Jury finds Macias guilty

Defendant Robert Macias, left, and his attorney, James Klipstine Jr., wait to hear the verdict at the Curry County Courthouse. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ Staff Writer

Wilfred Salas Jr.’s family members put their arms around each other and leaned their heads together as the jury’s verdict was read.

Robert Macias, 31, was found guilty of first-degree murder and shooting at a motor vehicle, Judge Joe Parker told a crowded courtroom Tuesday in the 9th Judicial District Court.

Meanwhile, Macias’ supporters sat near his wife, Angelina, wiping tears silently from their cheeks.

Salas’ mother, Velma Valdez, said the verdict brought her some peace more than a year after her son’s death.

“I had been stressed this year with everything. I was afraid he would get away with it. He’s off the streets now, so we don’t have to worry about him anymore.

“I would have rather had my son here with me but I have to live with that — it’s hard.”

Her son died from a gunshot wound to the head Jan. 15, 2006, while he drove his car on Merriwether Street.

Parker took a moment to thank the court gallery for their restraint in what he recognized as an emotional case.

“I’ve got to tell you there was some apprehension about words that have been passed,” he said.

The verdict came after three hours of deliberation following a morning of impassioned closing arguments.

The case presented to the jury was a circumstantial one, attorneys agreed, asking jurors to believe the witnesses testimony they had presented.

“Robert Macias wasn’t there. He was at Leila Harpold’s house. (Prosecutors) have to do this because somebody was killed on their watch,” defense attorney James Klipstine Jr. told jurors.

The prosecution told jurors Macias was the only one with a motive and that he lashed out because he was embarrassed by the victim’s friends.

“The defendant’s motive is clear. He got punked. The defendant had to prove himself — desperate times call for desperate measures,” 9th Judicial District Attorney Matt Chandler said. “This guy lives by the streets. He didn’t let it go, he couldn’t let it go.”

Macias faces a life sentence — which in New Mexico means he’ll be eligible for parole in 30 years — plus 14 years for shooting at a motor vehicle.

Chandler said Macias’ sentencing hearing will be set within two weeks.

Trial highlights
Highlights of Tuesday’s closing arguments in Robert Macias’ homicide trial:

The prosecution — District Attorney Matt Chandler told jurors the only one with a motive for the shooting was Macias.

Outlining the case, Chandler talked about a dispute at the bar with the victim’s friends where Macias ran away and the humiliation he endured when he heard the group making fun of him later that night.

Moments later, Wilfred Salas Jr. was shot as he drove down Merriwether Street near a home owned by Macias’ family, Chandler said.

Daniel Garcia, who testified to shooting at the car with Macias that night, had nothing to gain from his testimony but a clean conscience, he said.
Chandler defended Garcia’s
testimony.

“What motive does Daniel Garcia have in this?” Chandler asked. “He didn’t get punked at the bar. This crime scene is a mirror image of what Daniel Garcia testified to.

“You have to wade through this stuff — it’s a burden of common sense and of reason.”

The defense — James Klipstine Jr. asked jurors to detach from sympathy and outrage and question the credibility of Garcia, who admitted to perjury during
preliminary hearings in the case.

Klipstine said the state had shown only one of the ways the homicide could have happened and asked jurors to consider the theory Garcia was the only shooter. He maintained Macias was asleep at a friend’s home at the time of the shooting.

“What is (Garcia’s) purpose for lying? The reason he’s lying is because he wants somebody else to be on trial for murder. I told you when this started the state’s
witnesses are going to be liars — you know the state’s witnesses are liars.

“As an individual, you have a right to feel sympathy for this family who has sat here. As a citizen, you have a right to feel outrage, you have a right to say something has to be done.

“As a juror, you do not have a right to have sympathy or outrage; you are required to be dispassionate.”