Illegal immigrant convicted in death of Jemison nurse

Published 6:07 pm Thursday, July 25, 2019

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By J.R. TIDWELL / Editor

The saga surrounding the criminal case in the 2018 death of a Jemison woman is nearing its end.

It took only about 50 minutes of deliberation for a jury to reach a guilty verdict in the case against 20-year-old Jorge Ruiz on July 24.

Ruiz was on trial in Autauga County for the death of 29-year-old Marlena Hayes of Jemison.

The jury found Ruiz, an illegal immigrant, guilty of reckless murder for his role in Hayes’s death.

According to 19th Judicial Circuit Chief Assistant District Attorney C.J. Robinson, Ruiz attended a party in Birmingham in October of last year. He was returning to Prattville early in the morning on Highway 31 when he struck Hayes, a nurse at Prattville Baptist Hospital, who was heading home after her shift.

According to Robinson, Ruiz got up early in the morning on Oct. 27, 2018, worked an entire shift at his construction job and went to a party afterwards in Birmingham.

Ruiz left Birmingham at around 5 a.m. headed back to his residence in Autauga County.

“He never slept,” Robinson said.

Hayes left the hospital around 6 a.m. and was traveling north on Highway 31 in order to get to Interstate 65.

About 10 minutes into her trip, Ruiz was speeding and under the influence of alcohol when his vehicle went across the dividing line of the two-lane highway between the Pine Level exit and Prattville. He struck Hayes’s vehicle head on, killing her on impact.

Ruiz was taken to the hospital but did not have any major injuries.

According to Robinson, a blood sample taken from Ruiz returned a blood alcohol content of 0.016%, just under the threshold of 0.02% for DUI in Alabama for individuals under 21.

Ruiz was arrested on Oct. 28 and admitted into the Autauga Metro Jail.

Initially, Ruiz was jailed with no bond. However, once he was indicted a circuit judge changed the no bond to a $50,000 bond. This allowed Ruiz to post a percentage and be released from the Autauga Metro Jail.

“Nobody did anything wrong procedurally,” Robinson said. “We almost had a murder case slip through our hands because of a bond.”

Once Ruiz was released on bond, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold prompted members of the agency to pick him up for deportation.

According to Robinson, ICE agents took Ruiz to Montgomery before he was to be taken to Louisiana to “take a boat to Mexico.”

Robinson said once Ruiz was back in Mexico, he would have been free to change his identity and attempt to re-enter the United States illegally. He would have escaped from the murder case entirely.

“$5,000 on a $50,000 bond would have bought his freedom,” Robinson said.

Once Robinson’s office learned of the situation, “we had every agency on the phone, including the Chilton County Sheriff’s Office. We had attorneys ready to go in two courtrooms.”

Robinson’s office was forced to interrupt Circuit Judge Bill Lewis, who was presiding over a different case.

Lewis then signed an order to revoke Ruiz’s bond and have him returned to the Autauga Metro Jail.

“Thank God for Judge Lewis,” Robinson said. “(Once that was done,) ICE stopped, turned around and came back to Prattville. (Ruiz) woke up in the Autauga Metro Jail, and he was back there that night.”

Ruiz had a preliminary hearing on May 22 before the jury process began on July 22.

“We sat the jury on Monday, presented the evidence on Tuesday and had a guilty verdict by 4 p.m. on Wednesday,” Robinson said.

Reckless murder is a Class A felony that carries a sentence of 10 to 99 years or life in prison.

Now that Ruiz has been found guilty, his sentencing has been set before Lewis on Aug. 14.

The guilty verdict means Ruiz will remain in prison until the end of whatever sentence he is given, barring some kind of early parole.

Robinson said Ruiz will be deported after his prison sentence is up, “hopefully a long time from now.”

“I’m proud of our office,” Robinson said. “I’m happy to be a part of this team. I’m happy for the family (of Hayes). It’s good that they will be able to close this chapter of their lives.”