SPOKANE -- The girlfriend of a man killed in the 1987 body shop slayings said Monday that a number of the victims were in the business of modifying cars to secretly transport drugs from Pasco to Chicago.
Eliceo Guzman Lamas, who sold narcotics with several partners, would pull apart vehicles, stash the drugs and fix them up at a second garage owned by his cousin, testified Cecilia Rivera.
"Sometimes they would tear up the seats, sometimes tear up motors. Depending on the shipment that they're going to take, it has to fit the right size and make sure heat from the motor does not damage the shipment," Rivera said to jurors in the murder trial of Vicente Ruiz.
Defense lawyer Bob Thompson asked his witness how she knew this.
"Because I saw it," said Rivera, who earlier had admitted when the jury was out of the courtroom that she was the cocaine tester for the men.
They would "put various lines out for me and I would have to tell them what my feeling was," she said. "I would tell them it was a better quality, and that's the one that they would go with."
Rivera was 14 and one-month pregnant when she lost the man she considered her husband. She was in their Elm Street home the evening of Oct. 13, 1987, when she heard what "sounded like fireworks," and only learned later at the hospital that Guzman Lamas, 20, was one of five men who'd been shot down in the nearby Medina's Body Shop on A Street.
Also killed that night were Misael Barajas, 22; Juan Antonio Lopez Garcia, 20; and Rafael Parra Magallon, 22, all of Pasco; and Francisco Venegas Cortez, 21, of Kennewick.
Ruiz, 46, is on trial for five counts of aggravated first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder. The Franklin County Superior Court case was moved to Spokane County because of extensive media coverage surrounding his first two trials, both of which ended in mistrials.
The defense anticipates wrapping up its case midweek.
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.
However, the lone survivor, Aldo Montes Lamas, and Ruiz's cousin, Pedro Mendez-Reyna, have said it was Ruiz who opened fire on the men inside the shop. Mendez-Reyna is doing life for his role in the killings.
Montes Lamas -- who then used the alias of Jesse Rocio -- was hit in the stomach by a ricocheting bullet and dove under a car for cover.
Guzman Lamas was a cousin of Montes Lamas, whose brothers owned Medina's Body Shop and the second garage that was reportedly the center of the drug trafficking.
Rivera said about five other men, including Montes Lamas, lived in the home with she and Guzman Lamas. Kilos of cocaine would be stored in their attic, and all of the housemates were involved in the drug trade, except for Barajas, she said.
Her boyfriend left with Montes Lamas about an hour before the shooting, Rivera testified. A short time later, a blue car pulled up in front of their house and the man in the back seat, who she only knew as guila or eagle in Spanish, came to the door and asked for Montes Lamas. The man was said to be the head of the drug group in the Tri-Cities in 1987.
Rivera said she couldn't forget the driver of the car because of his eyes and bushy eyebrows, or the passenger in a black trench coat and black hat. She saw them again at the hospital later that night and remembers fearing them.
Monday, Rivera told jurors that she recently picked Ruiz out of a photo montage as the driver. She also identified him in court and said she couldn't forget him because the shape of his eyes "never change."
Rivera also testified that when she went to Mexico to bury her boyfriend, she told his father that she believed Montes Lamas and his brothers were "at fault" for the body shop deaths. She added that she didn't actually know if that is true.
Also Monday, Judge Cameron Mitchell ruled that the defense could not subpoena former Tri-City Herald reporter Wanda Briggs and Assistant Managing Editor Laurie Williams about the stories they wrote in the days after the shooting.
The judge said testimony they may provide is either hearsay or could be obtained through other sources that were already on the defense witness list.
The Herald objected to the subpoenas, saying Briggs and Williams are protected by the state Reporter's Shield Law.