SPOKANE -- The murder trial of Vicente Ruiz will continue today after Judge Cameron Mitchell denied requests Thursday by the defense to dismiss the 23-year-old case or declare a third mistrial.
Ruiz, 46, is accused of gunning down six men inside Medina's Body Shop in Pasco in 1987. His trial in Spokane County is in its fifth week.
The defense had filed a motion to have the case dismissed for destruction of evidence, claiming that Pasco police intentionally destroyed photo montages presented to witnesses because they did not support their case against Ruiz.
Lawyer Peter Connick also argued that the judge should put an immediate end to the trial because it was "a gross error" to allow prosecutors to ask leading questions to convicted killer Pedro Mendez-Reyna, knowing he would "plead the Fifth" and refuse to answer.
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"Those questions contained basically rhetorical questions suggesting that this was his report," said Connick, one of three attorneys representing Ruiz in the Franklin County Superior Court case.
Mendez-Reyna was convicted in 1994 for his role as one of the shooters in the body shop slayings.
As a part of a plea deal, he had agreed to testify against Ruiz in exchange for a life sentence. But once on the stand last week, he would not confirm statements he previously had given about what the two men did that night.
Deputy Prosecutor Frank Jenny said Mendez-Reyna no longer has Fifth Amendment privilege since his case has been adjudicated, and said, "It's reasonable to infer he is refusing to testify to protect the defendant."
Mitchell denied both defense motions.
However, regarding Mendez-Reyna's testimony, Mitchell said he will instruct the jury that attorneys' questions are not evidence. He also told prosecutors they "will not be permitted to argue that the questions themselves are substantive evidence and the defendant's refusal to answer those questions be regarded as substantive evidence."
Ruiz is charged with five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder.
His first two trials -- in 2008 and earlier this year -- ended in mistrials.
This trial was moved to Spokane because of extensive media coverage. It started with jury selection Nov. 9, with a jury seated Nov. 16.
Prosecutors are expected to wrap up their case today after reading excerpts of previous testimony by Diana Garcia, Ruiz's former girlfriend and mother of two of his children. She testified last week that she could not recall making certain statements or denied them, and Mitchell said the state needs to "present some extrinsic evidence" to indicate she had in fact earlier said those things.
Defense attorneys then plan to call their first several witnesses.
Also Thursday, Mitchell denied a motion to reconsider his Nov. 23 finding of contempt of court against Connick.
Connick was fined $100 for asking a witness about evidence that the judge previously ruled could not be used in trial. He asked to have the contempt lifted "so at least I can get credit and offset the most current contempt."
The defense received a $200 sanction Wednesday for violating the court's orders by claiming they were not aware there was a ruling last month regarding the use of victim Aldo Montes Lamas' aliases and his criminal convictions. Connick said he would take responsibility for that fine.
In regard to the sanction from two weeks ago, Mitchell said it would stay because it "was a very clear order," and Connick's question violated it.
Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531;firstname.lastname@example.org