Opening statements, Smart Growth Forsyth candidate forumJim Dean
In a negotiated plea, the second of three defendants in the 2006 farmhouse massacre pleaded guilty Wednesday to three charges stemming from the attack.
Frank Ortegon, 30, was sentenced to 20 years in prison and 20 years on probation for one count each of aggravated assault, aggravated battery and burglary of a residence.
As part of the plea, the prosecution agreed to drop the remaining 17 counts, eight of which were for murder, against him.
The March 19, 2006, massacre at a south Forsyth farmhouse left four people dead and several others injured.
Three men — Ortegon, Jason McGhee and Marcin Sosniak — were arrested and charged in connection with the crimes.
In December, McGhee pleaded guilty to four counts of malice murder, three counts of aggravated battery and one count each of aggravated assault and burglary.
He received a life sentence in prison, plus 100 years without the possibility of parole.
Sosniak’s case is on appeal with the Georgia Supreme Court after Superior Court Judge David L. Dickinson denied his appointed attorneys’ request to dismiss the case in October.
During the hearing Wednesday, District Attorney Penny Penn said the deaths occurred upstairs and on the stair landing.
According to Penn, consistent statements and evidence point to Ortegon remaining downstairs and not taking part in the killings.
“It would be a hard argument to make that he is actively encouraging … after Jason McGhee got that gun and proceeded upstairs,” Penn told Superior Court Chief Judge Jeffrey S. Bagley on Wednesday.
In the accounts of the massacre given by Penn and Ortegon during the hearing, McGhee was named as the triggerman in the four deaths.
Ortegon described the events of the day, which began with a gathering at his home off of Pilgrim Mill Road.
He said Sosniak, from whom he had been buying marijuana, and McGhee, whom he’d met just once before, came to his home for a barbecue and started drinking.
According to Ortegon, the three later drove to Gwinnett County to buy cocaine at a home and “did a couple of lines” at a gas station before going to the farmhouse, where McGhee said there would be a party.
Ortegon said he got into two fights at the house, after which the three men gathered in the truck Sosniak was driving and decided to “get back at” some of the party-goers.
The three went to Walmart on Market Place Boulevard, where Sosniak and McGhee purchased ammunition.
According to Oretgon, he asked if they wanted to return to his house, but ended up going back to the farmhouse with the other two.
“I thought we were just going to lay them down and scare them,” said Ortegon, adding that no one talked about shooting anyone.
As they opened the door to the party, McGhee stabbed two people and opened fire as he ran up the stairs, Ortegon said.
“I couldn’t believe that it even went that far,” he said. “I left running. I threw the knife in a pile of trash.”
The next morning, after learning Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputies were looking for him, Ortegon turned himself in.
Bagley told Ortegon that when he saw the other two loading guns in the Walmart parking lot, “you could have started walking.”
Ortegon responded, “I should’ve.”
Penn then filled in the details of the state’s case against the three men.
She said a man at the farmhouse party had several months earlier reportedly set up and robbed Sosniak, who sold marijuana.
When Sosniak became friends with McGhee a short time later, he told him about the incident. McGhee reportedly advised him that he needed to “pay him back.”
Sosniak bought a gun and had showed it to some people the day before the massacre, Penn said. That gun was used in the slayings.
“[Ortegon] really didn’t know anything about this prior incident,” she said. “It wasn’t his understanding that they were going over there to do something to [the man.]”
Penn said Sosniak, though believed not to have gone upstairs, committed aggravated assault, and encouraged some type of action against the man against whom he sought revenge, which could make a case for him being a party to murder.
One of Ortegon’s appointed attorneys, Bobby Wilson, described how his client’s childhood and influences had led up to his involvement that night.
Wilson said that as a boy, Oretgon’s father forced him to fight with family members and would beat him up if he lost.
He’d been exposed to drugs and alcohol since age 14, Wilson said, and his continued involvement in drug culture led up to the tragedy.
Ortegon apologized for his actions during the hearing, in which several of his family members and those of the victims were present.
“I’m sorry about what happened,” he said. “I really didn’t know that was going to go on. I would change it if I could.”
Ortegon said he felt at fault for the deaths because he had wanted to return home and wished he had steered the others that way.
Bagley agreed to accept the plea, which he called “an appropriate resolution.”
“It’s no doubt your upbringing has contributed to some of the things you’re facing now,” Bagley said. “Even though I’m sure you’d like to change the course of history, you can’t. You have to pay your price to society, which you already have to some degree, and you will continue to do.”
Ortegon has spent the past six years in jail, awaiting resolution of the case, which was delayed several times.
He must serve 20 years per his sentence, after which he will serve two 20-year concurrent terms of probation.
Special conditions of his probation include random drug and alcohol testing, no contact with victims, their families or his co-defendants and he must testify in the related cases.