encounter with and been video chatting and texting with, Zavala said.

Under cross-examination from defense attorney Jason Leach, Zavala admitted she didn’t follow-up with Verizon when they failed to respond to a subpoena for Ortega’s phone records, nor did she try to subpoena Snapchat records. Zavala told Leach she didn’t know how to do that at that time. She also acknowledged she didn’t seek any help to figure out how Snapchat works, despite the fact she was unfamiliar with the app and needed to know if someone else could have been using Ortega’s user name and pretending to be him.

Zavala also admitted to Leach she falsely told the judge who signed Ortega’s arrest warrant and the search warrant for his bedroom that the girl had told authorities she’d been sexually assaulted. She further admitted that her report is missing key information, such as when Ortega had access to the girl or if the girl’s mother positively identified the girl as the one in the photo. She initially said other deputies had the details as far as Ortega’s access to the girl, but had to admit those details weren’t in their reports when she was asked to review those reports as she sat on the stand.

Zavala told Assistant Ector County District Attorney William Prasher she could not find any images on the internet matching the photo supplied by Garcia, but under cross examination from Leach admitted she’s received no training on how to conduct reverse image searches. Nor does she know how to run facial recognition software, Zavala told Leach.

The state also called Ortega’s father, Andres Ortega, to the stand Tuesday. Andres Ortega denied telling Zavala that he’d deleted sexually explicit pictures from his son’s phone. He said that at least a year before his son’s arrest he told Fabian to delete nude photos of Fabian’s girlfriend from the phone.

Andres Ortega also testified his son was never alone with the child at the heart of the case.

Judge John Shrode of the 358th District Court is presiding over the trial.

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