“It is a hard moment”: relatives observe the last moments of brothers murdered in a Condado restaurant

“It is a hard moment”: relatives observe the last moments of brothers murdered in a Condado restaurant

Several relatives of two brothers murdered in a restaurant in Condado, San Juan, saw this Monday the images of their last moments alive when they were shot on July 10.

The images were projected in room 650 of the San Juan Court, during the first day of the preliminary hearing against Santiago Apolinar Rondon for the murders of Jose Enrique Cotto Roldan28 years old, and Jan Paul Oquendo Roldan31 years old, in the kitchen of the Ropa Vieja Grill restaurant.

During the screening, several of the victims’ relatives and friends sobbed and watched, with visible anguish, the monitor at the opposite end of the room, while Apolinar Rondon remained with his head down, looking at his hands. He was handcuffed and wearing a blue summary jumpsuit.

Kevin Oquendo, one of the victims’ brothers, said, as he left the courtroom, that they have clung to their religious faith to cope with the punishment and be able to face the process, including watching the video presented at the judicial center.

“It’s a hard moment,” Oquendo said. “When you can see it in color for the first time, you see what was happening, you recognize your brothers and it had the ‘outcome’ that it had, yes, really, the only thing that sustains us is faith, love and God, and nothing more.”

“My mom is hurt. They are two of her crickets, as one tells her. They were the youngest in the house, they were the babies, but the love of God sustains us and will continue to win,” she added.

October 16, 2023 San Juan, Puerto Rico. COURT OF SAN JUAN. Preview. Apolinar Rondon Santiago, 30 years old and resident of San Juan, accused of having committed a double murder at the Ropa Vieja Grill restaurant, which is located on Ashford Avenue, in Condado. PHOTO BY: xavier.araujo@gfrmedia.com Xavier Araujo / GFR Media (Xavier Araujo)

Oquendo maintained that they prefer to maintain the memory described by co-workers, that both “They were the joy of that kitchen. So the last memory I have of my brothers is that they were the happy people I met at home.”

What the cameras captured

The video, recorded by the restaurant’s kitchen security cameras, shows a person arrive at the kitchen wearing dark clothing, as well as a cap and light-colored shoes.

In the image, a woman is seen in the kitchen area who sees the subject pass by and stares at him, without saying anything to him. That subject has been identified by witnesses to the authorities as Apolinar Rondon who, at that time, was an employee of said restaurant.

The video then shows one of the brothers washing dishes, while the other looked at his cell phone. Then, they both look at the guy who arrived. Immediately, you see when that man fires several shots at each of the two brothers, who fall to the floor.

Although the court admitted the video as evidence, the defense lawyer, Danny Lopez, argued against its presentation on the grounds that the owner of the restaurant, who signed the consent for the capture of the images from the camera system, had to be present. of security.

Meanwhile, a restaurant employee, identified as Melvin Cedeno, testified in the preliminary hearing that he saw when Santiago Apolinar arrived in the kitchen and approached the area where the two brothers were.

“And now Cotto, what are you going to do? Cotto, what are you going to do?” said Apolinar Rondon, according to Cedeno.

The witness, who said he had been Apolinar Rondon’s boss, also claimed that he recognized him when he arrived at the restaurant and told him: “Santi, my son, you are free today”.

“It wasn’t his turn to work.”commented Cedeno at the hearing, who said that he fell to the floor when he heard the shots and then crawled away.

On cross-examination, Cedeno admitted that he did not see with his eyes when the brothers were shot.

For his part, for Oquendo everything has turned out to be a surprise because his brothers never alerted him to any concern they had in relation to someone at work. “Never… any discomfort,” he noted.

“On our part we have not heard anything. My brothers are not aggressive men or evil men. That is why we are in this process to find out if that question is answered,” he explained. “Employees have approached us and told us the same thing, ‘but the three of them got along so well’, that ‘the three of them loved each other very much’, that ‘they were together all the time’”.

A security guard also stated

On Monday morning, the first witness was security guard Javier Jaques, who reported that he saw “customers running in various directions” just after hearing “some explosions” on the night of July 10. Jaques explained that at that time there would be “150 clients. “The restaurant was full.”

“People ran everywhere. I have exits towards him lobby from the hotel, to the Walgreens and to the CVS,” he recalled.

Likewise, he noted that there were seven employees in the kitchen, some of whom “ran away” and some “were screaming that they killed someone” in the kitchen.

Jaques was at one of the entrances and assured that he immediately began to move towards the kitchen.

“There I visualized Santi,” in reference to Apolinar Santiago, whom he identified as a “coworker” in the dishwashing area, as well as the two victims.

“They are co-workers who had never had problems in the four months they worked together there,” he said.

According to the witness’ version, when he was approaching the kitchen he unholstered the firearm that he had registered as a security guard; a 9 millimeter FSN.

“I meet the gentleman (Apolinar Rondon) going down the stairs, he turns around and shoots me several times,” said the witness, who said that at that moment “I repelled the attack” with “four to five” shots, while he sought protection. behind a refrigerator.

He indicated that he then entered the kitchen, where he saw the lifeless bodies of “Janpi” and “Cotto,” as he said they called the deceased. All that happened “It didn’t even last two minutes.”he explained.

The witness was questioned by prosecutor Jeanette Negron Ramirez. Meanwhile, lawyer Lopez tried to expose inaccuracies in his statements, between what was expressed in the courtroom and what he had established in the sworn statement.

Particularly, he emphasized the moment in which he claims to have realized that it was the accused, since at the hearing he said that it was just when he saw him, while the text of the sworn statement suggests that it was after the gunman left the scene.

The security guard maintained that both instances occurred simultaneously.

Family of the deceased hopes to obtain justice

“We continue waiting, trusting in God that everything will be fine,” said the victims’ mother Alicia Roldan, who accepted that seeing the accused directly is “too” strong.

“We hope that after all this, your heart changes,” added Roldan, who was wearing a black shirt that read “Love won,” like other close friends who accompanied him.

For his part, Oquendo expressed confidence that they will find justice. “It is a hard process that takes time, but it is very important that the prosecutor’s office is doing an exceptional job,” said Oquendo. “It is a slow and painful process because there are two people who are not going to be with us, but what they humanly can do, they are doing and we are completely grateful.”

The Public Ministry announced six witnesses for the preliminary hearing stage, including several law enforcement officers. In addition to Jaques and Cedeno, Police agent Leonel Albino, who was in charge of extracting the videos in the restaurant, also testified.

The preliminary hearing will continue tomorrow, with three more witnesses, including one who allegedly witnessed the shooting.

The prosecution alleges that Apolinar Rondon, “without saying words,” shot and killed the brothers, who had no criminal record.

Apolinar Rondon faces eight charges, including two counts of first-degree murder, one of attempted murder, three of discharging a weapon in a public place, one of possession of a firearm without a license, and one of possession of ammunition.

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