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Sirens & Gavels

Wed., Dec. 22, 2010, 2:46 p.m.

Pasco man convicted of 5 murders

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Vicente Ruiz was convicted today of the 1987 slayings of five men and the wounding of a sixth in a Pasco garage in what a prosecutor called "the most heinous" crime in the history of Franklin County.

A Spokane County Superior Court jury found him guilty of five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder. The case was moved to Spokane after two mistrials in Franklin County, the Tri-City Herald reported.

Ruiz, 46, faces a life sentence for going into Medina's Body Shop with his cousin on Oct. 13, 1987, and opening fire on six men.

He fled after the shootings and was not arrested until 2006 in Mexico. He was extradited in June 2007.

Ruiz did not take the witness stand. His lawyers called it a case of mistaken identity.

Defense lawyer Kevin Holt said the verdict will be appealed.

"They've just tied another albatross around Franklin County that's going to be around for another 18 months until this comes back," he said. "It's not a just verdict."

Franklin County Prosecutor Steve Lowe said the verdict was justice for five families.

"It was a long, hard and expensive road, but this crime was the most heinous in the history of Franklin County and it is only right that those who perpetrated this atrocity will spend their lives in prison," Lowe said.

Jurors got the case on Monday after a monthlong trial.

No motive was ever firmly established, although there was testimony that the body shop modified vehicles used in drug smuggling.

Killed were: Misael Barajas, 22; Juan Antonio Lopez Garcia, 20; Eliceo Guzman Lamas, 20; and Rafael Parra Magallon, 22, all of Pasco; and Francisco Venegas Cortez, 21, of Kennewick.

The lone survivor, Aldo Montes Lamas, who testified against Ruiz, survived by squirming under a car in the garage. Montes Lamas, now 47, was hit in the stomach by a ricocheting bullet.

Asked during the trial to identify one of the shooters, Montes Lamas pointed at Ruiz.

Ruiz came into the shop with two guns, poked Montes Lamas in the shoulder with one of them and in Spanish told him, "It's over," the survivor testified.

Ruiz' cousin, Pedro Mendez-Reyna, was convicted in 1994 for his role in the shootings and is serving a life sentence.

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