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Sirens & Gavels

Pasco murder trial wraps up in Spokane

(AP) — Vicente Ruiz decided not to take the witness stand Wednesday in the final day of testimony at his aggravated murder trial in Spokane.

The Tri-City Herald reports jurors had a day off Thursday while lawyers debate jury instructions. The case is expected to go to the jury today after closing arguments.

The 46-year-old Ruiz is accused of being one of two men who killed five men and wounded another in a 1987 shooting at a Pasco auto body shop. His lawyers say it’s a case of mistaken identity.

This is his third murder trial. The case was moved to Spokane after two mistrials in Franklin County.

Read in-depth trial coverage from the Herald by clicking the link below.


Ruiz opts not to take stand on final day of murder trial

MCT REGIONAL NEWS

By Kristin M. Kraemer

Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash.

(MCT)

Dec. 16—SPOKANE — Vicente Ruiz opted not to take the stand Wednesday on the final day of trial testimony in the 1987 deaths of five men inside a Pasco garage.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers wrapped up their cases and now are set to give closing arguments Friday in the six-week-long murder trial.

Jurors have today off so the attorneys can debate the legal instructions that will be read by Franklin County Judge Cameron Mitchell.

Deputy Prosecutor Frank Jenny asked for the extra day, saying it would be better “given the exhibits and complexity and length of the trial.”

Defense attorney Kevin Holt said he agreed with Jenny and wouldn’t be ready until Friday.

Mitchell had hoped to hand the case to the jury earlier, but said he understood there are differences in the proposed instructions that require research and arguments by each side.

He granted the one-day delay after a lengthy pause, noting that “it has been rare” in this case to have a joint motion by both parties.

The jury should begin deliberations Friday afternoon on five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder.

Ruiz, 46, is charged in Franklin County Superior Court.

This is his third trial in the 23-year-old case, after the first two ended in mistrials. It was moved to Spokane County because the court felt it would be difficult to find an impartial jury in Franklin County given the extensive media coverage.

Ruiz maintains his innocence and suggests that he was misidentified by people who confused him with either two of his brothers or two cousins.

Ruiz was returned to Pasco in 2007 after spending two decades in Mexico. He told investigators after his arrest that it was coincidental he left the same night six men were gunned down inside Medina’s Body Shop, and said he eventually decided to stay in his native country,

He left behind a pregnant girlfriend and a son.

His attorneys on Wednesday called three witnesses, including his cousin from Burbank.

Socorro Aguilar testified that in 1987 she had a close relationship with Ruiz.

Aguilar — speaking in Spanish through court interpreter Ana Armijo — said her immediate family lived in Pasco, but Ruiz and his brothers Nicolas and Reymundo were the only members of their family to live outside of Tecomn in Mexico. Ruiz had 11 siblings.

She told jurors that the three brothers had been planning for some time in late 1987 to drive home to attend their sister’s quinceaera, or 15th birthday celebration. It is important for family to be at those events, she said.

Aguilar initially agreed with the defense that the party was in early November, but then upon further questioning from prosecutors admitted that she was confused about the month and only remembered that it was the first week of a month.

If the birthday was in November and the siblings had left Oct. 13, the trip would have taken “about three days, four, depending how long you stop to rest” but they would have had plenty of time to get to their hometown, she testified. Aguilar also acknowledged that she wasn’t sure how far Tecomn was because it’s been more than 30 years since she was there.

Deputy Prosecutor Brian Hultgrenn asked if she was surprised when they never returned to Pasco.

“No, because that’s where they’re from. People leave and if they want to come back, they do. And if they want to stay …,” said Aguilar, who added that she’s visited Ruiz maybe seven or more times in jail since 2007. She said they never discussed the quinceaera or the murder case.

Asked about the Spanish nickname given by the lone survivor to identify the suspects, Aguilar told jurors that it was a term used for one of her uncles and his children. She never heard the name used for Ruiz or his brothers, who were in a different family.

The defense had told the court earlier this week that they would be calling Ruiz’s sister, Leonor. However, she didn’t appear Wednesday to talk about her brothers’ travels to her birthday party.

Aguilar identified Ruiz, his two brothers and another cousin from a number of old family photos and police mugshots. One of the pictures showed Ruiz with Leonor in her quinceaera dress.

When shown a photo of a younger Reymundo, Aguilar said it was him but admitted for Holt that when she looked at it the night before she had a hard time recognizing him. She incorrectly said another picture was of Ruiz, when it was actually of his other brother, Nicolas, who in 1987 had lived next door to her.

“They get confused. A lot of people do because a lot of the family look alike,” Aguilar testified. She added that her own brother, Antonio Mendez, was sometimes confused with Ruiz and his siblings.

The similarity is in their eyes. “They have big eyes and their eyelashes are black,” she said.

