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A Springfield man who shot and killed his ex-wife and then himself was depressed over the breakup of his marriage and didn’t get the help he needed, his relatives said.
“He loved her, and there is no excuse for what he did,” said Tomas Ortega-Benitez’s niece, Dawn Compton of Eugene. “But it was a mental depression that caused him to do this.”
Compton said Ortega-Benitez had threatened suicide while in jail on stalking charges. She said authorities should have kept him behind bars or put him in a mental hospital. Instead, they released him because of overcrowded conditions.
“If he had stayed in jail, perhaps then he wouldn’t have been able to do this,” she said Tuesday.
Ortega-Benitez had recently attended a court-ordered session of domestic violence treatment and felt that it “really clicked” for the first time, said his lawyer, Ilisa Rooke-Ley of Eugene.
He wanted to continue, but became upset last week at the prospect of returning to jail for violating the stalking order against him and then didn’t show up for a court hearing, Rooke-Ley said.
Ortega-Benitez, 43, was jailed three times in the past year for violating restraining orders sought by his former wife. He was convicted of violating a stalking order in June and sentenced to six months in jail.
Paula Benitez’s sister, Anmarie Ruiz of Salem, said her sister agreed to a lesser sentence because she thought her ex-husband would receive help.
“He was sick and what he got was jail, ” she said.
His sister-in-law, Sandy Ortega of Eugene, said Ortega-Benitez became depressed more than five years ago after years of troubles related to his farm and forest labor contracting business.
His depression gave way to obsession after Paula Benitez, his wife of 28 years, left him in May, Ortega said.
“He was a control freak,” she said. “He wasn’t a monster. He just had a control issue sometimes. I do know he loved her, but it was as a twisted thing.”
Ortega-Benitez had tried to straighten himself out by taking anti-depressant medication, Sandy Ortega said, but he was overwhelmed about the failure of his marriage. He also was estranged from the three children he had with Paula Benitez, she said.
A week ago, Ortega-Benitez ran into his former wife and her boyfriend at the Springfield Department of Motor Vehicles office, Ortega said.
“He snapped,” she said.
Ortega spoke to Ortega-Benitez by phone after he shot his ex-wife Monday.
She pleaded with him to surrender to police. “No, I don’t want to live,” she recalled him saying. “I’m not going to come out of this alive.”