YUMA, Ariz. - Multiple key witnesses took the stand in day 16 of the La Mesa Street Murders trial.
The witnesses included a former AZ DPS latent fingerprint expert, a YPD fingerprint technician, Luis Rios’ nephew, and Preston Strong’s ex-girlfriend Adriana Guzman Osuna.
John Jolly told the jury that Preston Strong’s fingerprints were identified on two plastic bags.
Jolly assisted in the investigation as a latent print examiner, Arizona Department of Public Safety, in 2005 .
According to Jolly, on one of the bags a fingerprint of Preston Strong’s left middle finger was lifted using a dark magnetic powder process.
Fingerprints of Strong’s right pinkie finger and right thumb were found on the second bag.
Prosecutor Karolyn Kaczorowski then asked Jolly if he was aware of the area of the home where the plastic bags were found.
“Generally, no. We don’t usually have first hand knowledge,” Jolly replied, "And if I was told, I wouldn’t regard it.”
“Why?” Kaczorowski questioned.
“That is not my job to know,” Jolly answered.
During opening statements, on February 7th, the prosecution alleged that the plastic bags were on a nightstand in the master bedroom where 29-year-old Adrienne Heredia and six-year-old Danny Heredia’s bodies were found.
According to prosecutors, it’s likely Luis Rios was also being held captive in the master bedroom until he escaped out to the backyard asking for help.
During cross examination prosecutors asked Jolly about the quantity of fingerprints that he found on the items of evidence submitted to him.
Jolly concluded that 256 pictures of latent fingerprints were taken and 57 latent lift cards with fingerprints were gathered.
Jolly explained that some of the pictures and cards could have more than one fingerprint and that technicians didn’t count each print, but rather the pictured and cards on which they were assembled.
Jolly was also questioned on the number of latent print cards or pictures were not identified.
“There were 17 prints in the automated system that were not identified at the time I finished my involvement with the case,” Jolly answered.
According to Jolly, there was no determination made on how many people the 17 prints could belong to.
“Until they can be identified, there is no answer on whether they belonged to different people,” Jolly explained.
Jolly was further asked to explain where some of the unidentified prints were found. They included a sprite bottle found in the family’s kitchen trash can and a large piece of plastic found next to the trash can.
Furthermore, Jolly said there were two unidentified palm prints found.
“I identified the two to the same person but I didn’t have a source of who they could be matched to,” Jolly explained.
Jolly also told the jury that Preston Strong’s fingerprints were only matched to the two plastic bags.
However, the defense argued that there was no way to know when the fingerprints were left on the plastic bags or where the plastic bags came from.
“No, there is no scientific way to determine the age of a print. I couldn’t tell you how long it has been there,” Jolly answered.
However, Jolly told the jury that the fingerprints connected to Strong were of a good quality.
“They were high quality. I don’t know if it translates to the skin’s quality but they were pretty good quality latents,” Jolly explained.
The next witness to take the stand was Luis Rios’ nephew, Hermes Soto-Rios.
Soto-Rios told the jury that he had started spending
more time with Rios after his grandmother, Rios’ mother, passed away.
“My grandma died shortly before Luis, about two months,” Soto-Rios told the jury.
According to Soto-Rios about a month before the murders, he went to the RC Liquor store and saw Preston Strong leaving the store.
“I saw Strong coming out of the back then I saw Luis coming out after him,” Soto-Rios said, “and Strong exited.”
“Luis told me that apparently they had an argument in the back office,” Soto-Rios continued, “Preston Strong asked him for money and he didn’t want to lend him anymore. He said Strong owed him about $50,000 at the time.”
Soto-Rios said that was the only time he saw Strong.
Soto-Rios also told the jury that he didn’t initially come forward to tell police about the incident.
“I didn’t come forward because I didn’t know,” Soto-Rios explained, “until I saw the investigation getting re-opened that’s when I remembered the incident and wanted to bring it up.”
During cross examination, defense Attorney Bill Fox questioned Soto-Rios about the interviews he had with police after the murders.
Soto-Rios confirmed that he had met with police after the murders.
“They came to my house for about 20-30 minutes,” Soto-Rios explained.
“You didn’t mention the argument then, the first time?” Fox asked.
“Not at that time,” Soto-Rios answered.
According to Soto-Rios he told police about the incident during a third interview.
“The third time I talked to p;nice and yeah I told them about the incident,” Soto-Rios said.
Soto-Rios said he couldn’t remember the date of the meeting but said it was years after the murders.
“I’m not sure,” he said.
The third witness on the stand was Yuma Police Department Forensic Technician Adrian Rodriguez.
Rodriguez said he was a crime scene technician at the time of the murders and assisted in lifting latent finger prints from pieces of evidences which were then sent to the AZ DPS crime lab, for further examination in their database.
“In 2005, YPD didn’t have the technology DPS had, like the AFIS system to match the fingerprints to,” Rodriguez explained.
