The crowded Curry County courtroom was stone silent Friday as Judge Teddy Hartley read the verdict: Edward Salas is guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting death of 10-year-old Carlos Perez.
In the audience, Lisa Salas rocked rhythmically in her seat, her husband Lolo Salas stared straight ahead, their faces frozen after learning their son would spend at least the next 30 years in prison. As the words sunk in, members of the Salas family began sniffling and sobbing.
Across the courtroom, Perez’ family sat in silence.
After the jury was dismissed, officers stepped forward and handcuffed the 23-year-old Salas, the fourth to be convicted in the September 2005 shooting. As his hands were secured behind his back, Salas looked over his shoulder at his parents, his face forlorn but otherwise emotionless.
Two of Edward Salas’ brothers, Orlando and Demetrio, were convicted in the shooting in earlier trials.
The Perez family declined comment following the conviction.
Handed the case about noon, jurors deliberated for almost four hours.
District Attorney Matt Chandler, who spoke on their behalf, said the family is pleased to have the trial behind them.
“This is one step closer to closure for them,” he said. “These verdicts certainly don’t bring back what they have lost but it does prove to them that there is justice in the court system.”
Edward Salas was also found guilty of the attempted murder of Ruben Perez, the victim’s brother, shooting at a dwelling or occupied building, one count of bribery or intimidation of a witness, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and conspiracy to shooting at a dwelling or occupied building.
He was acquitted of one count of bribery or intimidation of a witness related to threats prosecutors said he made against Krystal Anson, a witness in the case.
A fifth suspect, Noe Torres, remains at large. Officials have said they believe he fled to Mexico after the shooting.
Prosecutors have said Demetrio and Edward Salas, David Griego and Torres met outside the window of Carlos Perez’ Clovis apartment on Sept. 15.
It was their intention, prosecutors said, to shoot Ruben Perez, the victim’s older brother, in retaliation for an altercation he had early in the day at school with Orlando, the youngest Salas brother.
Demetrio Salas, they said, fired nine shots through the window.
One bullet struck the fifth-grader in the forehead as he slept next to his older brother. He died the next day at a Lubbock hospital.
A sentencing hearing will be held for Edward Salas in the next 30 days after a pre-sentence report is completed, Chandler said.
The status of others charged in the case:
• Orlando Salas, 18, pleaded guilty to charges related to the shooting in exchange for testimony against his brothers. He is in the custody of the Children Youth and Families Department until age 21.
• Demetrio Salas, 22, was sentenced to life in prison plus 10 years in January for first-degree murder. He will be required to serve a minimum of 40 years.
• David Griego, 31, was convicted of second-degree murder in January and was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
• Noe Torres, 29, remains at large.
Jurors heard almost three hours of closing arguments from attorney’s in the first-degree murder trial of Edward Salas.
Salas is accused in the Sept. 15, 2005, shooting death of 10-year-old Carlos Perez.
Highlights from District Attorney Matt Chandler’s closing:
“They are surrounding this apartment like a pack of wolves about to attack their prey,” Chandler said as he walked back through the timeline of events.
Chandler outlined testimony jurors heard from at least five witnesses placing Salas at the shooting and the events afterward.
• Melissa Sanchez testified Demetrio Salas and Orlando Salas picked her up and had her point out which apartment Ruben Perez and his family lived in.
Sanchez was at the home of Eric Gutierrez with Demetrio and Orlando Salas later when they heard first responders talk about a 10-year-old boy shot in the head.
• Ashley Garcia said she and her friend Krystal Anson drove Edward Salas and Noe Torres on an errand.
They ended up at the Perez’ apartment building.
Garcia saw Edward Salas and Torres meet up with other people at the building and shake hands then disappear.
A few minutes later, gunshots were heard and Salas and Torres came running back to the car.
The next day, Garcia said Salas called her twice and told her to keep her mouth shut. She testified he said it was “an accident, we didn’t mean to hit the little boy.”
• Anson gave the same story as Garcia about driving to the apartment complex and waiting until they heard gunshots and Salas and Torres ran back to the car.
Anson said in the car after leaving the scene, Salas got a phone call and turned to Torres and said “It wasn’t him, we got the little kid.” When Torres asked is he was sure, she said Salas again said. “It wasn’t him, we got the wrong one.
• Mike Olivas and Ernesto Luerma testified Salas and Torres showed up at their home in the early morning hours looking for a place to hide. Both men testified they told them, “We just shot up a house.”
• Martha Carbajal testified Salas, her boyfriend at the time, talked her into taking NyQuil to sleep and was gone when she awoke before 5 a.m. Salas originally told police he was at Carbajal’s house all night.
• Gun shot residue was found on the inside of the door where Salas was sitting in the car he rode in with Torres and the three girls the night of the shooting.
“Orlando (Salas) had a problem with Ruben and he recruited his older brother Demetrio Salas, who recruited Edward Salas,” Chandler told jurors. “It’s well known if you’re going to mess with the Salases, you’re going to get them all.”
“Carlos Perez went to bed not knowing about the storm that was brewing outside ... This kid didn’t have a chance — nine shots — the kid didn’t have a chance.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is innocence,” Chandler said pointing to a photo of Carlos Perez. “This presumption of innocence for this defendant has run dry. He sits before you guilty.”
Highlights from defense attorney Chris Christensen’s closing:
Christensen pointed to lacking physical evidence and witnesses with questionable credibility.
“I don’t think there’s a happy person in this courtroom. The death of a young boy is sad. I have noway of explaining how that would affect the Perez family. It’s also a tragedy for the Salases,” Christensen said.
• Ashley Garcia changed her story when she talked to law enforcement, trying to eliminate Krystal Anson’s presence the night of the shooting. Garcia also admitted she had been drinking, smoking marijuana and doing meth before the shooting and had not been sleeping. “You heard her testimony, what frame of mind was she in?” he asked.
• Cassandra Flores testified she had not slept for days and had been doing meth during the time frame the shooting occurred in. She testified, “All the days run together when you’re on meth.”
• Anson, too, testified she had been doing drugs. She also confused the positioning of vehicles at the scene when asked to mark a diagram during testimony, Christensen said.
• Mike Olivas was a convicted felon who conducted an illegal gun purchase with the defendant and Ernesto Luerma admitted he was doing drugs at the time.
• A neighbor of the Perez family who said she saw the Salas family Suburban outside the apartment complex before the shooting and never saw the white Camry Edward Salas, Torres and the girls were supposedly in, though other witnesses said the vehicles were parked near one another.
• There was no physical evidence tying Salas to the scene. No DNA, fingerprints or footprints.
• A gun expert testified the guns recovered by police could have fired the fatal shot but also said it was possible many other guns could have caused the same markings she found on the bullets.
• Law enforcement said they were only able to collect the cell phone records of Edward Salas because others involved had used pre-paid phones which are untraceable. Therefore, the full scope of phone traffic that night will never be known.
“They have paraded a few witnesses in front of us who have no credibility,” Christensen said.
“We are here to find the truth.”
“We asked that you start out with an open mind with the intent to serve justice... The presumption of innocence maintains itself until the jurors say otherwise.”
— Compiled by Sharna Johnson