YUMA, Ariz. - Day 20 of the La Mesa Street Murders trial resumed with the dismissal of one of the jurors on Monday.
The trial for the murder of a family of six resumed today in Superior Court resumed with Judge Maria Elena Cruz reading a note from Juror #10.
The juror came forward telling the court that she was informed of the defendant Preston's Strong's prior conviction in the murder of Yuma Doctor, Satinder Gill.
The juror is a school teacher. She said a parent approached her and asked if she was part of the La Mesa Street Murders Trial.
The juror said she replied that she wasn't allowed to discuss her service and turned around to walk away.
However, the parent told her, "That guy is already guilty. He is already serving a life sentence for murder."
The juror told the court that she immediately ended contact with the parent but felt it was important to relate the incident to the court.
Judge Maria Elena Cruz, thanked the juror for her honesty and coming forward.
The juror was then asked if she had shared the information with any other juror.
"No, I have not talked to anyone at this point," the juror replied,
Judge Cruz then asked the juror if she still felt she could make an unbiased decision based only on the information and evidence provided in court.
" I believe so. Just because someone has been accused of something, doesn't mean they've done it again. I would want to hear all the evidence before making a decision," the juror replied," I don't even know if it's true, it could be something they [the parent] heard on the news."
"Although, I do totally understand if it makes me look tainted, somehow. I would understand," the juror continued.
Judge Cruz then excused the juror and listened to commentary from the prosecution and defense.
"The court agrees this was not the jurors fault. The question is should we let her proceed and listen to the rest of the case, and deliberate with other jurors?" Cruz said.
After a brief recess, Judge Cruz ruled to dismiss and excuse the juror from further participation in the trial.
"It is the court's decision at this time that she be designated as an alternate and excused," Judge Cruz stated.
The juror is to remain in admonition and is not to discuss the case with anyone until the end of the case.
"I do appreciate the time you have given to listen to the evidence but at this time we believe it is the right thing to do in this case," Judge Cruz told the juror.
Seventeen jurors remain and continue listening to the evidence being presented. At the end of proceedings, twelve will be chosen at random to decide if Preston Strong is guilty of murdering the six victims, Luis Rios, his girlfriend Adrienne Heredia and her four children.
FBI FORENSIC DNA EXAMINER TESTIFIES
With the jury back in the courtroom, proceedings for evidence resumed and the prosecution called FBI Agent Miranda Craig to the stand.
Craig is currently the Unit Chief for the FBI's terrorist explosives unit but she was a Forensic DNA examiner in 2005.
Craig says she received and analyzed DNA blood samples from the Yuma Police Department for the case, in August of 2007.
According to Craig, she received samples from the six victims but not from Preston Strong.
"I didn't receive a sample from that individual," Craig told prosecutor Karolyn Kaczorowski.
Craig said she also received blood swabs from an unknown piece of carpet and concluded that the swabs belonged to 35-year-old Luis Rios.
"The match is to Rios as the source of the DNA," Craig told the jury.
The prosecution has previously argued that Rios was being held captive in the home's master bedroom along with 6-year-old Danny Heredia and 29-year-old Adrienne Heredia. Prosecutors believe he was tied up on the floor where detectives later found blood stains, a plastic bag, and loose change.
WOMAN SAYS SHE GAVE STRONG A RIDE TO HIS CAR AT A PARK; PROSECUTION SAYS TESTIMONY PLACES STRONG NEAR THE CRIME SCENE
The prosecution next called Ada Harris to the stand.
"I moved to Yuma in 2004, and was here roughly one year," Harris told the jury.
Harris said she became acquainted with Strong while working at the Yuma Landing Bar and Grill in 2005.
"Was he a regular customer?" Kaczorowski asked Harris.
"Yes," Harris replied.
Harris didn't recall if Strong frequented the bar with friends but said he came in regularly.
According to Harris, in 2005, on a summer day, she began getting several phone calls and text messages from Strong asking her for a ride.
"I remember getting multiple calls and multiple texts," Harris told the jury, "I pushed them away because i didn't want to answer him."
