Witnesses discuss weapon

CNJ Staff Photo: Tony Bullocks Eric Gutierrez of Clovis testifies in the first-degree murder trial of Demetrio Salas and David Griego as judge David Bonem looks on. The two are accused of roles in the 2005 shooting death of 10-year-old Carlos Perez of Clovis.

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

A man originally charged with tampering with evidence in the trial involving the shooting death of a 10-year-old Clovis boy testified Friday in the district courtroom in Portales about helping hide a gun and a vehicle, as well as an early morning visit from the defendants in the case.

Eric Gutierrez of Clovis testified the two defendants in the first-degree murder trial in progress, along with two other people, showed up at his house in the early morning hours the day of shooting.

Gutierrez said he and his girlfriend were awakened by banging on his door and window. When he went to the door, Orlando Salas and Melissa Sanchez were there and asked him to get his police scanner. While he was retrieving the scanner, he testified that defendants Demetrio Salas, 21 and David Griego, 31, also came into his house.

Demetrio Salas and Griego are charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Carlos Perez. Police believe the intended target of the shooting, which occurred while Perez was in bed, was his older brother sleeping next to him.

He testified that when the group at Gutierrez’ house heard a scanner broadcast that a young boy had been shot, Demetrio Salas whispered something to his younger brother Orlando who said out-loud, “That’s what they get — for (expletive) with me.”

“I asked them what (they) did,” Gutierrez testified. “Nobody said nothing.”

Gutierrez confirmed he told police Demetrio Salas had said, “Oh man, it was an accident, got the wrong person.”

Gutierrez also detailed how he gave the three pickle juice, which they took into the back yard. He said he thought they used it to wash their hands, but denied seeing which of the four washed in the pickle juice or if a gun was washed.

He also said he helped them hide a Chevrolet Suburban, which the Salas brothers regularly drove, in his garage.

Gutierrez then detailed retrieving a gun Demetrio Salas hid across the street and hiding it again.

Both Gutierrez and girlfriend Ramona Lopez, who lived with Gutierrez, testified that later Gutierrez woke Lopez up and told her to give the four a ride home.

Lopez said none of the four talked much while she was dropping them off. She said she noticed that Gutierrez’ vehicle was not in the garage like normal, but the Suburban was.

She said she wasn’t sure what time she and Gutierrez were awakened by the banging at the door, but she was home before 3:45 a.m.

Gutierrez testified he kept the gun hidden at his house for about a month and later asked a cousin, Max Sena, if he could leave the gun at his place because he was on probation and didn’t want to get caught with it.

In his testimony, Sena said he asked Gutierrez if the gun was stolen or used in a crime.

“He said, ‘No, I wouldn’t do that to you,’” testified Sena.

Sena said he later got concerned and called Gutierrez to come get the gun. Gutierrez told him to could sell it, keep it or throw it away. Sena said he decided to throw it out but first chopped it up on his bandsaw so nobody could be harmed by it.

Sena identified the gun, a .22 caliber revolver, previously introduced into evidence, which other witnesses connected to Orlando and Demetrio Salas.

He said after he chopped the gun up he was concerned by news accounts it might have been used in the Perez shooting.
“It was like a hot potato,” Sena said. “I didn’t know what to do with it.”

He said he threw it out, but later retrieved it and hid it. Gutierrez later led police to it as part of his plea agreement, in which tampering charges were dropped against him and his girlfriend.

Sena was charged with tampering as well and sentenced to one year in jail and 5 1/2 years probation. The jail time was dropped because of a medical problem.

Friday’s testimony
Ramona Lopez
Connection to case: Originally charged with tampering with evidence in the case, accepted a plea bargain for testimony.
Testimony: Was awakened, along with boyfriend Eric Gutierrez, in the early morning on the day of the Perez shooting, by someone banging on door. She got up and went to the hallway after Gutierrez answered the door. She saw Demetrio and Orlando Salas, David Griego and Melissa Sanchez in the living room. She went back to bed but Gutierrez came back to the bedroom later and asked her to take the four visitors home.
She testified first noticing a Chevrolet Suburban belonging to the Salas family in the garage when she got back after dropping the four off.
Cross-examination: She went to bed shortly after and noticed the time was 3:45 a.m. She did not go by the Gatewood Apartments where the Perez’ lived on the way out. She said she did drive by the apartments on the way back to her house.
She said there had been a party at the house while she was at work and Gutierrez had been drinking.

