LEOMINSTER — When the driver apparently passed Angelo Colon-Ortiz on the wooded Princeton road on the afternoon of Aug. 7, he took him for a stranded motorist: Colon-Ortiz had the hood of his SUV up and was on his cellphone, prosecutors say.
But about a half hour later, 27-year-old Vanessa Marcotte left her mother’s house for a walk, apparently headed in Colon-Ortiz’s direction, and disappeared. When the driver passed again, prosecutors say, the SUV’s doors and hood were closed. Colon-Ortiz was gone.
That night, Marcotte’s body was found in the woods nearby. On Tuesday, prosecutors at Colon-Ortiz’s arraignment in Leominster District Court laid out for the first time the details that they say may link him to Marcotte’s murder.
Colon-Ortiz, 31, of Worcester, pleaded not guilty to charges of assault with intent to rape and aggravated assault and battery; he has not been charged with murder, but Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Travers said he will be.
Colon-Ortiz was arrested early Saturday after giving investigators a DNA sample that prosecutors say matched the DNA taken from beneath Marcotte’s fingernails.
Relatives of the slain woman were in the courthouse Tuesday but left without speaking to reporters after the arraignment, where Colon-Ortiz was ordered held on $10 million cash bail.
Edward P. Ryan Jr., who is representing Colon-Ortiz, cast doubt on the DNA evidence, and said his client is a hard-working father and husband who grew up in Puerto Rico. He has no criminal record and is an American citizen who is “shaken” by the charges against him.
Colon-Ortiz’s mother is a police officer, Ryan said. Colon-Ortiz came to Worcester in May, Ryan said, and immediately found a job driving for FedEx to support his wife’s two young children here, and another child of his own in Puerto Rico.
But Travers said that that job put him in the Princeton area regularly, and on the afternoon of Aug. 7, his cellphone data showed he was in town.
The driver first saw him at about 12:45 p.m., Travers said. Marcotte left her mother’s home on Brooks Station Road at about 1:15 p.m. The driver passed again at 2:05 p.m., and the SUV was empty. Marcotte’s cellphone data showed her phone was shut off or disabled at 2:11 p.m., Travers said.
Marcotte, a Google employee, was scheduled to return home to New York City that evening, and when she did not show up to catch her bus, her family called police.
When investigators searching with dogs found her body at 8:30 p.m., near where the driver had allegedly seen Colon-Ortiz, her nose was fractured and her throat was crushed, according to court documents.
Marcotte had put up a fight, officials have said, and they used the DNA under her nails, combined with the account of the driver who passed twice, to create a physical profile of her killer.
In mid-March, after fielding more than 1,300 tips, a state trooper allegedly passed Colon-Ortiz driving in Worcester and realized he matched the description and had the same dark SUV. When Colon-Ortiz met with the trooper, he gave a DNA sample, Travers said, and they matched.
Colon-Ortiz worked a 4 a.m. to 11 a.m. shift for FedEx, Travers said, and did not appear to be working at the time of the killing.
A FedEx spokeswoman said Colon-Ortiz was hired by a third party for the company, not by FedEx.
On Tuesday, a woman who regularly had contact with Colon-Ortiz said he was sexually inappropriate with her.
Glizelia Ribot worked at the Post Office in Princeton, where she said Colon-Ortiz stopped regularly on his FedEx route. She hated to be alone with him, she said, because he stared at her and her co-workers and made lewd comments.
Though Ribot speaks perfect Spanish, she pretended she couldn’t understand him. He came in either with a partner or while talking on a Bluetooth cellphone, she said.
“I tried not to make eye contact with him, to show any sign that I understood what he was saying,” Ribot said. “I tried to get him in there real quick and then get him out. It was just weird being around him. He conducted himself very unprofessionally.”
Some who live on Colon-Ortiz’s street were shocked by the news that their neighbor had been arrested in connection with a killing that made national news.
“He was just like a normal neighbor,” said one man who also declined to give his name. It was troubling to learn that his family — including his four daughters — had been living above someone accused of such a horrific crime, he said.
“This is a hard pill to swallow,” the neighbor said. “We feel horribly for Vanessa’s family. And if it’s true, we feel horrible for his family.”