GRAND HAVEN — In his closing argument for the trial of Enrique Estrada III, of Holland — who admittedly killed his ex-girlfriend Katherine Rutgers in 2021 by suffocating her with a rag — Ottawa County Prosecutor Lee Fischer argued that Estrada knew what he was doing with “planning and thought.”
For the past four and a half days in the Ottawa County Circuit Court, jurors heard from witnesses and detectives; heard numerous text messages between Estrada, Rutgers and others; and saw photos of evidence, including a photo from Rutger’s autopsy.
On Wednesday, jurors learned the timeline of Rutgers’ and Estrada’s “short but tumultuous” relationship, which began in June 2021, and the “ups and downs” that Fischer said led to Estrada killing Rutgers just six months later.
“The defendant was unable to accept that Katherine did not want to be involved in an exclusive relationship with him anymore, he just couldn’t deal with it,” Fischer said. “This was no accident. This was an intentional act by the defendant who acted with purpose, committing an extremely violent and personal attack.”
Fischer said “you can’t get more up-close and personal” than Estrada did in the way he killed Rutgers.
“Laying on top of somebody, holding them down, face to face, holding a towel over her,” Fischer described the murder. “He was doing so, I would concur, while looking right into her face, watching it turn color, struggling with her, and actually feeling the life drain out of her. It’s not like he shot her from across the room.”
Fischer then proceeded to set a two-minute timer on his phone, and demonstrated to the jury by holding the evidence rag down on the table for the two minutes that Estrada said he held the rag on Rutgers’ nose and mouth, causing her to asphyxiate .
An autopsy photo of Rutgers showed the impact of the suffocation, as well as marks on her neck from Estrada’s fingers.
Estrada admitted to detectives from the Holland Department of Public Safety soon after Rutgers’ death that he suffocated her with a rag that had some kind of cleaning liquid on it.
“Can you all imagine the terror that Katherine must have felt while all this was happening?” Fischer posed to the jury. “Fighting to breathe, the panic of not being able to get any air, perhaps thinking about her kids. Her life probably literally flashed before her eyes at that point, and the last thing she gets to see in her life is him,” pointing firmly at Estrada, who was seated on the defense side of the courtroom.
While Estrada never told detectives why he killed Rutgers, but said it was an accident, Fischer said Estrada was pushed to a breaking point due to jealousy and insecurity. The prosecutor noted texts Estrada sent to a friend 36 hours before he killed Rutgers, where he expressed depressed emotions and how he needed to “save himself.”
“He made the extremely selfish choice of taking her life and not his own,” the prosecutor said. “He obviously figured out how he would save himself — he decided he would kill Katherine.”
A couple of times during Fischer’s argument, one of Estrada’s defense attorneys, Anna White, shook her head in disagreement.
During her closing argument, White used a diagram that outlined the ups and downs of Estrada and Rutgers’ relationship, arguing that Estrada was invested in eventually getting back with her and did not intend to kill her.
“Enrique wasn’t planning to kill Katherine — that’s the last thing he wanted,” White argued to the jury, pointing to the diagram. “Every time before when things went downhill in this relationship, Enrique knew he could figure it out. He was patient, he was understanding, he continued to be a friend with benefits in hopes that someday he’d have a shot … because that’s the relationship he wanted.”
White noted Estrada’s “immaturity, lack of social awareness, how hung up he was on Katherine,” and his “incredibly naive” actions throughout the entire process.
“Perhaps he should have known how dangerous (what he did) was, but he didn’t,” White said.
The public defender asked the jury to find Estrada guilty of involuntary manslaughter — rather than first- or second-degree murder, which means the defendant would have had some intention to kill or harm the victim.
“He is not guilty of planning and deliberately killing the only woman he ever loved,” White concluded.
In a rebuttal, Fischer said he was grateful for the defense’s timeline, because he said it described Estrada’s motive over time.
“Its not just one thing or another along the path, it’s the buildup, the culmination of these things,” the prosecutor said. “He just wasn’t going to take it anymore, and if he couldn’t have her nobody else would.”
Fischer said police found evidence on Estrada’s phone that in between the time he was first interviewed by Holland detectives on his front porch and the time he went in for a full interview at the police station, Estrada had Google-searched and viewed a website that explained “the difference between murder and manslaughter.”
“He knew he had killed Katherine and he knew he had done something wrong, and at this point he was trying to lie his way out of it,” Fischer said.
The prosecutor asked the jury to find Estrada guilty of first-degree murder.
After a short break, the jury was given instructions by Judge Karen Miedema before they were dismissed to deliberate.
The jurors began to deliberate at around 4:15 pm Wednesday. They have to reach a unanimous decision and are choosing whether to charge Estrada with first- or second-degree murder, manslaughter, or not guilty.
This article originally appeared on The Holland Sentinel: Jury to decide if Holland man planned girlfriend’s murder