Robert Macias found guilty of first-degree murder

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson District Attorney Matt Chandler listens with the jury to a 911 call reporting Wilfred Salas Jr.’s car crashed at Seventh and Merriwether Streets. Police later discovered Salas crashed after being shot in the back of the head as he drove north on Merriwether Street.

Sharna Johnson

For a second time, 12 Curry County jurors have found Robert “Pelon” Macias, 35, guilty of first-degree murder in the 2006 shooting of Wilfred Salas Jr.

The verdict in a five-day trial was returned after 9:30 p.m. Friday, following about two-and-a-half hours of deliberations.

“I’m just happy. That’s all I can say, I’m just happy,” said Velma Valdez, clutching a framed photo of her son to her chest as the courtroom cleared.

Macias was convicted in 2007, but that verdict was overturned in 2009 by the New Mexico Supreme Court. The court ruled that Joe Parker, the trial judge, erred when he allowed a jail house phone call to be played for jurors.

“We’re pleased with the verdict,” District Attorney Matt Chandler said. “Robert Macias has now been found guilty of the murder of Wilfred Salas Jr. and we hope that brings closure to the family.”

Following the verdict, District Judge Stephen Quinn agreed with a defense request to postpone sentencing to a later date. No date has been set for the sentencing.

Chandler said he plans to seek the maximum sentence of life in prison.

The prosecution’s case hinged on a combination of eyewitness testimony, circumstantial evidence and forensic physical evidence, Chandler told jurors during closing arguments Friday evening.

Chandler said the motive for the shooting centered on Macias getting revenge for being embarrassed at a bar the night of Jan. 15, 2006. Chandler said Macias later overheard a group of people, including Salas, making fun of him when he eavesdropped from the yard of a house where they were gathered.

“When you live that life and you get ‘punked’ in that manner … You have to do all that you can to get back that respect. … You don’t disrespect people in this group,” Chandler told jurors.

“You can’t make this stuff up.”

Using the testimony of Daniel Garcia, a close friend to Macias at the time of the shooting, Chandler laid out the shooting and hours that followed.

Garcia testified he and Macias stood in the front yard of Macias’ home at 605 Merriwether and fired three shots at the back of Salas’ car as he drove by.

“I got him; I got him,” Macias said, according to an account of Garcia’s testimony given by Chandler.

Chandler reminded jurors that Garcia came forward to testify at his mother’s urging, even though he knew he would face charges and alienate his friends.

“He has a lot more to lose than he has to gain,” Chandler said.

Defense attorney James Klipstine focused on Garcia’s credibility, telling jurors Garcia admitted to shooting at Salas’ car and was the only witness that placed Macias there.

“The only person that says Robert Macias was there is Daniel Garcia,” Klipstine said. “He admitted he took an oath to tell the truth and lied because it would help him.

“This is a case that is just riddled with doubt.”

During this second trial, the defense brought in David Griego. He testified that he was in the car with Salas, but ran after Salas was shot in the back of the head and the car crashed.

Griego, brought from prison to testify in the retrial, said Macias was not the shooter.

Chandler minimized Griego’s testimony to jurors in his response to Klipstine’s argument, suggesting Griego testified because he had a vendetta against the state, which convicted him three years ago in the 2005 shooting death of Clovis fifth-grader Carlos Perez.

“(Klipstine) rests his case on David Griego,” Chandler said. “He was their best witness and that’s how bad the defense was.”

Macias has been in the custody of the Department of Corrections since his conviction.