The defense continues casting doubt on the prosecution’s allegations that Preston Strong murdered the family of six in day 23 of the La Mesa Street Murders Trial.
The defense called another neighbor to the stand on Tuesday.
Rosendo Padilla Flores took the stand telling the jury that he lived three houses down the street from the victims’ home.
Flores told the jury, with the assistance of an interpreter, that he was just getting home on the night of the murders when he saw a taxi pull up in front of the victims’ home.
“I was arriving home,” Flores explained, “It was late already, it was about to get dark.”
“When I parked, I saw a taxi and a person got off and took off running and jumped the fence toward the alley,” Flores continued.
Flores’ testimony was unclear as to which fence the man he saw jumped stating, “This is the house where the accident happened and the next home is where he jumped.”
“The home next to it?’ defense attorney Bill Fox asked.
“Yes, the home next to it,” Flores’ replied.
Flores described the person as short.
“They were shorter than me, about 5’ 4” tall, but I only saw his back,” Flores told the jury.
“Could you tell his race?” Fox questioned.
“No, I couldn’t say for sure because I did not see him face to face,” Flores replied.
Flores said that afterwards he also heard “some impacts.”
“Some impacts were heard, but I thought it was children firing fireworks,” Flores explained.
During cross examination, prosecutor John Tate asked him if he saw someone exit the home, get into the Dodge Durango and leave.
“I did not see anybody getting into or out of the vehicle. We just saw a Durango with dark windows drive by,” Flores replied.
“This is the first time we hear this [about seeing the Dodge Durango drive by], did you ever tell the police department or investigators?” Tate asked.
“I did mention some words but it was a long time ago,” Flores answered.
Flores was also questioned about seeing Luis Rios exit the home and go to the backyard.
“No,” Flores replied.
The prosecution also questioned Flores about an interview he had with a police detective on July 9, 2005.
“You told Tejeda that you saw a white van type taxi going slowly on La Mesa, heading west, and when it got near the residence where the murders took place, you saw it go slowly but you heard some sounds you thought were shots. But you didn’t see anyone get out of the taxi or jump the fence? Do you remember that interview,” Tate pressed.
“I don’t remember everything well but I never told the officer that,” Flores replied, “I only saw the taxi, the person get out and then ran toward the alley.”
“When Tejeda spoke with you, he asked you for a written statement and you refused,” Tate continued, “Do you remember that?”
“At no point did I refuse, I just told him that I didn’t have time because I was on my way to work,” Flores replied.
DETECTIVE SAYS HE SPOKE WITH KEY-WITNESS ON THE NIGHT OF THE MURDERS
The defense next called Yuma Police Department Detective Olivas to the stand.
Olivas told the jury that he was a patrol officer in 2005 and responded to the incident.
Olivas said he was eventually assigned to patrol the home’s backyard, alley area and interview
“I was then assigned to go around to hold the alley and talk to people in the back,” Olives explained, “the Fire Department was attending a subject in the backyard near the alleyway fence.”
Olivas said he couldn’t remember the interviews he had with the people in the backyard but said he recalled writing a report a few days later.
Defense Attorney Bill Fox then read a portion of the report stating that Olivas had obtained a suspect description of a Hispanic male, between 5’6” and 5’8” tall. The suspect description came from the key-witness whose name the court has ordered not be published.
DETECTIVE WHO CREATED FIRST SUSPECT SKETCH TAKES THE STAND
The next witness to take the stand was retired Yuma Police Department Detective James Steven Hohl.
Hohl testified that he interviewed the key-witness on the night of the murders to create a computer generated suspect sketch.
Howl said that he was one of the officers trained in the computer program and had used it several times.
The first sketch described, “a Hispanic Male, 27-34 years old, 5’7” to 5’9” tall, 230 lbs., stocky build, shaved black hair with hair growing in.”
“The suspect was described as a darker shade, very tan or even darker than that. I think that’s what it was, as I recall,” Hohl told the jury.
Hohl was also questioned about the witness’ demeanor and whether or not he appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
“I don’t believe he was in any of those conditions,” Hohl answered.
Hohl further testified that Preston Strong approached him at the crime scene on the night of the murders.
“I saw the defendant after I arrived. He came up to me and we talked” Hohl explained.
Hohl said he received a call from dispatch at 11:10 p.m. and saw Strong shortly after arriving.
According to Hohl, during the conversation Strong told him that he had seen Luis Rios earlier that morning. Strong said he had been helping Rios by dropping off a bank deposit for RC Liquor.
Hohl also said that when asked if he knew of anyone that might want to hurt anyone in the home, Strong mentioned Rios’ ex-wife, Becky Rios.
“Strong said Rios’ wife was served for a divorce and told Rios to tell his girlfriend, Adrienne Heredia, ‘watch out,’” Hohl testified.
According to Hohl, Strong was cooperative along with Ray Shaya, the owner of RC Liquor, and Leo Rios, Luis Rios’ brother.
SECOND SKETCH ARTIST TAKES THE STAND
The last witness to take the stand was Kirk Messick, Forensic Artist with the Phoenix Police Department.
Messick testified that he made a composite drawing of a suspect described by the key-witness whose name the court has ordered be withheld.
The composite drawing was created July 20-21, 2005.
Messick told the jury that he spent several hours with the key-witness, though he could’t recall his name.
He said, the process included having the witness describe facial features until a composite was created and the witness felt satisfied, or couldn't recall any details.
“For this particular interview, we didn’t use reference pictures. We used my own drawings based on what the witness was saying, we tried to keep it simple,” Messick explained.