CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Prosecutor Matt Chandler holds photos of five defendants Wednesday during closing arguments at District Court in Portales.
By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer
Jurors will begin deliberating this morning after nearly six hours of closing arguments Wednesday in the first-degree murder trial of two Clovis men.
While defense attorneys argued evidence was insufficient against their clients, prosecutor Matt Chandler asked jurors to weigh the partnership of five individuals he said planned and carried out a shooting that killed Carlos Perez one day before his 11th birthday.
Demetrio Salas, 21, and David Griego, 31, could be sentenced a maximum of 30 years in prison without parole if convicted.
Two others are charged in the case and a third pleaded guilty.
“Carlos Perez went to bed feeling safe. He wrapped himself in a blanket knowing that he would wake up the next day,” Chandler said.
Describing a normal day for the child, he detailed Perez returning home from school, going through the evening with his family, and eventually getting into bed.
Simultaneously, Chandler said, a group of people were driving around searching for the Perez apartment to shoot the boys’ older brother, Ruben Perez.
“They are forming their intent. They know exactly what they are going to do,” Chandler told jurors. “This partnership continues as Ruben Perez falls asleep next to his brother, as he has done for 10 years, and these two worlds collide.”
Nine .22-caliber rounds were shot through the bedroom window around 2:30 a.m. Sept. 15, 2005, police said. One struck Carlos in the head, police said.
Chandler recapped trial testimony, starting with a dispute between Ruben Perez and Orlando Salas at school the morning of Sept. 14, 2005. He said witness testimony placed a gun in Demetrio Salas’ hands, and placed Salas and Griego in Salas’ father’s Suburban outside the apartment complex where the Perez family lived. Chandler also pointed to a cleanup effort after the shooting.
He reminded the jury Demetrio Salas testified in court his brother, Orlando Salas, did the shooting, and he only helped clean up after the crime.
“How honorable for Demetrio to not implicate his brother (initially),” Chandler said with a hint of sarcasm. “Demetrio also knows Orlando was not going to testify. Who better to pin it on.”
Orlando Salas, 17, refused to testify in the trial last week, breaking a deal with prosecutors. He pleaded guilty last year to his role in the shooting and was sentenced as a juvenile as part of a deal to testify. Prosecutors have said they will pursue an adult sentence against him.
Griego’s attorney, Roger Bargas, asked jurors to question witness testimony placing his client in a vehicle with Demetrio Salas, and said prosecutors did not prove his client was an active participant in the shooting.
He said there were too many missing pieces and nothing proved his client was at the scene of the shooting.
“We don’t convict a person, an innocent man that’s on trial in this case, based on conjecture,” Bargas said. “If standing silent was a crime, which it isn’t, they’ve probably proven that beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Demetrio Salas’ attorney, Gary Mitchell, also attacked witness testimony, asking jurors to consider the credibility of people involved in the shooting who were given plea agreements in exchange for testimony.
“I appreciate the state seeking justice, but they’ve gone far too far to wipe out an entire family,” Mitchell said in reference to the three Salas brothers — Edward, 23, Demetrio and Orlando — being charged in the case.
The fifth defendant, Noe Torres, 28, remains at large.
“There is no scientific evidence to connect Demetrio to this shooting or to even being there or to being in the Suburban or being at Eric Gutierrez’ house or to David Griego being there,” he said.
Mitchell asked jurors to follow the law in their decision and to give consideration to his client’s statements.
“He came before you. He admitted to you what he had done, how he had helped his brother. That’s a lot of courage. That tells you a lot about Demetrio,” he said.
Jurors can issue seperate verdicts for Griego and Demetrio Salas, according to Judge David Bonem.