New findings on misdiagnosed cause of death get man off a life sentence for murder

Crime Watch

Jorge Aceves-Cortez, file image

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) Update (Oct. 22) — A man serving life for murdering his wife will get out of prison after a plea deal was reached due to the original cause of death misdiagnosed by a pathologist.

Jorge Aceves-Cortez, 42, will be sentenced to 13 years with the agreed plea deal with the DA’s office. Aceves-Cortez pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter and two counts of assault with great bodily injuries on Oct. 19, according to court records. One count of second degree murder and one count of willful cruelty to a child will be dismissed.

Aceves-Cortez was accused of fatally striking his wife, Maria Cortez, in the head during an argument in 2013, but Aceves-Cortez said she actually suffered a stroke, and he never hit her head.

In 2018 Ms. Cortez’s brain tissue was tested and the results indicated she died from an aneurysm and not blunt force trauma.

“Both Defense and Prosecution neuropathologists confirmed that the Coroner’s office misdiagnosed that Ms. Cortez died of blunt force trauma injuries to her brain which was relied on by the jury in the first trial for their murder verdict,” Public Defender T. Alan Rogers said.

The guilty verdict from the first trial was thrown out and Aceves-Cortez was going to be retried prior to the plea deal.

“The question of fact for the new trial was did Ms. Cortez die from an aneurysm that was caused or exacerbated by domestic violence or was the aneurysm totally independent, unrelated, and pre-existing of any alleged domestic violence?” Rogers said. “Rather then risk a second trial after previously being sentenced to life Aceves-Cortez decided to minimize his risk and guarantee his release with a manslaughter plea.”

Acevez-Cortez has served eight years. If he serves the full sentence he would be out in 2026, not accounting for good behavior credits determined by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

(Oct. 5) — A new trial was granted Monday for a man who had been found guilty of murder in his wife’s 2013 death, the decision coming after tests of the wife’s preserved brain tissue indicated she died from an aneurysm, an attorney said.

T. Alan Rogers, the public defender representing Jorge Aceves-Cortez, said Monday afternoon the court found the prosecution suppressed the existence of the brain tissue in the first trial, preventing the defense from testing it.

The guilty verdict against Aceves-Cortez, 42, has been thrown out and he is scheduled for a retrial Nov. 16 following a ruling by Judge Michael E. Dellostritto.

“The verdict and judgment of murder has been set aside based on this new scientific evidence,” Rogers said. “The court found today that the results of the new testing of the brain tissue in 2019 raised a reasonable probability a different trial verdict could have resulted.”

Rogers said he’ll fight to ensure Aceves-Cortez has a fair trial based on all the evidence.

“The new evidence in this case is not a technicality but truth based on science that the initial jury was prevented from hearing,” he said.

The District Attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Maria Cortes, the wife of Jorge Aceves-Cortez, died from hemorrhaging to the brain on Oct. 5, 2013.

At trial, prosecutors said the bleeding was caused by a blow to the head. The defense argued Cortes died from a ruptured aneurysm.

A jury convicted Aceves-Cortez of second-degree murder, and he was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.

But in 2018 an appellate court conditionally reversed Aceves-Cortez’s conviction in part because the coroner’s office failed to disclose to the defense that it had preserved stock tissue from the wife’s brain. It wasn’t until late in the trial that it came to light there were samples the defense could have examined to bolster its case.

Aceves-Cortez said he shoved his wife during an argument, but denied injuring her head. He maintained at trial — and in a jailhouse interview with 17 News — that Cortes suffered a stroke during the argument.

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