SPOKANE -- When Vicente Ruiz drove away from the Tri-Cities in mid-October 1987, he left behind a pregnant girlfriend, their young son and an apartment full of personal belongings, including 17 pounds of marijuana, prosecutors said Friday.
Ruiz might have gone to Mexico to attend his sister's quinceaera as he has claimed. But if he was innocent in the slaying of five men inside a Pasco garage, why did he stay there for "one long vacation" when there were people and things of value to him waiting for his return, asked Deputy Prosecutor Frank Jenny in his closing statements.
"In spite of that, he leaves and he's not seen again for 20 years. Even Diana Garcia (Ruiz's girlfriend) testified that she didn't see or hear anything from him for 20 years after Oct. 13, 1987," Jenny said. "... He left in such a hurry, none of that caused him any concern to leave that behind."
Yet, lawyers for Ruiz in his murder trial said the then-22-year-old was not aware he needed to be worried because he had done nothing wrong.
"This case really is a case of misidentification. That's what we believe from beginning to end," said Kevin Holt.
The lone survivor, Jesse Rocio, either intentionally lied or "just made a mistake" when he gave a Spanish nickname to a Pasco detective that is reportedly linked to Ruiz's extended family, Holt said. Then police made assumptions on that identification, created a suspect list and ultimately Rocio fingered Ruiz as one of the shooters.
Should the police really have believed Rocio 23 years ago, Holt asked. And should the jury now believe his testimony since Rocio -- whose birth name is Aldo Montes Lamas -- has lied about who he was and his involvement with drugs, he said.
"Somebody told me once, when a person lies about little details they can't be trusted about anything," Holt said. "Rocio lied about even little details."
Ruiz, 46, is on trial for allegedly opening fire at Medina's Body Shop while a group of young men were working on a car.
The court and attorneys had planned to give the case to the jury Friday to start deliberations. But at 4:17 p.m. while the jury was out of the courtroom, Judge Cameron Mitchell asked how much longer the defense needed for its closing.
Holt said he anticipated about 40 more minutes, with Jenny saying he had a 20-minute rebuttal.
Mitchell said he was concerned about "some logistical matters," most importantly getting the boxes of evidence locked up in a Spokane County courthouse vault before 5:15 p.m. So in an extremely rare move, he opted to recess for the weekend in the middle of closing arguments.
"The jurors will be coming back Monday regardless of how late we go tonight," he said.
The trial started Nov. 9 with jury selection, and the first testimony was presented Nov. 17. It was moved to Spokane County because of extensive media coverage during Ruiz's first two mistrials.
He is charged in Franklin County Superior Court with five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder.
However, in reading 50 minutes of instructions Friday morning, Mitchell informed the jury that if they believe Ruiz committed the crimes but cannot agree on the aggravated murder, they can return verdicts for second-degree murder or first- or second-degree manslaughter.
First-degree murder requires premeditation and second-degree is intentional. First-degree manslaughter is reckless, while second-degree is criminal negligence.
Jenny tried to put the timeframe in perspective for the jurors while reviewing both witness identification and physical evidence in the case.
"On Oct. 13, 1987, Ronald Reagan was president of the United States, Sarah Palin had just graduated from the University of Idaho, and Barack Obama was a 26-year-old community organizer on the South Side of Chicago," he said. And on that date at Medina's Body Shop, 1101 E. A St. in Pasco, "lives are altered permanently, even to this day."
Montes Lamas was prodded on the shoulder and told by Ruiz, "It's over," Jenny said. Ruiz was carrying two handguns, his cousin, Pedro Mendez-Reyna, had a Mini-14 rifle, and they gathered all six victims in the building's main room, he told the jury.
"We know from the testimony of Aldo Montes, it's just disbelief. They don't really believe this is going to happen. Then there is gunfire ...," Jenny said. Montes Lamas escaped by diving under the car while his friends fell dead to the floor. "It is easy to see how in all that confusion, it was easy for them to overlook the fact that one victim was still alive. In fact, for a brief period, two victims were still alive and received treatment from the hospital."
Misael Barajas, 22, was pronounced dead at the Pasco hospital. Also killed that night were: 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 shooters didn't stick around and got out of the body shop as quick as possible. "They don't check whether everybody is still alive or not," Jenny said. "It is easy to overlook that there might be a victim still alive."
It only was later that night when Ruiz turned on the television to see coverage of the that he realized there was a surviving victim, he suggested.
"We submit to you, Ruiz, having been at the events at Medina's Body Shop, wanted to see how it was covered on the 11 o'clock news ...," Jenny said. Ruiz was likely shocked, had to change his behavior at that point and "couldn't get away from there quick enough."
Defense lawyers have implied that the real killer might have been either two of Ruiz's brothers who were similar in appearance. Yet, Ruiz claims that he left town with those brothers, Raymundo and Nicolas, and did it before the killings, which would take away any alibi defense, Jenny said.
The prosecutor, who spoke to the jury for 11/2 hours, pointed out that the state is not required to show a motive for the killings.
"Nothing would begin to even make it fathomable that this happened," Jenny said. But all of the evidence ties together to show that Ruiz was in that shop when the shots were fired, along with his cousin.
"Since Oct. 13, 1987, there have been five presidents of the United States, and it's been too long a wait for justice ...," he said. "Ladies and gentleman, there is too much blood crying up from the floor of Medina's Body Shop to be forgotten."
Holt countered that police all along have been looking at the wrong man. He said it doesn't make sense that Rocio was only wounded by a ricocheting bullet, when the other victims were each hit two to seven times.
"Rocio's account of the shooting is not supported by the physical evidence. He told you, 'I was standing the closest to the shooter,' " said Holt, questioning how Rocio then got away almost unscathed with no blood left under the car where he hid. "How'd they miss him? And if they did miss him, how did they leave him alive?"
Holt then told jurors that a number of witnesses in the past several weeks of trial have made either misidentifications or "flawed identification" in court, from relatives of the victims to former police officers to citizens.
He also accused the Pasco Police Department of hiding or destroying evidence and covering for the federal government. The police made mistakes and omissions in this investigation by misplacing or destroying photo montages and not handing over to the defense records of suspects either identified or excluded, Holt said.