Crime

Killer won't testify vs. cousin in 1987 Pasco slaying

PASCO -- Vicente Ruiz and his cousin were just feet from each other Friday afternoon in the Franklin County Courthouse, but there was no reunion for the two men who allegedly opened fire together and killed five men in a Pasco auto body shop in 1987.

Pedro Mendez-Reyna, who's serving a life sentence as a convicted killer, never left a holding room. Instead, his Tacoma lawyer told the court Mendez-Reyna was unwilling to make a statement or answer any questions from Ruiz's defense attorneys or Franklin County prosecutors.

"His will is not to testify or be formally questioned," Zenon Olbertz told Superior Court Judge Cameron Mitchell.

"I indicated to Mr. Mendez-Reyna that should he refuse to cooperate informally, the court has the right to order a formal" deposition, he added.

Mendez-Reyna reportedly responded that he still would not answer questions.

"I can tell you to save your time and money. He will not testify at a deposition," Olbertz said.

Olbertz was appointed last fall to advise Mendez-Reyna as an in-custody witness against Ruiz. The two also have discussed filing a motion to withdraw Mendez-Reyna's 1994 guilty plea.

Mendez-Reyna is Ruiz's former co-defendant and is on the state's witness list for Ruiz's upcoming trial.

Ruiz, 45, is charged with five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder in the case.

He has already faced a jury once in the case, but the trial ended with a mistrial. His next trial is set to begin April 19.

Ruiz, who was arrested in Mexico in 2006, claims it is a case of mistaken identity. His attorneys have suggested that a brother of Ruiz has a similar appearance.

However, Mendez-Reyna previously pointed the finger at Ruiz as being his partner in the shooting.

A group of young men were sanding a car inside Medina's Body Shop in October 1987 when two men came in and began shooting. Five men were killed, but the lone survivor of the shootings identified Ruiz as one of the suspects.

Mendez-Reyna was arrested in 1993 after returning to the United States and struck a plea deal with prosecutors to avoid the death penalty.

On Friday, a large group of relatives showed up in court to see Mendez-Reyna, who pleaded guilty 16 years ago. But Olbertz opted to speak for his client while Mendez-Reyna stayed in the holding cell.

Ruiz acknowledged the group with a little wave.

Seven law enforcement officers and bailiffs stood in the courtroom, prepared to provide extra security should the judge order Mendez-Reyna's presence.

Upon hearing that Mendez-Reyna refused to talk, Peter Connick of Seattle -- one of Ruiz's three lawyers -- said making a motion to depose him would simply be a formality and would be "futile." Connick instead asked Mitchell to find that Mendez-Reyna is "unavailable" to meet with defense attorneys before trial.

Deputy Prosecutor Frank Jenny objected, adding that since Mendez-Reyna is not the defendant in this case he doesn't have "the absolute right" to refuse to take the witness stand.

Mendez-Reyna must appear at trial and listen to the questions posed to him, Jenny said. If he decides to assert his Fifth Amendment right, then the judge must rule on each question, Jenny added.

Mitchell determined that at this point "the court does not believe there is sufficient evidence to establish (Mendez-Reyna) is in fact unavailable."

The attorneys agreed Mendez-Reyna could be returned to the state prison system instead of sitting in the Franklin County jail for seven weeks until Ruiz's trial starts.

Also Friday, defense attorney Kevin Holt said they may need to do video depositions with Ruiz's mother and sister, both of whom live in Mexico and have severe health problems.

Holt said the "preservation depositions" are in case the women can't make it to the trial, and likely would be done over a video feed between Pasco and Mexico.

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