By Sharna Johnson: Freedom New Mexico
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.