Alvin Carver
Connection to case: Knew the Salas brothers and Griego.
Testimony: Said Demetrio Salas asked him for a ride to take his brother Orlando to school the morning of the shooting. Said the Salases got out near a shopping center after seeing what they thought was an unmarked police car.
Cross-examination: Affirmed he never mentioned Griego in his police statement. Said he had no discussion with the Salases of anything bad happening, in fact, Demetrio cracked a joke about Carver’s car stereo.

Eric Gutierrez
Connection to case: Knew Salases and Griego. Accepted a plea bargain to testify in exchange for tampering charges being dropped.
Testimony: He had thrown a barbecue on the eve of the shooting. Both Demetrio Salas and Orlando Salas had been there. Demetrio Salas had been drinking beer but his brother had not. He said they left the party around 9 p.m.
Told of being awakened early the next morning by the two brothers, Griego and Melissa Sanchez. Said he helped hide the Surburban they were driving and gave them pickle juice. He said he thought they wanted to wash their hands, and possibly a gun, with the juice. He said he didn’t see how the juice was used.
Testified he retrieved a gun that afternoon from a spot across the street where Demetrio had hidden it. He hid it in his house for a month then gave it to a cousin. He later got it back and gave it to police as part of his plea agreement. He identified the gun in the courtroom.
Cross-examination: Under cross-examination from Griego’s attorney Roger Bargas, he said he knew Griego but was not good friends with him — in fact, he didn’t particularly care for him. He said Griego never asked for vinegar or pickle juice himself and he never saw him dip his hands in the pickle jar.
Under questioning by Demetrio Salas’ attorney, Gary Mitchell, Gutierrez said the Salases had been at the party in Demetrio Salas’ Impala, not the Suburban. He also asked him if the Suburban had every been moved from the time they pulled up and banged on the door to the time it was put in the garage. Gutierrez testified that he believed it was there the entire time.
Mitchell also asked him if his statements to police showed that Orlando Salas was “all jumpy” and it was him that asked for the pickle juice. He also confirmed that in his statements he heard Orlando say: “That’s what they get for (expletive) messin’ with me,” shortly after hearing about a boy being shot on the police scanner.
He also said he didn’t see shell casings in the revolver when he retrieved it.

Max Sena
Relation to case: Eric Gutierrez’ cousin who chopped the gun police believe was used in the crime.
Testimony: Said Gutierrez brought the pistol to his house. He chopped it up thinking he would throw it away so it wouldn’t hurt anybody. Police searched his garage for the gun but never found it. He later gave it back to Gutierrez.
Cross-examination: Was asked if there were shell casings in the gun when he got ready to chop it. He said no.

Roman Romero
Relation to case: Clovis Police officer who helped in investigation of the Perez homicide.
Testimony: Said he was sent to watch the Salas home about 6:30 a.m. the morning of the shooting. He stopped a car in which Orlando Salas was a passenger in the Clovis High School parking lot and arrested him on suspicion of first-degree murder.
Cross-examination: Confirmed he wrote search warrants for the Suburban as well as a Toyota Camry connected to the case in the first two days after the shooting.

James Thomas Lawler
Relation to case: Clovis Police officer at time of the Perez homicide.
Testimony: Responded to hospital where Carlos Perez was taken. Identified shirt and shoes taken from Demetrio Salas about nine hours after the shooting. Was one of the officers who investigated the Suburban where it had been abandoned on West Christopher Street.
Cross-examination: He received separate calls from Michael and Carla Olivas and met with them later. He confirmed one of the things he talked to them about was Edward Salas.