GOSHEN — A Goshen man has been convicted of three counts of attempted murder.
Michael Ortiz, 38, was found guilty of a Level 1 felony for shooting at a pickup truck on C.R. 46 in June 2017. The driver and two passengers were uninjured despite seven shots hitting the vehicle.
The jury weighed the question for about four hours Thursday, on the fourth day of the trial. His sentencing was set for June 6.
A Level 1 felony is punishable by up to 40 years in prison.
'Over in seconds'
Ortiz testified earlier in the day, before jurors were sent to deliberate at around 3:30 p.m. He gave them his account of the events leading up to the shooting on June 17, 2017, just west of the New Paris Speedway.
He claimed he was acting in defense of a fellow biker and himself.
Ortiz said the local chapter of the motorcycle club that he was president of, Sinland, had just given patches to new members and they were on their way to celebrate at a house in New Paris. On the way, a problem with his motorcycle forced the group to stop along the road.
While he was fixing a loose battery cover, he felt a rush of air and spray of dust as a vehicle flew past a little too close for comfort, he said. They passed the same vehicle, a green Dodge Ram hauling a minivan on a trailer, a little farther down the road.
He said one of the bikers doubled back and stopped near the driver's side of the truck, and an argument began. He then watched as the truck tires started spinning, which he took as a threat that the vehicle was about to lurch forward and strike one of the bikers.
Ortiz reacted by reaching into his vest and pulling out a handgun. It was a gun he admitted he didn't have a license for.
He fired at the truck as it drove past. He was attempting to disable the engine, he told the jury.
"It was over in three or four seconds," he said. "It was pop-pop-pop-pop, done."
He said he didn't know who was in the truck and wasn't trying to hurt anyone. He became emotional as he agreed with his attorney, Marielena Duerring, when she asked if it's a decision he wished he could change.
'That wasn't enough'
Ortiz also didn't expect to be in court on attempted murder charges, he later said under questioning from Elkhart County Deputy Prosecutor Don Pitzer.
"I never thought I would have to sit up here and explain myself," he said.
Ortiz didn't know about the dispute between one of his club members and the driver of the pickup either, he told Pitzer. He denied acting as an "enforcer" or trying to settle a dispute.
He described Sinland as a family-friendly club that participates in toy drives, blood drives and breast cancer awareness events. It's a close-knit group, he said, and described his own role as president as an organizational one.
"Do you have to arm yourself and seek vengeance?" Duerring asked. "Is it your role to settle an issue with a gun?"
Ortiz answered no to both, and said he'd never put his family at risk to settle a score for someone.
Pitzer read a statement he said was taken from the club's website, and which he said was presented as the club's code. It said that "bikers know they don't live forever," they "take a stand for freedom" and they "hold their ground," according to Pitzer.
Ortiz said it's just a statement, not a code, and that he didn't write it.
Pitzer asked Ortiz why he didn't go to the police after the shooting. Ortiz said he didn't know they were looking for him, and that he had even been pulled over on his motorcycle for a noise violation since the shooting.
Pitzer also asked him about each of the seven shots that hit the truck, from the front bumper to the tailgate. One entered the cabin and struck the headrest behind the front seat passenger.
The first two shots hit the bumper and the grille, he pointed out, but Ortiz continued firing.
"But that wasn't enough, was it, Mike?" Pitzer asked, twice.
"If you say so, sir," Ortiz replied.