Freedom New Mexico: Karl Terry District Judge David Bonem questions Lisa Salas on Tuesday in a Roosevelt County courtroom after the prosecution objected to her being called as a witness in her son’s first-degree murder trial. Bonem allowed Salas to testify.
By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
Demetrio Salas took the stand in his defense Tuesday and told jurors he was at home asleep when his younger brother accidentally shot and killed Carlos Perez.
Salas testified he didn’t tell law enforcement his story about the night of the shooting because he didn’t want his little brother, Orlando Salas, to get in trouble, He testified in a crowded Roosevelt County courtroom he went to his brother’s aid, burning his clothes and instructing him on how to clean up after the shooting.
Demetrio Salas, 21, and David Griego, 31, are on trial for first-degree murder for their roles in the September 2005 shooting death of Carlos Perez, who died while sleeping when struck by one of nine bullets fired through the bedroom window of his family’s Clovis residence.
Orlando Salas, 17, pleaded guilty for his role in the shooting last year in exchange for being sentenced as a youth. Last week, he refused to testify in the trial, which could affect his sentence, officials said.
The second of two defendants called for the defense, Demetrio Salas said he had gone home before 9 p.m. on Sept. 14, 2005, and was watching DVDs and listening to music. He said he was awakened by his brother’s panicked phone call telling him something was wrong.
Making arrangements for his friend Eric Gutierrez to pick him up, Demeterio Salas said he ran five or six blocks to avoid attracting the attention of a police car parked near his house.
When he arrived at Gutierrez’ home, he said his brother was distraught.
“I just seen Melissa (Sanchez) balled up crying and Orlando just like jumpy and worried and upset,” he said.
Demetrio Salas said his brother told him he had accidentally shot a boy.
“He just told me he was involved in a shooting. … He told me he didn’t mean to shoot the 10-year-old boy. He told me he was going for Ruben Perez,” he said under cross-examination by District Attorney Matt Chandler.
Demetrio Salas said at his direction, Orlando Salas parked their father’s Suburban in Griego’s garage and they got a ride home.
He said they were dropped off down the street and went through alleyways and jumped fences to get home, fearing the police were watching their house. Once inside, he told the court he directed his brother to strip off his clothes and take a shower, cautioning him not to touch anything in the house with his hands.
Demetrio Salas said he spent around 45 minutes in the garage dousing his brother’s clothing with lighter fluid and burning them. He said he threw the ashes into the back yard and went to bed.
Around 4 a.m. he said he heard his brother Edward Salas return home. He said he never saw a gun, didn’t know who the Perez family was, and didn’t know it was a homicide until the next day when he spoke to police.
Chandler asked him if he was certain all of those things took place inless than an hour and a half, the time that passed between the 911 call reporting the shooting and Edward Salas returning home at 4 a.m.
Demetrio Salas said he wasn’t aware of the exact time, but was telling the truth.
Chandler also asked Demetrio Salas about recorded telephone conversations he had with his father from the jail after he was charged in the case.
“You stated to your father, ‘he needs to say that he did it’ … tell Orlando he needs to show up to my court,” Chandler read from transcripts.
“If (Orlando) had come forward and told the truth, I wouldn’t be here today,” Demetrio Salas said in response.
“If Orlando takes the blame for the shooting, that’s the only way you can get out of this,” Chandler asked.
“No,” Demetrio Salas replied.
Chandler recalled police Capt. Patrick Whitney to rebut Demetrio Salas’ testimony. Whitney said he did not find evidence anything had been recently burnt at the Salas home while searching for evidence the day of the shooting.
Edward Salas, 23, will be tried for first-degree murder at a separate trial.
Closing arguments are scheduled to start today and the jury will likely begin deliberating after lunch.
If convicted, Demetrio Salas and Griego face life in prison.
Highlights from Tuesday’s testimony in the first-degree murder trial of Demetrio Salas and David Griego:
Connection to case: Attorney for David Griego.
Outside the presence of the jury, Bargas argued the state had not proven his client played an active role in the shooting and said the first-degree murder charges against Griego are unfounded. “The state is arguing that somehow, by his silence, David Griego is culpable,” Bargas said.
“We don’t need to have fingerprints or DNA to convict someone. We don’t even need to know who the trigger puller is,” District Attorney Matt Chandler argued. “I don’t frankly care who pulled the trigger. All four of them knew what was going on. This is more than just not stopping it, this is participation.”
Judge David Bonem ruled against the defense motion.
Connection to the case: Mother of prosecution witnesses Melissa and Nina Sanchez.
Testimony: She said after midnight the night of the shooting, her daughter Melissa left the house with Orlando and Demetrio Salas in the Salas family’s Suburban. Sanchez said her daughter returned while she was in bed.
Later that night, Demetrio Salas knocked on the door and asked to speak to Melissa. She noticed he was riding a bike, and asked where the Suburban was. She said he told her it had broken down.
She said Melissa and Demetrio Salas were whispering and her daughter seemed upset. Sanchez said she went back to bed.
Sanchez said she didn’t realize her daughter was being threatened (by the defendants) until her older daughter, Nina, told her. She said their family has struggled since the shooting out of fear.
“It has been awful. Our life has never been the same again,” she said.
Connection to case: Mother of Orlando, Demetrio and Edward Salas.
Testimony: She said she saw her sons, Demetrio and Orlando Salas, in bed the night of the shooting.
Arriving home from work just after 12:30 a.m. Sept. 15, 2005, she said she saw her husband’s Suburban in the driveway and her sons in bed as she made her way to her bedroom.
She said her oldest son, Edward, was also home, though she admitted the door to his room was closed. She said Edward got up around 1 a.m. and told her he was going to go sleep at another house. Lisa Salas testified she later heard Edward Salas return around 4 a.m.
Perez was shot at about 2:30 a.m., according to police.