SPOKANE -- When dispatchers relayed news of a shooting at a Pasco garage in 1987, then-Detective Henry Montelongo drove his car straight to the shop to find numerous shell casings on the floor and five bodies around a car.
Twenty-three years later, Montelongo -- one of the first officers to arrive at Medina's Body Shop -- still can remember the "odor of gunpowder in the air" that hit him as he walked through the building.
Montelongo took the stand Friday to describe that night for jurors, from the initial call out on the police radio to the lone survivor's identification of Vicente Ruiz as a prime suspect in the mass murders.
"We went in through the front door facing west. We proceeded with caution with guns drawn, of course" he said, referring to the garage at 1101 E. A St. "We secured the first room there, a small office. We proceeded into the actual body shop area. Immediately, right away, as I looked down toward the front of this car, I saw there was a body laying down."
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
All five men were surrounded by an extensive amount of blood, he added, while pointing at a simple diagram of the building, which also included a painting bay.
Montelongo and Sgt. Charles Chambers, both now retired from the Pasco department, were the two witnesses called Friday in the third day of testimony in Ruiz's trial.
Ruiz, 46, is accused of helping his cousin gun down six men on Oct. 13, 1987.
Killed were: Misael Barajas, 22; Juan Antonio Lopez Garcia, 20; Eliceo Guzman Lamas, 20; and Rafael Parra Magallon, 22, all of Pasco, and Francisco Venegas Cortez, 21, of Kennewick.
Aldo Montes, then 20, who also uses the name Jesse Rocio, survived a gunshot wound to the stomach.
Ruiz's cousin, Pedro Mendez-Reyna, is doing life in prison for his role in the slayings. Mendez-Reyna, along with Montes, reportedly named Ruiz as the second suspect.
Ruiz is charged in Franklin County Superior Court with five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder.
His first two trials ended in mistrials. This trial was moved to Spokane County because of extensive media coverage in recent years.
Ruiz maintains his innocence and claims he left the Tri-Cities that night to drive to Mexico for a family member's quinceaera. He told police after his return to the United States in 2007 that it was intended to be a vacation, but he decided not to come back to Pasco.
Defense lawyers suggest it is a case of mistaken identity.
But both Montelongo and Chambers testified that they separately received Ruiz's name in connection to the shooting.
Chambers said he talked with the shop's owner, Clifford Medina, shortly after the shooting and was given the name Vicente Mendez. Dispatchers then told Chambers that Mendez also uses the name Vicente Ruiz.
Later that night at the Pasco hospital -- then called Our Lady of Lourdes -- Montes was asked about the shooters and told Montelongo, "You know who they are." Montes gave a Spanish nickname, which Montelongo was familiar with for certain family members, then used the first name, Vicente.
Montelongo had another officer put together a photo montage by cutting out six squares in a legal file folder and taping mug shots of similar-looking Hispanic men to the back.
"We didn't have modern technology then, no," he told jurors of the rudimentary display.
Montelongo again visited Montes in the hospital and asked if he could identify any of the people as the suspects.
"He grabbed the montage, looked at it, looked at it and then he pointed to the photo number six on the bottom and said, 'That is Vicente,' " Montelongo said, while pointing to the small black-and-white picture for the jury.
He said the defendant in court Friday was the same man pictured in the montage.
Chambers said after they had the name of a suspect, he was assigned to visit a few homes where Ruiz might have had connections.
When he drove by a Ninth Avenue fourplex where Ruiz had lived in two separate apartments, Chambers said he saw a gray Mazda RX-7 that was similar to the suspect's vehicle description. He kept watch on the complex until Montelongo could get a search warrant approved and SWAT officers could arrive.
Chambers said he shot tear gas into the apartments after 5 a.m., but no one was found inside.
Also Friday, Judge Cameron Mitchell raised the issue of a Spanish-speaking interpreter for witnesses. Prosecutors previously had said they will be calling some people who do not speak English, and that put into question whether Ana Armijo would be disqualified from interpreting that testimony.
Armijo is a certified court interpreter in Benton and Franklin counties, and has been on the Ruiz case for more than three years. She is being assisted on this trial by an interpreter from Spokane.
The defense lawyers want the court to use a third interpreter, saying, "We consider (Armijo) a part of the defense team, not a part of the court staff."
Bob Thompson said he thinks it would set a bad precedent if Armijo must interpret in open court for witnesses against their client. Peter Connick added that Armijo "has been privy to attorney-client confidential conversations and exchanges."
Armijo told the court that according to their ethics and training, court interpreters "are a neutral party. We are interpreters of the court."
Mitchell said that is his understanding but said he is willing to listen to arguments on it. That issue will be discuss Monday morning before testimony resumes.