June 29, 2024

Lacombe Man Convicted of Murder After Stabbing and Dismembering Girlfriend

District Attorney Collin Sims reports that on June 27, 2024, a St. Tammany Parish jury deliberated for approximately 20 minutes before returning a guilty verdict against 30-year-old Fernando Cortez of Lacombe on the charge of second degree murder. Assistant District Attorneys Iain Dover and Amanda Gritten handled the presentation of testimony and evidence to the jury during the three-day trial. Judge Tara Zeller presided over the trial and is scheduled to sentence Cortez on July 23rd. Second degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence. 

Testimony at trial established that at approximately 5:30 am on April 17, 2020, Cortez called 911 from his Lacombe residence. He told the 911 operator he and his “wife” had both been stabbed and were dying. Cortez then stated he had stabbed his “wife” 3 or 4 times, killing her and that “her leg was gone.” He said “I took it too far.” When asked why he killed her, he said “because she’s Covid.”

Deputies with the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office were immediately dispatched to the residence and upon arrival, found Cortez standing in the kitchen still armed with a knife. After a brief struggle, Cortez was taken into custody. Deputies conducted a protective sweep of the residence and found the body of a deceased woman, later identified as Sandra Aldridge, who was actually the live-in girlfriend of the defendant. She was nude, had multiple lacerations to her neck region and hands and was missing her left leg from just above the knee. There was a pungent odor of bleach in the air and it was apparent someone had attempted to clean up blood from the scene. Deputies also found a freshly dug hole in the yard with a shovel nearby.

Cortez was transported to a nearby hospital for treatment of several minor lacerations later determined to have been self-inflicted. He was then transported to the parish jail and booked on the charge of second degree murder. During the booking process, jail staff asked Cortez a series of standard questions, one being whether he had any thoughts of harming himself or anyone else. He turned to the deputies who had transported him to the jail and said, “Don’t they know I just killed someone?”

Detectives obtained a search warrant for the defendant’s residence. During execution of the warrant, the victim’s severed left leg was found in a freezer near where the victim’s body was discovered. The leg was wrapped in plastic. A hacksaw the defendant used to sever the victim’s leg was also recovered from the residence. During the course of the investigation, lead Detective Ben Williams developed information the victim was in the process of ending her relationship with the defendant. A friend of Sandra’s testified at trial that Sandra had recently confided she was going to leave the defendant. The friend told Sandra she could come stay with her in Florida. Prosecutors introduced evidence that Sandra had recently Googled “cheap airline flights”. In a text message exchanged between the victim and the defendant on the day of her murder, she told him “I won’t be here when you get home.”

During the defendant’s post-arrest interview, he did not acknowledge the victim’s plans to leave him. He claimed their discord was triggered by his insistence she be tested for Covid. He said the victim refused, saying she was not sick. The defendant said he then retrieved a knife and stabbed the victim. He said he used the hacksaw to sever the left leg from her dead body. After putting the leg in the freezer, he began digging a hole in the yard and then realized he had taken it too far.

An autopsy determined the multiple lacerations to the victim’s neck caused her death, severing her carotid artery and jugular vein. The victim also had defensive wounds to both hands. The autopsy confirmed the victim’s leg was severed post-mortem, as the defendant had stated.

Throughout the trial, defense counsel asserted the defendant acted in self-defense. In her closing argument to the jury after conclusion of all testimony, ADA Amanda Gritten brushed aside that claim, saying “It’s absurd they would tell you this is self-defense when there were so many defensive wounds on the victim. There has been zero evidence to suggest this was a justifiable homicide.” The jury reached the same conclusion, quickly returning with its guilty verdict.

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