Crime

Killer doesn't want to testify against cousin

PASCO -- A killer serving a life prison sentence wants to consult with an attorney before being called to testify against his cousin in the 1987 Pasco body shop case.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys in the case of Vicente Ruiz talked with the court Wednesday about whether a lawyer has been assigned yet to co-defendant Pedro Mendez-Reyna.

Deputy Prosecutor Frank Jenny said he thought someone was put on the case a few weeks ago but reminded the court that since Mendez-Reyna is a former co-defendant, the state obviously does not have a close relationship with him.

Bob Thompson, representing Ruiz, said he didn't think a lawyer had been formally appointed.

"We need to start moving on this as soon as possible," Thompson said.

Judge Cameron Mitchell said he would talk with the Benton-Franklin Office of Public Defense to get the process expedited.

Ruiz, 44, faces a Nov. 3 trial in Franklin County Superior Court. He is charged with five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder.

Prosecutors allege that Ruiz and his cousin were the gunmen who opened fire at Medina's Body Shop while a group of young men were sanding a car.

Five men were killed, but the lone survivor of the shootings identified Ruiz as one of the suspects.

Mendez-Reyna, his cousin, is expected to be called as a witness against Ruiz.

Mendez-Reyna was arrested in 1993 after returning to the United States and struck a plea deal with prosecutors to avoid the death penalty. He pointed the finger at Ruiz as being his partner in the shooting.

Peter Connick of Seattle, Ruiz's newest attorney, said Wednesday that it sounds like Mendez-Reyna may assert his Fifth Amendment right "and not talk to anybody."

Connick said he wants "to interview him regarding his intent." However, if Mendez-Reyna refuses to meet with defense attorneys for Ruiz, Connick said they will be asking the court for an order of deposition.

Ruiz's attorneys have claimed it is a case of mistaken identity, suggesting it was a brother of Ruiz who had a similar appearance.

His first trial ended in September in a mistrial after Ruiz told the court he wanted a defense expert to be allowed time to check DNA on a straw hat. Ruiz denies ever wearing the hat, which was found in his Mazda RX7 shortly after the shootings.

A report from the state crime lab says tests on the straw hat were inconclusive for DNA.

Defense attorneys told the court Wednesday they have found a lab in California to do an independent test. They said they would give the address to prosecutors and asked that the evidence be sent directly to the lab "so there are no questions about the defense team interfering," Connick said.

-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; kkraemer@tricityherald.com

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