SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — One of the jurors has been dismissed at the aggravated murder trial in Spokane of a man accused of killing five people at a Pasco auto body shop 23 years ago.
The Tri-City Herald reports the juror was excused Tuesday because he was making a cell phone call in a hallway and may have seen the defendant in the custody of guards. The court has taken care not to show Vicente Ruiz in custody to avoid the implication of guilt.
Two alternates remain on the jury.
The trial of the 46-year-old was moved to Spokane from Franklin County after two mistrials.
Prosecutors are wrapping up their case and the defense may start calling witnesses on Friday.
Read a longer story from the Tri-City Herald by clicking the link below.
Ruiz juror dismissed
By Kristin M. Kraemer
Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash.
Dec. 07—SPOKANE — A juror who’s been on the Vicente Ruiz murder trial since mid-November was excused today because he was in a hallway when corrections officers were walking the handcuffed defendant into the courtroom.
A Spokane County jail deputy told the court he had come out of a secured area inside the courthouse to find the man in the hall talking on his cell phone.
The man was outside a jury room before the morning’s proceedings started.
He was asked to step around the corner and likely didn’t see Ruiz, the deputy told the court. Ruiz, 46, is on trial for the 1987 shootings inside Medina’s Body Shop in Pasco.
He is charged in Franklin County Superior Court with five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder.
His first two trials ended in mistrials. This trial was moved to Spokane because of extensive media coverage. Jury selection for this trial started Nov. 9, with a jury seated Nov. 16. This is the 13th day of testimony.
Defense attorney Bob Thompson said today they have been taking “great strides” to hide Ruiz’s custodial status and though he “may not have been seen, I don’t think you have to be a rocket scientist.”
He asked that the man be dismissed during a break in testimony.
Deputy Prosecutor Brian Hultgrenn said there was no reason to let the juror go.
“Everybody knows he (Ruiz) is in custody, we just don’t want to give the appearance of guilt,” he said, referring to testimony that Ruiz’s ex-girlfriend had visited him a number of times in jail in recent years.
Also, two corrections officers have been sitting in the courtroom gallery since the first day.
Ruiz is typically moved between the jail and the courtroom when the trial is in recess and the jurors are in their jury room.
Judge Cameron Mitchell paused for a while before saying he didn’t think the juror actually saw Ruiz. He also said that Hultgrenn’s points were well taken.
“I do believe that out of abundance of caution, that I’m going to excuse juror No. 1 in the event that he did make that connection and that might impact his ability, his decision-making process in this case,” Mitchell ruled.
The bailiff excused the man before bringing the jury back into the courtroom.
The court had picked 15 total jurors. Two alternates now remain.
For more on this story, read Wednesday’s Herald and tricityherald.com.