SPOKANE -- Defense lawyers in the 1987 body shop slayings asked for a mistrial Wednesday when a fingerprint expert referenced Vicente Ruiz's criminal history by mentioning his 1983 arrest in an unrelated case.
Peter Connick said throughout the trial the defense has "been concerned about discussing prior bad acts or criminal history with respect to Mr. Ruiz."
So when Beth Marcoe talked about the two ten-print cards she was asked to compare -- from Ruiz's earlier arrest for a driving while intoxicated and his 2007 arrest in the murder case -- Connick immediately objected and asked for asidebar. Once the jurors were out of the courtroom, he asked that Marcoe's comment be stricken and moved for a mistrial.
Marcoe is a fingerprint lead technician with the Washington State Patrol Tenprint Unit in Olympia.
Franklin County Deputy Prosecutor Brian Hultgrenn argued that Ruiz's DWI arrest and the fact his fingerprints were then taken has been discussed before the jury in the murder trial. He also told the court that Marcoe had been told to refer to all documents as "officials records," instead of "criminal history records," but noted that it was a change in her normal lingo and might have been difficult to remember once on the stand.
He asked the court to "use common sense" in recognizing that he did not set up Marcoe to refer to Ruiz's criminal history and that the information is already in evidence.
Judge Cameron Mitchell denied the motion, saying he doesn't believe Ruiz has been prejudiced by the statements.
"There does not appear to be any suggestion that this evidence is being presented to show the defendant's character, that he acted in conformity with any particular type of character," he said.
Connick then told the judge he didn't want the jury to be instructed to disregard Marcoe's comment "because it will highlight what has happened."
Ruiz, 46, is on trial for five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder.
He is accused of helping to gun down six men inside Medina's Body Shop on Oct. 13, 1987. He was arrested in Mexico in 2006 and returned to Pasco in 2007 to face the charges.
Ruiz claims he is innocent and says it is a case of mistaken identity. His Franklin County Superior Court case was moved to Spokane due to extensive media coverage surrounding the first two mistrials.
Marcoe testified that on May 26, Pasco police evidence technician David Renzelman sent her the two fingerprint cards.
Both were for the defendant with the same birth date, but one had his last name spelled Ruiz and the other Ruez. She said the discrepancy wasn't an issue for her.
"I don't decide anything about the name," she said. "The name, it may be an alias, it may not. We don't care anything about the name on the card."
Marcoe said she looked at the fingerprints and patterns on both cards and determined that they are from the same individual. She said they matched a master card she had on file from Ruiz's drunken driving arrest.
Prosecutors previously have said that a fingerprint found on a Mazda RX-7, believed to be the suspect vehicle in the body shop slayings, also was a match to those ten-print cards.
Marcoe said she only deals with ten-print cards where prints are purposefully placed on paper, like after a person is convicted of a felony crime. Latent prints -- when a fingerprint is lifted off an object -- are handled by the State Patrol's Crime Lab, she said.
Retired Pasco Detective Henry Montelongo briefly returned to the witness stand to talk about a later interview he had with Ruiz's former girlfriend, Diana Garcia, about the day of the shootings.
She had told Montelongo that Ruiz had informed her that he and a friend "had been jumped on and robbed of some money, and they were going to be taking care of the problem," he said. Garcia had also said that Ruiz and his cousin stopped by her apartment briefly after7 p.m. and, when she walked into the kitchen, she found a box of what she said was bullets, Montelongo testified.
Garcia was living in Kennewick with a young son fathered by Ruiz and was pregnant with another of Ruiz's sons in October 1987.
The statements were offered for jurors to "solely determine the credibility" of Garcia's testimony. On Monday she told the jury shedidn't remember the conversation with a detective or seeing Ruiz the day of the shootings.
Also Wednesday, Greg Gilliland, a retired FBI firearm and toolmarks examiner, testified about 14 cartridge cases that had been sent to him for analysis by Pasco detectives. The .223-caliber cases all had the same markings to show they had been fired from a rifle, and were manufactured in 1986 by the Winchester Cartridge Corporation based on their head stamps, he said.