"But at one point, I did finally answer the phone saying, 'what's going on?'" Harris continued.
"I kept getting calls and finally said, 'I'll give him a ride and be done with it." Harris told the court.
According to Harris, Strong asked for a ride to pick up his car.
"He said he needed to get to his car because a friend had borrowed it," Harris explained.
Harris said she may have been with her sister and was at her dad's house. According to Harris her dad lived not far from where she agreed to pick Strong up.
"Do you remember telling detectives it was at a Circle K," Kaczorowski questioned.
"I believe so, yes," Harris replied.
Harris said she picked Strong up at the gas station and then drive him to a nearby park. Harris says the park was down the street from a post office.
"He gave me directions to it," Harris explained, "there were houses on one side of the park. I just remember seeing the park was past the post office."
Harris said her memory of the incident beyond those details was vague. She wasn't able to recall the exact date or time of day she picked Strong up. She said she believed it was sometime during the day.
"I think it was sometime between 1 and 3 in the afternoon," Harris explained.
Harris also told prosecutors that she couldn't remember what Strong's car looked like.
"I just remember pulling up by the park and he got out, but when I looked back I couldn't see where he went," Harris said.
Harris says that after the incident Strong contacted her to tell her not to mention the incident to anyone.
"I think it was a text. He just said that if anyone asks, 'you don't know where I was," Harris explained.
Harris couldn't recall when Strong texted her.
Prosecutors also asked her about her previously telling detectives that she had also run into Strong outside of a Home Depot.
Harris said she remembered the event taking place but couldn't recall the specifics of the exchange.
"I don't recall much or the reason for it, but I do recall that it happened," Harris told the prosecution.
Furthermore, Harris said she had moved out of state by the time detectives contacted for an interview.
Harris had a hard time recalling the exact date but said it was years later. She said she met with detectives while living in Kentucky and Illinois.
"I would say 2009-2010 when I met with detective Pouquette at a police station in Kentucky," Harris said.
However, earlier in the interview, Harris agreed with the prosecution that the meeting in Richmond, Kentucky had happened in November of 2006. "We met at the police station," Harris had then explained, "I just remember it was Fall, Autumn."
Harris said her second meeting with detectives was around 2015 while living in Springfield, Illinois.
However, earlier in the interview, the prosecution asked if the meeting had occurred in August of 2013.
LIEUTENANT BOYD CALLED BACK ON THE STAND; JURY LISTENS AND WATCHES STRONG INTERVIEWS WITH POLICE DETECTIVES
Lieutenant Wayne Boyd was next on the stand.
Boyd finished his testimony about three interviews had with Preston Strong.
Boyd said the first meeting was a few days after the murders on June 30, 2005, when detectives first ran into Strong at RC Liquor. Boyd said detectives had been sent to gather more information about Luis Rios and get a list of the employees that worked for him at the Liquor store.
The second interview was held on July 7, 2005 at RC Liquor once again. Boyd said detectives interviewed Strong on that occasion to get a timeline of Luis Rios' whereabouts in the hours leading to his murder.
Boyd said the third interview was held on July 13, 2005, this time at the Yuma Police Department. Boyd said Strong had agreed to share information from his phone records and calls to Rios on the day of the murders. Boyd said detectives also questioned Strong about his knowledge of the business dealings at RC Liquor and Rios' spending habits.
The prosecution also played a portion of a video recording from the third interview for the jury. During the recording, Strong told detectives that Rios had been lending him about a thousand dollars every two weeks.
YPD DETECTIVE TESTIFIES ABOUT VICTIMS' AND STRONG'S PHONE CALLS ON THE DAY OF THE MURDERS
Yuma Police Detective John Gawler was the last to take the stand on Tuesday.
Detective Gawler provided information about phone calls exchanged between the victims and Strong in the hours leading up to and following the murders.
Phone records were examined for Adrienne Heredia, Luis Rios, and Preston Strong.
Examination of Strong's phone calls was not finished by the end of proceedings on Tuesday.