The former girlfriend of Antonio Ortega, the Santa Ana man accused of attacking a Fountain Valley man with a machete in 2009, took the witness stand Thursday and told the jury she helped Ortega clean himself up and dispose of his clothing after the attack.
April Bivens, 24, told the jury she had been in a relationship with Ortega for about five years prior to the attack. Ortega, 25, along with Mary Sharpski, 48, and Michael Shores, 40, both of Fountain Valley, are charged with plotting to kill Sharpski’s husband, Frank, known to friends and family as Rick, in March 2009. As part of the alleged conspiracy with Shores and Sharpski, Ortega is accused of attacking Rick Sharpski with a machete in an alley outside of the couple’s home and leaving him to die the morning of March 3, 2009, fracturing his skull, severing a thumb and fingers, partly severing his nose and causing several other machete wounds.
Bivens told prosecuting attorney Lynda Fernandez that when she woke up around 5:30 a.m. on the morning of the attack, Ortega was gone. When he returned, she said, he was dressed entirely in black and told her he needed her help. Bivens said she helped Ortega removed a pair of bloody gloves and cleaned a cut on the tip of his left middle finger. Ortega appeared solemn as Bivens entered the courtroom and began her testimony but watched her throughout. Bivens looked straight ahead, glancing momentarily at Ortega at one point before quickly turning back to Fernandez.
Bivens also testified that Ortega had for the better part of a year been discussing with her the circumstances surrounding the attack and that he set his alarm for 4 a.m. on the morning of the attack. She also admitted that she initially lied to police at, she said, Ortega’s request, telling them that Ortega was with her the morning of the attack. When police told her she could be implicated in the attack, she said, she told them the truth.
Bivens also told the jury that she helped Ortega burn his clothes and hat in a fire pit in the backyard of Ortega’s home and that after he was arrested April 2, 2009, he called her and asked her to dispose of his sword collection, including the machete, which, he said, was hidden behind a dresser in his room. She said she instead immediately brought the weapons to the police.
Bivens also implicated Shores in the attack, telling the jury that Ortega told her Shores had led him to believe he would be paid $5,000 for killing Rick Sharpski and that Shores had provided Ortega with information as to when and where would be the best place and time to carry out the attack.
In his cross-examination, Ortega’s attorney, Derek Bercher, focused primarily on Bivens’ history of methamphetamine addiction and on the motivation for her cooperation with Fountain Valley police. He suggested that Bivens, who had been granted immunity from prosecution in the case, had essentially been coerced into changing her story about the morning of the attack by police detectives, who, he said, gave her details of the attack and convinced her to agree.
Throughout his cross-examination, Bercher repeatedly cited Bivens’ journal, in which she referred to meth as “skittles.” He cited an entry for March 4, 2009, the day after the attack, in which Bivens wrote that she had used meth at least four times and had sex with Ortega.
Bercher also asked Bivens about several men named John who were friends or acquaintances of Bivens’, suggesting that she had stopped at the home of a man named John after leaving Ortega’s house April 2, and suggested that she had in fact gotten the machete from this other location. Bivens denied the allegation.
In her cross-examination, Shores’ attorney, Deputy Public Defender Lisa Eyanson, asked Bivens if Bivens had helped plan the attack on Rick Sharpski, to which Bivens responded that she had not. She said she had participated in discussions about the attack and admitted that she never warned Sharpski or told the police because she “never thought it would actually happen.”
Mary Sharpski’s attorney, Joel Garson, focused his cross-examination on the potential motives of Shores and Ortega. She reiterated that any information Ortega had about compensation or about how best to carry out the attack had come from Shores.
Bivens also testified that Ortega told her he wanted to help the Sharpski family and that he talked to her about having been a victim of child abuse. Bivens said that Ortega told her the attack on Rick Sharpski was about protecting the Sharpski children from their father’s abuse rather than about the money he was offered.
On redirect, Bivens told Fernandez that Ortega had bought the machete used in the attack a month or two before the attack occurred and that he said he had bought it expressly for the purpose of using it in the attack.
Also taking the stand Thursday was Rick and Mary Sharpski’s oldest daughter, Ashley, now 18. She initially invoked her Fifth Amendment rights and refused to answer questions, but her testimony resumed after it was revealed she, like Bivens, had been granted immunity from prosecution in the case. She testified that Shores had been a father figure to her before the attack but that she now felt differently about him.
“I hate him,” she said. “I have no feelings for him at all. It just disgusts me.”
Ashley Sharpski testified that she was present at three conversations about killing her father. The first, she said, took place in October 2007 in the laundry room of the Valley Parks Apartments where the Sharpskis and Shores lived. Ashley Sharpski said she was there with Shores, Ortega, and someone she referred to as “Johnny,” when Mary Sharpski arrived upset and said, “I wish he would die.” She said that Ortega responded by saying that he and Johnny could do that for her, but that Mary Sharpski had no interest in the offer.
The second conversation took place, Ashley Sharpski said, in April 2008, at Shores’ apartment. Mary Sharpski was upset and, Ashley Sharpski said, came to Shores for comfort, prompting Shores to wish aloud that Rick Sharpski was dead.
The third conversation, Ashley Sharpski said, took place in Ortega’s car in December 2008. Shores, she said, had again wished aloud for Rick Sharpski’s death, to which Ortega responded that they could quickly attack Rick Sharpski and slit his throat to make his death “quick and painless.”
During cross-examination, Eyanson asked Ashley Sharpski about her statements to police immediately following the attack, in which she said she thought Shores had nothing to do with the attack. Ashley Sharpski also admitted she initially told the police she had never heard anyone talk about killing her father.
Ashley Sharpski’s testimony will resume Monday morning.