Nancy Gillen of Pasco testified that in 1987 she knew Nicolas’ wife, Donna Ruiz. Gillen said she is a Jehovah’s Witness who would conduct Bible study with Donna Ruiz. She had seen her husband either walking in the house or sitting down, but only knew him as Nico.

After the body shop slayings, Gillen saw stories in the Tri-City Herald with a picture of Vicente Ruiz. When she ran into Donna Ruiz a while later, “I asked her if that was her husband in the paper because I wouldn’t remember his name, even as of now.”

Gillen — who the defense found when she was a prospective juror in Vicente Ruiz’s second trial — was asked if Nico Ruiz had any distinguishing features. “He had dark eyes and was real similar to Mr. Ruiz that I saw in the picture in the paper,” she testified. “Obviously like brothers would have.”


Pasco shop modified cars to ship drugs, Ruiz jury told

MCT REGIONAL NEWS

By Kristin M. Kraemer

Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, Wash.

(MCT)

Dec. 14—SPOKANE — The girlfriend of a man killed in the 1987 body shop slayings said Monday that a number of the victims were in the business of modifying cars to secretly transport drugs from Pasco to Chicago.

Eliceo Guzman Lamas, who sold narcotics with several partners, would pull apart vehicles, stash the drugs and fix them up at a second garage owned by his cousin, testified Cecilia Rivera.

“Sometimes they would tear up the seats, sometimes tear up motors. Depending on the shipment that they’re going to take, it has to fit the right size and make sure heat from the motor does not damage the shipment,” Rivera said to jurors in the murder trial of Vicente Ruiz.

Defense lawyer Bob Thompson asked his witness how she knew this.

“Because I saw it,” said Rivera, who earlier had admitted when the jury was out of the courtroom that she was the cocaine tester for the men.

They would “put various lines out for me and I would have to tell them what my feeling was,” she said. “I would tell them it was a better quality, and that’s the one that they would go with.”

Rivera was 14 and one-month pregnant when she lost the man she considered her husband. She was in their Elm Street home the evening of Oct. 13, 1987, when she heard what “sounded like fireworks,” and only learned later at the hospital that Guzman Lamas, 20, was one of five men who’d been shot down in the nearby Medina’s Body Shop on A Street.

Also killed that night were Misael Barajas, 22; Juan Antonio Lopez Garcia, 20; and Rafael Parra Magallon, 22, all of Pasco; and Francisco Venegas Cortez, 21, of Kennewick.

Ruiz, 46, is on trial for five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder. The Franklin County Superior Court case was moved to Spokane County because of extensive media coverage surrounding his first two trials, both of which ended in mistrials.

The defense anticipates wrapping up its case midweek.

Ruiz claims he is innocent. His lawyers have said it was a case of mistaken identity and suggested it was a relative who was similar looking in appearance.

However, the lone survivor, Aldo Montes Lamas, and Ruiz’s cousin, Pedro Mendez-Reyna, have said it was Ruiz who opened fire on the men inside the shop. Mendez-Reyna is doing life for his role in the killings.

Montes Lamas — who then used the alias of Jesse Rocio — was hit in the stomach by a ricocheting bullet and dove under a car for cover.

Guzman Lamas was a cousin of Montes Lamas, whose brothers owned Medina’s Body Shop and the second garage that was reportedly the center of the drug trafficking.

Rivera said about five other men, including Montes Lamas, lived in the home with she and Guzman Lamas. Kilos of cocaine would be stored in their attic, and all of the housemates were involved in the drug trade, except for Barajas, she said.

Her boyfriend left with Montes Lamas about an hour before the shooting, Rivera testified. A short time later, a blue car pulled up in front of their house and the man in the back seat, who she only knew as guila or eagle in Spanish, came to the door and asked for Montes Lamas. The man was said to be the head of the drug group in the Tri-Cities in 1987.

Rivera said she couldn’t forget the driver of the car because of his eyes and bushy eyebrows, or the passenger in a black trench coat and black hat. She saw them again at the hospital later that night and remembers fearing them.

Monday, Rivera told jurors that she recently picked Ruiz out of a photo montage as the driver. She also identified him in court and said she couldn’t forget him because the shape of his eyes “never change.”

Rivera also testified that when she went to Mexico to bury her boyfriend, she told his father that she believed Montes Lamas and his brothers were “at fault” for the body shop deaths. She added that she didn’t actually know if that is true.

Also Monday, Judge Cameron Mitchell ruled that the defense could not subpoena former Tri-City Herald reporter Wanda Briggs and Assistant Managing Editor Laurie Williams about the stories they wrote in the days after the shooting.

The judge said testimony they may provide is either hearsay or could be obtained through other sources that were already on the defense witness list.

The Herald objected to the subpoenas, saying Briggs and Williams are protected by the state Reporter’s Shield Law.


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