In one case the deceased individual is not dead and in the other a key witness asks where the shooter is –
This has probably not been the best of weeks for the DA’s Office, in terms of two cases that involve different forms of homicides. As we reported yesterday, there is the case of Timothy Hernandez, facing DUI charges that involve vehicular manslaughter. Turns out, as we reported Thursday and the Daily Democrat confirmed, the second “manslaughter” victim is alive and in critical but stable condition at UC Davis Medical Center.
Adding to the problems, Thursday marked the opening of what was supposed to be a 12-day trial involving the September 2009 shooting death of Jesus Cortez Heredia, at Ortega’s West in West Sacramento, by Jesus Solis. However, a key witness for the prosecution suddenly asked, through her interpreter, where the shooter was and why he was not in the courtroom.
The Public Defenders Office previously stated they believe that the wrong individual is being held for the case. The one witness who can identify Mr. Solis could be viewed as a suspect himself.
As we reported in July, Deputy Public Defender Dean Johansson told the court that DNA evidence showed DNA from a woman and two other unidentified men, neither of which are Mr. Solis. There is a palm print found on the steering wheel which is not a match with Mr. Solis. And finally there is a ballistics report that would also appear to exonerate the defendant.
Following opening statements by both sides who painted their best picture of the case, the people called Elvia Salcedo to the stand. Speaking through a Spanish interpreter, Ms. Salcedo testified that she had been going to her car to retrieve a sweater when she saw a fight taking place in the parking lot.
After the fight was broken up, she told the court that she saw one of the men involved walk past her and to his vehicle that was parked adjacent to hers. The man was tall and skinny, and had a fresh wound on his forehead that was bleeding. She heard him speak and say to his woman companion that he was angry about losing the fight. She heard him ask for “the gun,” that he wanted it because he was going to shoot the other person. She saw the man get into the back right side of the vehicle, with the woman to his left.
During the course of the long and drawn-out questioning by Deputy DA Robin Johnson, Ms. Salcedo grew increasingly frustrated. She suddenly asked, through her interpreter, if she could ask a question. DA Johnson was apparently caught off guard and mistakenly allowed her to ask. This would be a huge mistake.
“The man who fired the gun, where is he?” she asked.
Ms Johnson, completely caught off guard, looked toward the judge, stated, “I…” and then trailed off. Ms Salcedo repeated, “I do not see him here. Where is he?” Ms Johnson, unable to respond adequately, seemed to try to pass over what had just happened, and handed the police statement to Ms Salcedo. Judge Mock then decided to take the mid-morning recess to allow the translator to read the statement to Ms Salcedo.
After more laborious and unproductive questions by Ms Johnson, Ms Salcedo again asked if she may ask a question. This time Judge Mock swiftly responded, “Ah, we’ll let them ask questions,” gesturing to the attorneys.
When Ms Johnson ended her line of questions, Dean Johansson, stood to cross-examine and promptly asked Ms Salcedo, “What is it that you wanted to say?”
Ms Salcedo responded that the man seated at the defense table, the defendant, looked not at all like the man who she’d seen in the parking lot. She stated that she’d not seen the defendant that night, or ever, before that day in court. Referring to the angry, wounded man she’d seen in the parking lot, she said, “It’s not that I know him, but I remember him and I cannot see him around. Where is he?” She stated that the man she’d seen was younger than the defendant, and skinnier.
During re-direct, Ms. Johnson attempted first to soften the blow and when that failed, she tried to discredit her witness. She asked Ms Salcedo that, though Ms Salcedo had said that the defendant is not the angry man whom she saw in the parking lot, she must not have seen the actual shooting or the shooter, that she had only heard it. Ms Salcedo responded with surprise that who else would shoot, other than the man who’d been in the fight and was angry and injured. She said, “I don’t think anyone else would shoot a gun just like that.”
Once the questioning ended, Judge Mock said to Ms. Salcedo that she could go and would not have to return to court. Ms. Salcedo said, “Thank you, sir. I hope that justice can be served.”
Meanwhile, DUI cases generally tend to be fairly simple, there is physical evidence, you generally know “whodonit” and you know who the victims are and what their injuries were.
In the Hernandez case, we know that one victim has tragically died at the age of 19, but as the Daily Democrat reported on Wednesday, “During the arraignment, Chief Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Raven… noted that a second count of gross vehicular manslaughter had been added earlier that morning after the DA’s Office received word from CHP that a second victim, 19-year-old Eddie Salazar, had died in the hospital.”
However, reports the Democrat, “Members of Hernandez’s family immediately took issue with the claims, and began calling for the attention of Commissioner Janene Beronio, from the back of the courtroom.”
The report continues, “After being acknowledged by Beronio, various family members claimed that Salazar was currently in stable condition and had been in contact with them only a half hour prior to the arraignment.”
On Thursday, the Daily Democrat reported that the second fatality is still alive. Reports the Democrat, “The DA’s Office received word of Salazar’s alleged death from CHP representatives. Hill said the confusion over Salazar’s condition arose due to a common issue resulting from Latino surnames, which often list both the mother’s and father’s family name. While the CHP has listed the victim as “Eddie Salazar,” the victim’s family had him listed as “Eddie Gonzalez” at the UCDMC.”
The Democrat continues, “When the CHP contacted the hospital on Tuesday, representatives were told that an “Eddie Salazar” had died the previous evening. However, that individual was not involved in the accident last weekend.”
Why the DA could not wait until they confirmed the death before attempting to charge the defendant with an additional manslaughter count has not been explained.
—David M. Greenwald reporting