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Prosecutors Have Wrong Man in Machete Attack, Claims Defense

The retrial began Monday for Antonio Ortega accused of trying to kill a Fountain Valley man in a love triangle murder-for-hire plot. A previous jury failed to reach a verdict.

A black-clad man wielding a machete repeatedly wounded a FedEx contractor in a pre-dawn attack in Fountain Valley instigated by the victim's wife and a former neighbor, a prosecutor alleged today, but the defendant's attorney told jurors that authorities arrested the wrong man.

Antonio Cinco Ortega, 26, of Santa Ana, is being retried on attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and mayhem charges, with sentence-enhancing allegations of great bodily injury and the personal use of a deadly weapon, in the March 3, 2009, attack that left Frank ``Rick'' Sharpski in a wheelchair.

Co-defendants Michael Calvin Shores II, 41, and Mary Katheryn Sharpski, 49, both of Fountain Valley, will go on trial later. Their next court date is Dec. 14.

The three were tried together last year, but jurors were unable to reach verdicts and a mistrial was declared.

Shores and Mary Sharpski are accused of recruiting Ortega to kill her husband to clear the way for the couple to move away together to Wyoming.

Frank and Mary Sharpski lived in a two-bedroom apartment in Fountain Valley with their two daughters and son. Shores, formerly one of their neighbors, was unemployed. He moved in with them and helped clean and care for the children instead of paying rent, said Deputy District Attorney Lynda Fernandez.

Frank Sharpski was about to get in his FedEx van to go to work about 5:30 a.m. when his attacker hacked at him with a three-foot machete. The owner of a nearby machine shop shouted over a wall that he was going to call police, prompting the attacker to run and leaving the victim in a pool of blood, where
he collapsed as he tried to run to his apartment.

As the sole provider for his household, the victim -- who spent nearly two months in a hospital bed and lost about half of his fingers -- had ``worked long hours and brought his work home,'' Fernandez said.

``He drank too much and he was mean to the kids,'' the prosecutor said of the victim, whose children called their father Rick and preferred Shores, who they called Dad, Fernandez said.

Ortega was friendly with Shores, who both liked to dress in black and liked fantasy and science fiction novels, Fernandez said.

The prosecution's case against Ortega will include testimony from the victim's oldest daughter, Ashley, who was 16 at the time of the attack, and Ortega's then-girlfriend, April Bivens, as well as DNA evidence left behind at the scene and on the machete, Fernandez said.

Ashley Sharpski, who overheard conversations between her mother, Shores and Ortega, and Bivens, who told police she helped Ortega destroy evidence, will testify with immunity, Fernandez said.

Ashley Sharpski initially told police she did not know who would attack her father, and later said she did not think the defendants had been serious, Fernandez said.

DNA tests show Ortega left a blood trail at the scene of the attack, Fernandez said. Bivens is expected to testify that her ex-boyfriend returned home at dawn with a black glove stuck to his hand by matted blood, and that she helped him burn his clothes, the prosecutor said.

``He (Ortega) told her it didn't go the way he hoped it would,'' Fernandez said of the attack. ``He told her he (the victim) kept fighting back and he had to keep hacking at him.''

Bivens later recovered the machete hidden behind a dresser in the defendant's home and gave it to police, Fernandez said.

The machete had been wiped clean, but a spot of blood was recovered, and tests showed the victim's and Ortega's DNA on the weapon, the prosecutor said.

Ortega's attorney, Derek Bercher of the Alternate Defender's Office, said the first test of the weapon for DNA excluded his client.

Ortega has had a ``frequent problem with nose bleeds,'' Bercher said, explaining how his client's blood could have been left at the scene.

Bercher also questioned the credibility of Ashley Sharpski and Bivens, saying they changed their stories when pressured by police. Bivens initially claimed Ortega was with her when the attack happened, Bercher said.

``Once they're confronted by police, big surprise, they change their stories,'' Bercher said.

The defense attorney also said another man -- whom he identified only as John C. -- borrowed the machete and that one test showed his DNA was included on it, Bercher said. Bivens, who was a methamphetamine addict, bought drugs from someone named John, the defense attorney said.

Ortega ``barely'' knew Frank Sharpski and may have met him just once, Bercher said.

``He doesn't have a dog in this fight,'' Bercher said. ``He's the only one you're going to hear from in this motley crew of characters ... who has his act together.''

Ortega, who had a job at a grocery store butcher shop and his own car, lived with his mother and aunt and did not need the money, Bercher said.

- City News Service

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