Merced Co. murder suspect arrested in Iowa

MERCED COUNTY, Calif.

This video from WHO-TV in Des Moines, Iowa shows police there arresting Jose Ortiz on murder charges. But despite the serious accusations against him, Ortiz jokes with reporters as he's taken away in handcuffs.

Merced County Sheriff's Deputies say Ortiz killed 34-year-old Cesar Gallegos and left his body in an orchard near Gustine. Action News captured this exclusive video of detectives at the scene after farmworkers found Gallegos. His hands were bound with duct tape before he was executed.

Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin said, "This was a drug rip-off that went terribly wrong."

Sheriff Pazin says Gallegos was kidnapped after he and three friends stole about 20 pounds of methamphetamine worth at least $300,000 from Ortiz. When those three men found out Gallegos had been killed, Pazin says they took the drugs and drove to southern California. Detectives tracked Epifanio Vargas and Arturo Plado down in the streets of Hollywood where they arrested them at gunpoint. They also arrested a third drug suspect, Damien Perez, at an apartment in the area.

Deputy Tom Mackenzie adds, "When they went and made contact at the apartment they found evidence they were staying there. So they froze the scene, wrote a search warrant, and that's when they entered the house they discovered the 13 pounds of methamphetamine that you see on the table."

Sheriff Pazin says this case is yet another example of the dangerous drug problem that continues to plague Merced County. "These crooks aren't as dumb as they look. They're very reactive to our techniques and then we have to conversely do the same thing to track them down."

The murder suspect, Jose Ortiz, and the three drug suspects are all expected to be extradited to Merced County. Detectives are also still searching for other suspects who may have been involved in the murder and kidnapping.

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