First witness takes stand at Salas murder trial

CNJ staff photo: Tony Bullocks Edward Salas, 23, listens Monday afternoon at the Curry County Courthouse as Lynn Trujillo testifies on what occurred the night of the shooting. Salas is on trial for the shooting death of 10-year-old Carlos Perez.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ Staff Writer

Ruben Perez, the person police have said was the intended target of the shooting that took his 10-year-old brother’s life, was the first witness to take the stand Monday in the first-degree murder trial of a Clovis man.

He detailed the events of Sept. 14, 2005, the day leading up to the shooting of Carlos Perez. He said it started with a confrontation at the high school with Orlando Salas, younger brother of defendant Edward Salas. Perez said Orlando Salas confronted him with a knife in the bathroom after Perez told him to stop picking on his young cousin, he said.

“I told him to fight. I wanted to fight him,” he said.

“He told me he didn’t want to fight me. He said his older brother (Demetrio Salas) did.”

Perez said he agreed to meet Demetrio Salas at the park that night to fight but went home when no one showed up.

He said around 10 p.m., he got into the bed he shared with his younger brother and was woken by gunshots around 2:30 a.m.

“I heard the gunshots and I woke up. I didn’t turn on the lights because I didn’t want to wake up my brother,” he recalled.

“I ran outside, but didn’t see nobody… I heard my mom crying. Screaming. I ran back inside,” he said wiping tears from his eyes.

Perez said he tried to administer CPR to his brother while on the phone with the 911 operator.

As prosecutors played the recording of the call, the boys’ mother, Lupe Perez, could be heard screaming, “Carlito, Carlo Carlos… Can somebody help us… He’s bleeding. Please, Carlos, Carlos.”

Under cross-examination, Perez said he didn’t know Edward Salas, had never seen him before, and his name had not come up during the confrontation with Orlando Salas.

Opening statements began around 3 p.m. Monday and two witnesses took the stand after most of the day was spent narrowing a pool of 143 jurors down to a panel of eight women and seven men. Three will serve as alternates.

The trial is expected to take the rest of the week, Judge Teddy Hartley told jurors.

In addition to first-degree murder, 23-year-old Edward Salas is charged with attempted murder, shooting at a dwelling or occupied building, two counts of bribery or intimidation of a witness, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and conspiracy to shooting at a dwelling or occupied building.

If convicted he faces a minimum of life in prison.

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.

Highlights from Monday’s first-degree murder trial of Edward Salas:

• “Two years, six months and 23 days ago Carlos Perez was a fifth-grader at Cameo Elementary. He has no idea about the storm that’s (about to unfold outside his bedroom window),” prosecutor Fred Van Soelen told jurors during opening statements.

The shooting was the result of the confrontation between Orlando Salas and Ruben Perez, he said.

“When you mess with one Salas, as you will see at this trial, you mess with all of the Salases,” he said.

Van Soelen promised jurors evidence will show inconsistent statements about Salas’ whereabouts along with witness accounts of him saying, “We didn’t get him, we got his younger brother.”

• During defense opening statements, attorney Stephen McIlwain pointed to witness credibility, telling jurors they would hear witness testimony from a girl who had been doing drugs and drinking at the time of the incident.

“This is a tragedy. As a father, I can’t even understand, but please don’t compound the tragedy by convicting an innocent man,” he said.

• Lynn Trujillo, a neighbor of the Perez family at the time of the shooting, testified she looked out her window and saw a blue and white Suburban drive slowly down the street.

A few minutes later, she said she saw the Suburban stopped under a streetlight and somebody “hanging out the door.”

Shortly after that, she said she heard “banging” and thought someone was hitting her window. When she looked outside again, the Suburban was gone, she said.

Prosecutors said the Suburban belonged to Salas’ parents.