Detective says Yepez 'started to smile' when he saw picture of victim

Witness recalls the defendant’s reaction to a photo of victim in Oceano homicide

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comDecember 6, 2012 

A gang member accused of fatally shooting an Arroyo Grande teenager last year seemed happy when shown a photo of the mortally wounded victim, a sheriff’s detective testified this week.

“He started to smile,” said Dave Marquez, who interviewed Armando Yepez last May while investigating the murder of 17-year-old Gabriel Salgado.

As the prosecution wrapped up its case Thursday against Yepez, 21, of Santa Maria, it attempted to show jurors that he randomly shot at a crowd of teens on Nov. 17, 2011 to bolster his reputation as a gang member. While neither Salgado nor the friends he was with that night were gang members, shooting someone in enemy territory could bolster a gang member’s reputation, Michael Hoier, a gang specialist with the Sheriff’s Office, testified Thursday.

”They will earn more respect by the amount of violence that’s used in the crime,” he said.

Salgado and four friends were standing on a corner in Oceano last year when a car drove up and gunfire rang out from the vehicle. Salgado and another teen were hit. Salgado died the next day.

While Yepez wasn’t arrested for another six months, police quickly suspected him and inspected his girlfriend’s car – believed to be the vehicle used -- a couple of days after the incident.

While investigators found gunshot residue in the car, the case broke in May when Henry Ramos, Yepez’s alleged passenger that night, told authorities that Yepez had committed the murder. Later, Ramos agreed to secretly record Yepez during a conversation. During that conversation, played for jurors, Ramos asked, “Hey, fool, you ever kill somebody like that?”

“Not like that,” Yepez replied.

Later, Ramos said, “Hey, fool, you didn’t know you were gonna shoot him?” to which Yepez responded, “I didn’t know I was gonna shoot anybody.”

Speaking in Spanish, Yepez told Ramos he wasn’t worried about officers coming for him.

“They don’t have nothing on me,” he said.

During testimony Wednesday, Marquez testified that Ramos initially lied about his involvement. But, he said, Ramos got emotional when he saw the photo of a bloody Salgado, taken at the crime scene. When he showed the same photo to Yepez, Marquez said, the defendant began to smile.

Yepez was allegedly a gang member in Los Angeles, but his mother – fearing her sons would get shot by a gang – moved the family to Nipomo six years ago. Yepez later moved to Santa Maria.

The gang lifestyle continued once he moved to the Central Coast, according to court testimony.

In 2007, he stabbed a 16-year-old Oceano gang member in the head and chest, for which he was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon. While serving time at the California Youth Authority, Hoier testified, he got in 20 gang-related fights.

A few months after his release from CYA, he lost a fight to an Oceano gang member, after which he vowed revenge. According to previous court testimony, he had a verbal altercation with Oceano gang members on Nov. 17.

That day, Yepez allegedly sent texts to his brother, asking, “(Where) did you put the toy at” and “(Where) u put the burner at.”

Hoier said “toy” and “burner” are gang terms for gun.

Meanwhile, cell phone records placed Yepez near the murder around the time Salgado was shot.

In his interviews with Marquez and Hoier, Yepez denied involvement in the crime.

Yepez’s attorney, Gerald Carrasco, rested his case Thursday without calling any witnesses. Attorneys will offer closing arguments Monday before the case goes to the jury.

Throughout the trial, several members of Salgado’s family have attended. As the trial progressed, Salgado’s mother, Anna Lopez, posted photos of her late son on Facebook while family members posted words of encouragement.

Yepez has also had support during the trial, including visits from his girlfriend and newborn baby.

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