Rodriguez also said he assisted in analyzing video surveillance footage from RC Liquor store of the day of the murders.
According to Rodriguez, Preston Strong, Adrienne Heredia and Luis Rios were captured in the footage.
The last witness on the stand was Preston Strong’s ex-girlfriend Adriana Guzman Osuna.
Shortly before beginning direct examination, the court called Osuna into the courtroom outside the presence of the jury.
Osuna was reminded of the limitations on her testimony.
“Do you remember the ground rules in the case?” prosecutor John Tate asked Osuna.
“Avoid anything about Dr. Gill, his prior conviction of checks, and you said gambling, that’s all I can remember,” Osuna answered.
“There was also the assault in Virginia, the connection out of Virginia, you’re not supposed to talk about any of his other girlfriends, or say that he was a real estate investor, played with the NFL, or that he said he graduated from Howard University, or that he passed as a graduate of an excel graphic program,” Tate continued.
After the reminder, the jury was brought back into the courtroom and direct examination commenced.
Osuna told the jury that Strong lived with her from 2001-2006.
Osuna said her 15-year-old son and brother also lived with her in 2005.
“Did you have a relationship with him?” Tate asked.
“Yes,” Osuna replied.
Osuna further explained that at one point she lent Strong about $5000.
“He asked for a big limp sum for his mom,” Osuna explained.
Osuna said Strong also had a hard time making his bills and she often, in 2005, helped him make his car $630/month car payment.
“It was a newer grey Nissan 350Z,” Osuna said.
According to Osuna, the car was in her name because he had bad credit.
Osuna also confirmed that in 2005 Strong was getting workman’s compensation payments for about $1,200 every two weeks.
“But then something happened and he wasn’t getting his payments on a regular basis,” Osuna explained.
Furthermore, Osuna told the jury that she saw Strong on the night of the murders.
“It’s hard to determined the exact time, I got off of work because on Friday’s we close at 1 p.m. but I stayed later,” Osuna explained,” I believe I was gone between 5 and 6 p.m.”
Osuna said Strong got home shortly after she did and before she left for the casino with her mom and sister.
“Because when we went to the casino, it was between 6 and 7 p.m. It was still light outside.” Osuna said.
“I was home when he arrived,” Osuna continued, “I asked, ‘where have you been?’ because he was wearing a grey long sleeve sweater and his Timberland boots.”
“He said he was out playing ball. He asked if I wanted to go eat and I told him I was going out with my mom and sister.”
According to prosecutors, Osuna’s testimony on Monday changed from her 2006 interviews with detectives.
Osuna met with detectives three times in January and February of 2006.
According to Prosecutors, Osuna never previously told detectives that she had actually spoken with Preston Strong.
“Today you say you did?” prosecutor John Tate asked.
“I’m sorry for some reason this is what I remember. It was a long time ago,” Osuna replied.
“You say he was at the house? Is it possible you might be confused,” Tate asked, “Is it possible you could be confusing the day with another day?”
“It’s possible,” Osuna replied.
Osuna also confirmed that, in 2006, she had interviewed with YPD detective Carla Simmons whom she knew personally.
“You told Carla that you loved Strong at that time?” Tate questioned.
“I told her that I cared for him, yes,” Osuna answered.
“In January of 2006, the first time you were interviewed by Simmons, Strong was not considered a suspect to your knowledge?” Tate continued.
“Correct,” Osuna answered.
“But on February 7th and 23rd you were aware he was a suspect?” Tate further pressed.
“Yes.” Osuna replied.
“Because a search warrant was issued at your house for first degree murder,” Tate said.
The prosecution then played a portion of a taped interview Osuna had with a detective.
In the audio recording Osuna stated that she spoke with Preston Strong over the phone on the day of the murders.
“And Preston wasn’t home. He was hanging out with Ray?” the detective asked.
“No. He said, he was on his way home. And he said he was going to take a shower and hang out with Ray. He asked me if I want to come and I said, ‘no,’” Osuna’s replied in the recording.
After the recording stopped, Tate asked Osuna if she changed her testimony to try and protect Strong.
“No, I’m not trying to protect him,” Osuna replied.
“Were you asked to protect him,” Tate further pressed.
“No.” Osuna answered.
Tate further pressed Osuna about previously telling detectives that Strong had been playing football at a park.
“Didn’t you say, on the 12th, that he was playing football at the park over by Woodward School,” Tate said.
(Prosecutors say Preston Strong’s vehicle was parked at Sanguinetti park around the time of the murders. Luis Rios’ missing Dodge Durango was found at a nearby street the morning after the murders.)
Osuna was also questioned about check recovered from RC Liquor store and asked to identify Strong’s signature on them.
Osuna said his signature looked different on some of them.
The trial resumes Tuesday. The defense is expected to cross-examine Osuna.