Editor's note: This story contains graphic descriptions of physical violence.
A former Olympic boxer was arrested in Puerto Rico on Sunday in the kidnapping and murder of a woman who was pregnant with his child, amid a troubling and persistent rise in violence against women on the island that has triggered a state of emergency.
Puerto Rican boxer Félix Verdejo Sánchez, also known as "El Diamante" or "The Diamond," appeared in court Monday morning, where he was ordered by the judge to be held without bail. He had turned himself in on Sunday after officials announced they had identified the body of the woman believed to be his girlfriend.
Officials say they discovered the missing body of Keishla Marlen Rodriguez on Saturday and made a positive identification using dental records, according to a forensic report released on Sunday.
Sanchez, who competed in the 2012 London Olympics, is charged with kidnapping resulting in death, carjacking resulting in death, and intentionally killing an unborn child. Each charge carries a lifetime sentence or the death penalty. The FBI criminal complaint states that a witness whose name has not been released has "firsthand" knowledge of Rodriguez's disappearance and is cooperating with the agency.
FBI Special Agent Lorenzo Vilanova Perez chronicled the gory details of the alleged kidnapping and killing in an affidavit filed in court on Monday. According to the agent's testimony, Verdejo contacted the unnamed witness on April 27 to ask for help in terminating Rodriguez's pregnancy, which she had confirmed after taking a pregnancy test. Two days later, Verdejo made plans to meet Rodriguez near her home. "Verdejo and the witness drove to the meeting in the black Dodge Durango SUV." The federal document adds that Rodriguez drove herself to meet Verdejo in a gray Kia Forte, then got into his vehicle.
After a conversation between the two, Verdejo allegedly punched the pregnant woman in the face and injected her "with a syringe filled with substances purchased" in San Juan. With the help of the witness, Verdejo reportedly restrained the woman's arms and feet with wire and tied a block to her body. According to the affidavit, Verdejo and the witness then drove the two cars to the Teodoro Moscoso Bridge in Puerto Rico's capital of San Juan, where they tossed Rodriguez into the water. "Verdejo shot at the Victim with a pistol from the bridge," the affidavit states.
Puerto Rican police officers discovered Rodriguez's abandoned Kia on April 30, using cellphone records and surveillance footage from the bridge. Police also found at least one shell casing on the bridge. It was a day after her family had reported her missing.
The 27-year-old boxer has been married for about eight years to a woman named Eliz Marie Santiago Sierra, and the two have a child named Miranda, according to postings on Verdejo's Instagram account. He was hoping to stage a career comeback but lost his most recent fight with Masayoshi Nakatani in Las Vegas in December.
El Nuevo Dia reported: "His wife, Eliz Santiago Sierra, was also interviewed and confirmed to authorities that she was aware that Verdejo and Rodríguez Ortiz knew each other and had a relationship."
Keila Ortiz, the victim's mother, who was aware of Rodriguez's pregnancy, immediately suspected Verdejo and urged authorities to investigate his whereabouts after the 27-year-old woman disappeared on April 29.
She called him a murderer and told reporters, "He is not the diamond. The diamond was my daughter!"
Ortiz urged officials to find justice for Rodriguez and her unborn grandson, as well as all of the other women across Puerto Rico who are brutalized by men.
In one of his first orders of business in January, Puerto Rico's new governor, Pedro Pierluisi, declared a state of emergency over an intensifying tide of violence against women. The executive order was hailed by advocates who have spent years calling for wide-ranging policies to combat gender abuse and femicides. The order gives Pierluisi broad authority to implement policies across government agencies aimed at preventing and responding to violence against women.
The emergency declaration was prompted by another murder: the killing of Angie Noemi González Santos, a nurse from the mountain town of Barranquitas. The mother of three was found dead in a ravine and her partner of 16 years later confessed to the crime. González's death outraged communities across the island and reignited calls for changes in the criminal justice system to bring perpetrators to justice.