The jury trial for Harvey Salinas, who is charged with second-degree murder, began under heightened security at 5th District Court on Tuesday. Salinas was 17 when 18-year-old Arnulfo Villela Jr. was shot and killed outside a residence at 826 E. Hendricks St., July 6.
In her opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Emily Maher set the scene for the Friday night where Villela was hanging out with friends when a white Honda appeared on Hendricks. People emerged from the vehicle and asked for someone else. According to Maher, Joseph Lucero, 17, was carrying a .22 caliber, Salinas a 9 mm. and Israel Vigil, a 45 mm hand gun. Words were exchanged; shots rang out; the friends ran to evade gunfire. In the end, Villela lay dead, shot seven times, and Villela’s friend was wounded.
Defense attorney, Luke A. Ragsdale countered that the autopsy revealed that Villela was shot five times with a 22 caliber, once with a 45 and one time by a bullet of unknown caliber. Ragsdale reported that the autopsy also indicated the cause of death was three .22 caliber bullets rather than by a 9 mm bullet, the gun carried by his client.
The first witness for the defense, Michael Montantez, 14, was with Villelas at the time of the shooting. He said five people were in the car that stopped at Hendricks Street. Four got out. The first to approach was Israel Vigil, 18, who asked the two youths if they were Josh and Chris. Deputy District Attorney Michael Murphy had Montantez describe Salinas. The witness replied that Salinas had piercings with spikes and pointed to the defendant.
He reported that an argument ensued. According to Montantez, Salinas shot Villela in the chest. He turned and tried to run away and Salinas continued shooting him in the back.
Murphy provided a photo array provided by the police where Montantez identified Salinas as the shooter and the witness confirmed his identification and the place where he had initialed the document.
Ragsdale brought out Montantez’s statements to the police and inquired about discrepancies between his testimony and the previous statement when he said Lucero pushed Villela, who in turn pushed back. Montantez held firm with his testimony, saying that Salinas was the first to fire and hit Villelas in the chest. The witness could not specify the number of shots and said he did not see anyone else shoot the victim, but he admitted when he was running, he was not watching who pulled the trigger.
Villela’s girlfriend Crystal Dimas, who was also at the scene at the time of the incident, supported Montantez’s testimony. She said she recognized Israel Vigil, who is a cousin, and she recognized Salinas by his voice. She, too, fled when the gunfire began and said she did not even remember giving a statement.
Montantez’s mother Patsy Ang reported that she ran to the door when she heard shots fired. She was the first to find Villela’s body on the east side of the house. “I was crying. I was worried that they had killed my son.”
Villela’s sister, who also lived on Hendricks, told about hearing the shots and seeing her brother’s body. She was not allowed to approach him as officers secured the scene. She said her boyfriend, Simon Rodriguez, grabbed his gun and left the house.
Rodriguez told the court that he saw muzzle flashes and began returning gunfire. “I was trying to save my cousin’s life, Michael’s life, and trying to defend my house and my family.”
Officer Sabrina Homeytewa, the first to arrive on Hendricks, testified that she was initially told of a vehicle damaged, but neighbors said no one was hurt. Then she heard a woman start to scream. Ang had found the body.
Officer Ryan Crane said he arrived on Hendricks after Homeytewa. As he approached the residence, he discovered several .22 caliber casings and some 9 mm or .40 caliber shell casings in the street. He, too, reported the sound of screaming. Crane said, “He was face down with blood pooling around him. All I could see was one wound in the back. …”
The last to take the stand was Sgt. Steve Meredith. “There was a woman screaming ‘my brother has been shot.’” He described a trail of blood that led from the body through the driveway and onto the street.
Meredith had Crane to stay with the body while Homeytewa was order to maintain the crime scene until CID could take over the scene.