Co-defendant refuses to testify in murder trial

By Karl Terry and Sharna Johnson: Freedom New Mexico

A co-defendant in a first-degree murder case backed out on his deal to testify Thursday in Roosevelt County District Court, according to prosecutors.

Orlando Salas, a 17-year-old serving a sentence for his connection to the shooting death of a 10-year-old Clovis boy, was also charged with battery on a peace officer following an incident Wednesday night at the Curry County Juvenile Detention Center.

In the Portales courtroom on Thursday, without the jury present, District Attorney Matt Chandler told the court Salas had told him he was not going to testify and that he would invoke his right to an attorney.

Chandler told the court he was “willing to file charges to compel his (Salas’) testimony.”

After first trying to work things out in Judge David Bonem’s chambers, Salas and the jury were brought together briefly in the courtroom, where Salas declined to testify.

The jury was once again removed and Salas was sent outside the courtroom to speak with his attorney, Anna Aragon of Las Vegas, N.M., by phone.

Salas then told the court that Aragon no longer represented him and he would not testify.

After a lunch recess, Salas was once more brought back to the stand but again declined to testify and was held in contempt.

In an agreement with prosecutors, Salas pleaded guilty last year to his role in Carlos Perez’ shooting death and was sentenced as a juvenile, remanded to the care of the Children Youth and Families Department. Under the terms of the agreement, he will be eligible for parole at age 21.

The plea agreement was contingent on Salas’ testifying against his brother, Demetrio Salas, 21, and co-defendant David Griego, 31, according to court records.

Orlando Salas was also a focus for law officers on Wednesday night. Curry County Sheriff Matt Murray said Salas became violent about 8 p.m. and began throwing chairs and beating on the windows at the jail when he was denied use of a telephone.

Detention officers reported they tried to get Salas to leave the dayroom and go to his cell, but he refused.

“He did not comply. He took a defensive posture at first and clenched his fists then attacked one of the (detention officers) and took him to the ground,” Murray said.

“Deputy (Glenn) Russ warned (Salas) three times to comply, then (Salas) charged the detention officer. At that point Deputy Russ Tased him and Salas became compliant and was escorted to his cell. After that point in time verbal commands were all we needed.”

It was not clear whether Wednesday’s incident was related to events Thursday in the courtroom.

Chandler said Orlando Salas’ statements would have been helpful but not getting his testimony or the statements he made to police was not a big detriment to the case. His team had been prepared in advance to go with or without that testimony, Chandler said.

“Although it’s frustrating, we’re not all that surprised that he chose not to cooperate with the justice system in this case,” Chandler said.

“We’ll just have to move forward with the rest of our witnesses and try to get the truth out there in front of the jury.”

Chandler said his office would be filing paperwork asking the courts to revoke Orlando Salas’ current sentence and hold a sentencing hearing under adult sanctions. He said the young man could face up to life in prison.

“If he’d (Salas) testified and we’d gotten the chance to cross examine, we feel like his testimony would have helped our clients,” defense attorney Gary Mitchell said.

The trial continues today.

Perez died of a gunshot wound to the head while he was sleeping in his family’s residence.

Trial testimony
The following are highlights from Thursday’s testimony in the first-degree murder trial of Demetrio Salas and David Griego.

Ashley Garcia
Connection to case: Was in the area with other suspects connected to the crime.
Testimony: In a nervous and tearful testimony at times, told jurors she and Noe Torres and Edward Salas were at Dennis Chavez Park near the Gatewood Apartments in Clovis where Carlos Perez was shot.
She said she was with the pair on the morning of the shooting and saw them meet up with two other people near the apartments and a short time later heard gunfire.
The teenager, 16 at the time of the shooting, also gave sometimes conflicting testimony about the presence of two other girls at the park that night. Said she had not seen Edward Salas nor Noe Torres with a gun the morning of the shooting. She testified she had seen both of them with guns previously.
She identified a photo of a Chevrolet Suburban other witnesses had testified Demetrio Salas, Orlando Salas and David Griego were in just before the crime occurred as similar to the one she had seen on the street near the Gatewood Apartments the morning of the shooting.
Cross-examination: Said Edward Salas had previously shown her a trick he used to hide a gun in his pants without anyone knowing.
Said she couldn’t recall telling detectives that Edward Salas and Torres smelled of burnt matches when they returned to the car.

Nina Sanchez
Connection to case: Sister of Melissa Sanchez, who testified Wednesday after receiving a plea deal in the case.
Testimony: She said Demetrio and Orlando Salas came by her house just after midnight on the morning of the shooting in a blue and white Suburban. She also testified Orlando Salas produced a gun from the vehicle during the visit and she asked him to put it back inside the Suburban.
She testified that her sister came back to her house in the early morning hours, crying and upset over an incident involving the shooting of a child. She said they later went to a convenience store with two other people, bought soft drinks and drove by the shooting scene.
She said when they got near her house they saw Demetrio Salas on a bicycle and her sister sat on the porch and talked with her for a time.
Cross-examination: She said she didn’t see Demetrio Salas with the gun at her house and she said neither brother was wearing a hat or cap. She said she never heard Demetrio Salas speak about doing anything illegal.

Dr. Ross Reichard
Connection to case: On staff at Office of the Medical Examiner
Testimony: Gunshot wound to left side of Carlos Perez’ head was the only injury to the boy. He said the bullet did not exit and was recovered. He identified the bullet as a small caliber, consistent with a .22 caliber bullet.
He said the cause of death was homicide and the cause was the gunshot wound to the head.
Cross-examination: Said there were five causes of death used by the OMI with homicide being one of them. Said he was not able to establish who fired the bullet.