Special Reports

Attorney testifies for defense in Ruiz trial

SPOKANE -- Dave Corkrum was home sleeping early Oct. 14, 1987, when he got a call from a client in trouble.

The defense lawyer was accustomed to late-night messages from his answering service, but he quickly realized this one from Jesse Rocio shouldn't be ignored.

"Normally in those days when I got a call at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning, I'd tell my client to take a breathalyzer and I'd see them in the morning," Corkrum testified Friday in the murder trial of Vicente Ruiz. "In this case, it was more serious. I got up and went to Our Lady of Lourdes hospital."

Rocio was being treated for a stomach wound from a ricocheting bullet. He was one of six men who had been inside Medina's Body Shop the night before when two shooters opened fire.

Rocio, whose real name is Aldo Montes Lamas, was the only person to survive.

Corkrum -- now a Franklin County deputy prosecutor -- was the first witness called by the defense.

Ruiz, 46, is on trial for five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder.

Killed on Oct. 13, 1987, 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.

Ruiz claims he is innocent. His lawyers have said it was a case of mistaken identity and suggested it was a relative who was similar looking in appearance.

His cousin, Pedro Mendez-Reyna, was convicted in 1994 for being one of the shooters and named Ruiz as his accomplice. Mendez-Reyna is doing life in prison, but refused to testify against Ruiz.

The Franklin County Superior Court case was moved to Spokane County because of extensive media coverage. The trial started Nov. 9. Prosecutors wrapped up Friday afternoon.

Even though Corkrum now works in the prosecutor's office, he said there is a term known as "Chinese wall" that is practiced in law offices. When a former client may be involved in a criminal case like this one, no one in the prosecutor's office will discuss it with Corkrum or in front of him, he explained.

Corkrum testified that he first met Rocio earlier in 1987 when representing him on a driving with a suspended license charge. He said it was a relatively minor traffic case, and he was trying to help Rocio to clear his driving record so he could get a driver's license.

Montes Lamas had told the jury earlier this week that he knowingly used the fake name of Rocio "because I was trying to get a license with the name. That was the only purpose."

Corkrum testified that he did not know Rocio by any other names, and only found out his real name about five to seven years after their first meeting.

Corkrum said he appeared with Rocio in Pasco Municipal Court at 8:30 a.m. the day of the shooting. Then when the call came in at about 3 a.m. after the shooting, Corkrum said he visited his client in the intensive care unit and immediately questioned why police weren't providing protection for him.

"That was the first thing I was concerned about when I walked into the hospital," Corkrum testified. "The media was already there. They knew he was there, I knew he was there and the bad guys knew he was there. And there was no one there to protect him."

He called then-Franklin County Prosecutor Dennis DeFelice, went to shower and returned to Lourdes to find Rocio was gone. Rocio had been taken into protective custody and was moved to the county jail.

"That wasn't exactly what I had in mind," Corkrum said.

After another call to DeFelice, Rocio eventually was released that day to Corkrum. Rocio "had a difficult time walking and he was angry," Corkrum said. He asked his lawyer to stop by the shop before going home.

Corkrum said the garage at 1101 E. A St. already had been processed by authorities and no one was there. They walked into the unlocked office, stood in the door looking into the bay, and then turned around and left.

Corkrum recalled seeing "blood, lots and lots of blood" inside the shop.

The defense Friday also called Pasco Sgt. Mike Monroe and retired Detective Scott Moore.

Ruiz's lawyers have said there is a link between the slayings and a federal raid earlier that day by an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. Monroe previously testified that the people killed and involved in the homicide were not involved in the 1987 drug task force investigation.

Friday, Monroe acknowledged that one of the investigations he'd told jurors about had occurred in 1988 was actually a year earlier. He confirmed it after looking at an enlarged Tri-City Herald article from Oct. 18, 1987, about the arrest of seven people linked to drug money laundering.

Defense attorney Bob Thompson asked if "there is a natural tendency to be embarrassed" when investigations "go south." Monroe said nobody likes to be embarrassed.

Thompson then implied there were mistakes made in the federal investigations that led to the death of five men inside the body shop. He asked if the federal government would have notified the Pasco Police Department that they "dropped the ball" in their own case, and Monroe answered, "Probably not."

Hultgrenn followed up, questioning if "these federal agencies are big, bad bullies" as suggested by Thompson. Monroe said no, they work together.

The defense also told the court Friday they had intended to call then-Police Chief Don Francis, but learned he is suffering from an illness and wouldn't be able to testify. Because Francis can't talk about the information he released to the media that night, the defense said they had issued a subpoena to former Herald reporter Wanda Briggs.

"The point of calling her is saying, 'Did you take particular quotes and information from people that you wrote right here, or didn't you?' " said defense attorney Peter Connick. "I don't think that is privileged. If the paper is self-authenticating and such, then I guess we can do without her."

Briggs was working the late shift on Oct. 13, 1987, when a call came across the police scanner about the shooting in Pasco.

A six-page letter from media lawyer Michele Earl-Hubbard of Seattle was sent to the defense Thursday objecting to the subpoena and saying Briggs would not be appearing because of untimely notice and the fact her testimony is protected by the state Reporter's Shield Law.

The law was signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire in April 2007 and protects journalists from being compelled in court to reveal confidential sources or any information obtained during newsgathering activities.

Briggs, who retired from the Herald in 1997, was not on the original defense witness list.

Ruiz's lawyers also sent a subpoena to Herald Assistant Managing Editor Laurie Williams, who was a reporter in 1987.

Both subpoenas incorrectly ordered them to appear before King County Superior Court Judge Cameron Mitchell. The judge works for Benton-Franklin Superior Court.

Mitchell asked the defense lawyers what day Briggs was served. Thompson said he thought it was done Dec. 3. Briggs was served about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Williams was served at noon Friday, three hours after her subpoena said she was to appear in the Spokane courtroom. The defense accused her of trying to evade the subpoena because she was on vacation earlier this week.

Mitchell asked why the defense wants to question them.

Defense attorney Kevin Holt said Williams is a rebuttal witness about a later story she wrote on David Gamino, the manager of the apartment complex where Ruiz had lived. He said Williams' article gave "a different rendition" than what Gamino has testified to in court.

Briggs is a factual witness, Holt said, because her story says she was present at both the hospital as well as the jail after the shooting.

"We don't have any issue with privilege. We don't care about specifically what she wrote. We'd like to ask her exactly what person she got that statement from," Holt said, referring to a newspaper article.

Mitchell told the defense to file paperwork about the witnesses by Monday morning so he can determine if the defense has met the stringent Shield Law test. If he finds they have, the Herald has requested a hearing to dispute what it says is the invalidity of the subpoenas.