SPOKANE -- A defense lawyer was fined $100 Tuesday for asking a witness about evidence that the judge has previously ruled can't be used in Vicente Ruiz's murder trial.
Peter Connick has until noon todayto pay the fine to the court clerk's office.
However, he told Judge Cameron Mitchell he "will apply for reconsideration" because he doesn't think it was fair that he be held in contempt of court. He said he views such an order as "very serious" and is now "pretty nervous," and should have been given time to respond because it was "summarily imposed without much argument by me."
"I realize now that no matter what I do I'm going to hear a motion for contempt," added Connick, who wanted to recess the trial for the day so he could research and write a brief about why Mitchell should change his mind.
Mitchell said he already had been warned and announced that the trial would proceed.
The sanction came a day after the judge admonished the attorneys, saying they're aware of what evidence and comments should not come out before the jury. He had warned that "any further statements of that nature" would be subject to a contempt finding.
Ruiz, 46, 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.
Ruiz claims he is innocent and says it is a case of mistaken identity.
On Tuesday, Connick was questioning Pasco police Capt. Jim Raymond about a receipt found in a Mazda RX-7, believed driven by Ruiz and his cousin Pedro Mendez-Reyna in 1987 when six men were shot inside Medina's Body Shop.
The receipt was for .223-caliber ammunition bought at Phil's Sporting Goods Store on West Court Street less than an hour before the shootings.
Also found in that car was a straw hat with a black band that witnesses reported seeing Ruiz wearing earlier that day.
Raymond went to the store two days later with two photo montages to see if employees could identify the men who purchased the ammunition. One montage had Ruiz's picture and the second included another cousin, Antonio Mendez.
Store owner Phillip Van Hoy died in March 2008, before this case first went to trial. Because he is not able to testify, Mitchell ruled that lawyers cannot solicit testimony about whether Van Hoy was able to identify Ruiz because it would be considered hearsay.
But in questioning Raymond, Connick asked, "Just for the record, Vicente Ruiz was not identified by anyone in this photo montage?"
Franklin County Deputy Prosecutor Brian Hultgrenn immediately objected and asked for a sidebar outside the presence of the jury.
Hultgrenn then moved for Mitchell to find Connick in contempt of court.
"This piece of evidence, the court has repeatedly ruled is not admissible," he said. "Yet he still blurted it out in front of the jury. We can't unring that bell."
Connick argued that he was only asking if Van Hoy had identified Ruiz, which he did not. Connick said he wasn't asking who Van Hoy did pick from the montages.
Mitchell said he didn't see a "valid distinction" and pointed out that he had "ruled previously any identification by Mr. Van Hoy was inadmissible."
The judge later cautioned lawyers that any further sanctions will be for a higher amount. "Everyone be aware of that, and adjust your behavior accordingly," he said.
After taking the lunch break to think about any possible remedy for Connick's question before the jury, Hultgrenn said he and colleague Frank Jenny didn't want a "curative instruction" because it would highlight the inappropriate statement.
"We're just asking that we move on and that the subject not be broached," Hultgrenn said.
Defense lawyer Kevin Holt claims that Mendez was the person identified as the ammo buyer. "This is a question of misidentification," he said. "It's probably central to this case, and to overlook it now or not address it now is probably going to affect everything from here on out in this case."
The defense team has told the court that it has an issue with how the police investigation was conducted and believes those problems are clear with either lost or destroyed evidence.
Once the jurors were back in court, Connick asked Raymond why the photo montage with Antonio Mendez was either lost or has gone missing.
Raymond said he has "no knowledge of that," and pointed out that all evidence in 1987 like montages would be assigned a case number and placed in the case file, not in evidence.
Connick then asked if those original montages -- which were different than the ones used for the lone survivor -- were not saved with other evidence because "they didn't support or help the case against Vicente Ruiz."
"Sir, I don't know what to tell you or give you an answer of that," Raymond said. He said he properly placed the montages in the file, which were "probably used over and over throughout the investigation," but said he last worked on this case in 1987.
Raymond also testified about his search of two apartments at 1530 N. Ninth Ave.
Ruiz recently had moved out of one of the apartments, where police found "piles of empty beer cans," and was said to be living in the other where "approximately 22 sacks of green vegetable matter that was consistent with being marijuana," a scale and a .223-caliber rifle round were seized.
Also Tuesday, jurors heard from Mauricio Ortiz about his agreement to sell a 1979 Mazda RX-7 to Ruiz -- a man he said he then knew as "Oscar" from their time working in the fields together. The two men exchanged cars a day or two before the shootings so Ruiz could test drive the Mazda.
Ortiz identified Ruiz, surrounded by his defense lawyers, as the man he was dealing with. However, he noted that he couldn't be completely positive because he suffered a stroke that affected his memory and other abilities, and "it has been some years" and Ruiz now has a mustache and thinner hair.
Ortiz was driving Ruiz's 1983 Oldsmobile Toronado when he saw him the afternoon of Oct. 13, 1987, outside a Pasco restaurant. Ortiz stopped to talk and was told to visit Ruiz the next day at his Ninth Avenue apartment to pick up the money for the Mazda.
But when he arrived at the fourplex on his way to work about 6:30 a.m. Oct. 14, 1987, Ortiz said he was "thrown up against a wall" with a gun put to his head when Pasco officers at the apartments asked what he was doing there and learned the Mazda belonged to him. He was then escorted down to the police station, with two patrol cars in front and two behind him, and questioned by Detective Henry Montelongo before being released.
Ortiz said he identified Ruiz's picture from a photo montage as the person who had had his car. Days later, he made contact with Ruiz's girlfriend to return the Toronado to her, and eventually got his Mazda back from police.
Defense lawyers asked if Ortiz wasn't confusing Ruiz with one of his brothers and maybe had been dealing with someone else. Ortiz acknowledged that he once mistook a brother for Ruiz because they had a striking resemblance, but said he knows he had met with Ruiz on the automobile transaction.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; email@example.com