Several members of Gabriel Salgado’s family wept in court Thursday as a prosecutor showed jurors a photo of the 17-year-old as he lay mortally wounded on an Oceano street corner.
“It’s gut-wrenching,” Deputy District Attorney Craig Van Rooyen told the jury, warning them that the photo would be difficult to view. “But it’s permanent.”
The dramatic photo was part of Van Rooyen’s opening statement in the trial of Armando Yepez, who was 21 when he was arrested last May on suspicion of Salgado’s murder. Van Rooyen said Yepez, a transplanted gang member from Los Angeles, randomly fired into a crowd of youths on Nov. 17, 2011, because he was upset over confrontations he’d had with local gang members.
“This is a case of a Los Angeles gang shooting,” he said, noting that the victim had no gang ties. “But it didn’t happen in Los Angeles; it happened in our county.”
After playing football, Salgado and his friends were standing on a sidewalk at 21st and Paso Robles streets when a car drove up and several shots were fired. Salgado was struck in the head. A 14-year-old friend was shot in a thigh and an ankle. Salgado, a high school senior nicknamed “Ears,” died the next morning.
The prosecution’s case, backed by cellphone records that Van Rooyen said will place Yepez in the area, will hinge heavily on the testimony of Yepez’s friend, Henry Ramos. He was in the car when Yepez allegedly fired his handgun several times. Ramos is reluctant to testify, Van Rooyen said, because he will become branded a snitch by other gang members.
But Ramos, who had two previous felony assault convictions, agreed to testify under terms of a deal reached with the prosecution. In exchange for his testimony in the Yepez trial, he pleaded no contest to accessory to murder with a four-year prison term.
In his opening statement, defense attorney Gerald Carrasco suggested Ramos won’t be reliable.
“Is he going to tell you the truth?” Carrasco asked jurors. “You’ll have to be the judge of that.”
Although he said Salgado’s death was “horrible,” Carrasco said Yepez was not the culprit.
“We don’t know how this boy was killed,” he said.
Van Rooyen, however, said he plans to outline to jurors a conversation Yepez had with Ramos in which Yepez made incriminating statements about the killing.
The first witness to testify in the trial was Salgado’s mother, Anna Lopez, who said she last saw her son during a lunch break Nov. 17. A few hours later, she saw him at a hospital in Arroyo Grande, unconscious and connected to life support.