Emotions fill courtroom at sentencing

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

A mother’s loud wails and sobs pierced a Clovis courtroom on Thursday as a prosecuting attorney recounted the September killing of 10-year-old Carlos Perez. The boy was shot in the head as he slept in his bed next to his older brother, Ruben.

Seated beside Carlos’ mother Lupe Perez, a row of young children cried audibly throughout the description, one young boy’s face twisted and torn with anguish. As prosecutor Andrea Reeb spoke, the sounds of Lupe Perez’s grief drowned out Reeb’s voice, forcing her to pause more than once.

Orlando Salas, 16, sat stoically between his father and attorney at the defense table as he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, accessory to first-degree murder and tampering with evidence.

Under New Mexico statute, Salas will be remanded to the Children Youth and Families Department until he reaches 21 years of age, when he will be paroled, District Attorney Matt Chandler said.

Salas and his two older brothers, Edward Salas, 21, and Demetrio Salas, 20, have been held in custody since Sept. 16 on charges of first-degree murder for the shooting. Police have said Perez’ older brother Ruben had a dispute with Orlando Salas at school that led to the shooting and Ruben Perez was the intended target.

Judge Joe Parker gave an opportunity for people to speak for the victim. Reeb presented Parker with a photo of Carlos Perez and a poster created by students from the victim’s school before family, friends and educators stepped forward to speak.

They described a shy but fun-loving child with a big smile and dimples who doted on his mother and loved peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Perez’ aunt, Jessica Bailon, said, “This tragedy has changed our lives from the oldest to the youngest in our family.”

Minerva Perez, Carlos’ aunt, read the words of his mother who was too distraught to speak. “I miss my baby boy,” she said. “I still sleep with his picture. As time goes by, it just gets harder and harder.”

Carrie Nigerville, Cameo Elementary School principal, told Parker, “This tragedy has left my students with heartbreak instead of laughter. We are devastated, and we will never be the same.”

Orlando Salas declined to address the court when given the opportunity.

As Parker prepared to impose the sentence, he addressed Salas. “I don’t think there will ever be a time when I will have to preside over a more senseless act,” he said.