On Tuesday, the prosecution and the defense gave opening statements in the c ase of New Mexico versus Jose Arias.
Assistant District Attorney Debra Hutchins said, “Two years ago yesterday, Victoria Velasquez died of a gunshot wound. … She was 22. She had two children. From January to May 2011, Jose was in jail for beating her. He was released on May 16. Four days later, she was dead.”
Hutchins called their relationship turbulent and violent, but she conceded that Victoria loved Arias. Hutchins noted that it was Jose who called 911. “When he was asked how she got shot, he hung up. When they called back again, he said it was an accident.”
Defense attorney Anna Marie Bell also acknowledged that Jose and Victoria had a strange and tumultuous relationship. However, she pointed out that actions speak louder than words. “The State’s case rests on those words, but talk is cheap.”
She said what happened in the Fourth Street apartment was a tragic accident. Bell noted that the downward slope of the trajectory and the angle of the bullet were significant. “Pay close attention to the firearm. … There was a live round that was breached, the round jammed.”
Roswell City Councilor and Victoria’s grandmother Elena Velasquez was called as the State’s first witness. She discussed the deteriorating relationship between the couple and a change in Victoria’s behavior. “I only saw him a couple of times. … In the end I noticed bruises on Victoria’s arms and bite marks on her face.”
Velasquez said that on Dec. 8, 2010, Victoria was hospitalized as the result of beating. “She had bruises all over her body.”
Bell asked what Velasquez’s first impressions were of Arias. She replied, “He was polite and charming when we first met.”
However, his behavior changed.
Victoria’s brother Isaac Salazar also said he noticed a change in Victoria. According to Salazar, she always had a smile on her face. He described Jose as hateful to Victoria. He testified that he had seen him hit Victoria two or three times.
The relationship between Salazar and Arias was also turbulent, with the two men fighting.
Bell argued that such altercations would have been unequal, with Salazar 5 feet 10 inches tall and 205 pounds compared to Jose’s 5 feet 3 inches and 105 pounds.
She referred to the interviews with police and with herself in preparation for the case. Salazar said he had received a call from Victoria the morning of the day she died. Bell responded that records of the call were not provided to the police. Neither had she been informed of the call.
Salazar retorted, “You never asked.”
A tearful Miranda Salazar testified about the day of her sister’s death, when after hearing the sound of gunfire, Miranda entered Victoria’s apartment. “Victoria was lying on the floor. No one else was there.”
The teenager attempted to render assistance by staunching the blood flow from the wound on her neck.
Bell reviewed her statement made to the police and her testimony during the preliminary hearing, finding discrepancies. Miranda said she did not remember what she had said.
“You lied to the police,” Bell said and presented written copies of her statements.
Miranda conceded she was “out of it” that day.
During redirect, Hutchins inquired how Miranda felt after her sister died. She replied, “Heartbroken.” Then Hutchins asked if her memories now where more clear than then.
“It’s coming back to me in pieces.”
Officer Bart Devos went over the capture of Arias as he tried to drive away. Devos saw a red Ford Fusion pulling from its parking place.
Assistant District Attorney Emily Maher asked him his observations of Arias and family members. Devos said he saw blood on Arias’ hands. He described the sound of a girl screaming and said Miranda was hysterical as she knelt over Victoria’s body. He also noted that Arias seemed calm.
Bell reviewed Arias’ actions that day, asking if he were driving fast and if he had stopped on his own. Devos acknowledged that Arias did not respond to the first command to stop, but did with the second.
Officer Miguel Lopez and Officer Gracie Fresquez agreed with Devos’ description of Miranda’s state of mind.
Both testified to finding the gun under a carpet inside the trunk of the car. Deputy Keith Rightsell discussed the process of unloading the gun which had gotten jammed.
The final witness was Victoria’s mother Teresa Salazar who told of instances when Arias’ relationship to Victoria got physical when he tried to get her out of her mother’s home. “I saw, like, bruises on her face.”
Bell asked if Teresa had taken photos of Victoria and her wounds. She stated that she had. Then Bell questioned why Teresa had been unwilling to turn the photos over to the police. Teresa objected it was not the photos she did not want to relinquish, but the phone. “It was all I had left of my daughter.”