SPOKANE -- A forensic pathologist who performed autopsies on five men killed in the 1987 Pasco body shop slayings described their gunshot wounds to jurors Monday.
Three of the men, who were all reportedly lined up inside the Pasco garage before being gunned down, were hit two times, said Dr. John Howard. Another had four gunshot wounds and the fifth was struck seven times, with four bullets hitting the same area in his back, Howard said.
Some of the injuries were consistent with "being confronted and ducking or turning around," Howard confirmed for prosecutors.
Now an employee of the Spokane County Medical Examiner's Office, Howard was a Washington State Forensic Pathology Fellow based at the University of Washington 23 years ago when the Franklin County coroner asked him to examine the five victims.
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Howard was testifying in the trial of Vicente Ruiz, the second man accused in the killings in Medina's Body Shop on Oct. 13, 1987.
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.
The case was moved to Spokane because of extensive media coverage during the first two trials, which both ended in mistrials.
This trial started Nov. 9 with jury selection, and has gone through 12 days of witness testimony. Prosecutors expect to wrap up their case later this week, with defense lawyers planning to call their first witness Friday.
Ruiz, who's been in custody since 2006 when he was arrested in Mexico, claims it's a case of mistaken identity.
But his cousin, Pedro Mendez-Reyna, and lone survivor, Aldo Montes, both have pointed the finger at Ruiz.
Mendez-Reyna, 48, is serving a life term for his role in the shootings.
Montes, who also used the name Jesse Rocio, was hit in the stomach by a ricocheting bullet and drove himself to the Pasco Police Department that night for help.
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.
Two more relatives of the victims briefly took the stand Monday to describe the night they learned their loved ones were killed.
They were followed by Howard, who said he has performed "around 7,000" autopsies in his career but still clearly remembered his assignment in 1987. The examinations were done on Oct. 15-16 at two separate funeral homes in Pasco and Kennewick, he said.
Howard detailed the path each bullet took -- whether it entered in the front or the back and what organs or bones it hit as it went through each body.
All the men died from gunshot wounds from both a rifle and "handguns or low-velocity weapons," he said. Gunpowder residue was not detected on any of the bodies, meaning they were not close to the guns when shot.
Also Monday, Gilbert Rodriguez testified about contacting police after the slayings.
Rodriguez said he'd had a side job with his cousin in 1987 doing small jobs on cars. They'd been given permission to work in the yard at Medina's but never went inside.
The agreement was between his cousin and Clifford Medina, said Rodriguez, who described himself as "the helper." They would typically work all day until it got dark.
Rodriguez said he walked in the door of his house on Oct. 13 and his girlfriend said something had happened at the shop. He then watched TV for any details.
"I was surprised. I was just basically surprised," said Rodriguez, who now lives in Arizona.
When he heard police were looking for two mechanics who'd been outside the shop just before the shootings, Rodriguez said he immediately called then-Detective Henry Montelongo.
"The only mechanics could have been us. I said, 'Henry, anything you want to ask us?' " he told Montelongo, who came to Rodriguez's Kennewick home to talk.
Rodriguez couldn't remember what else he told investigators in 1987, when contacted again in 1994 or during another meeting with law enforcement and attorneys in 2008.
"Do you remember telling Henry at that time (in 1994) that Vicente Ruiz was there the night of the incident?" Deputy Prosecutor Brian Hultgrenn asked.
"No, I don't remember," Rodriguez responded. He also said he was shown a photo montage at the same time and picked out people who'd been at the shop, but did not recall who that was on Monday.
Rodriguez admitted for defense lawyer Bob Thompson that he "drank all the time" back in 1987, which may have affected his memory of events but added that he didn't "remember drinking very much that day."
Thompson also asked Rodriguez if he left town 10 days after the shooting because Montes had threatened his life. Rodriguez said he didn't remember anybody not liking him and just felt like it was a good time to leave.
w Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; firstname.lastname@example.org