Man admits murdering estranged wife, sister, prosecutor says

VISTA, Calif. – A 33-year-old North County man admitted to investigators that he killed his estranged wife and her sister last week, a prosecutor said.

Juan Carlos Ortega appeared in court Tuesday for arraignment on charges including arson and two counts of murder. The murder charges include enhancements of lying in wait, so Ortega could be sentenced to death if convicted on all counts.

Ortega is accused of killing his wife Veronica Soto Ortega, 30, and her 26-year-old sister, Ana Soto. Ana Soto’s body was found shortly before 4:30 a.m. Thursday, inside a burning parked white SUV at the corner of Country Club and Kauana Loa drives in the unincorporated Harmony Grove area. Detectives traced the burned SUV to its registered owner's residence about three miles to the east, in the 500 block of West 11th Avenue, near South Centre City Parkway in Escondido. They found the body of Soto Ortega in the home, Her two children were sleeping unharmed in the home.

Juan Carlos Ortega was arrested later that day at his workplace in Carlsbad. During questioning, he admitted responsibility for the two deaths, Deputy District Attorney Jodi Breton said Tuesday during the arraignment.

"Mr. Ortega confessed. There were some qualifiers in his confession, but he essentially admitted to being there," Breton said.

During the arraignment, the victims' mother sobbed and cried loudly, and she had to be ushered from the courtroom.

Outside of court, the victims' father was asked if he hoped that Ortega would be sentenced to death for the murders. Through a translator, he replied that it was not for him to decide, but rather it was up to God.

Ortega pleaded not guilty to all charges and was ordered held without bail. He will be back in court for readiness hearing in Sept. 4. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 31.