Efforts to free a man who spent more than 24 years in prison for a murder he says he did not commit.
Evaristo Junior Salas was convicted of first degree murder in the 1995 murder of Jose Arreola in Sunnyside. Salas was a teenager at the time and was sentenced to nearly 33 years in prison as an adult.
Everett’s attorney Laura Shaver is now seeking a new trial for Salas. She argues that crucial evidence that would have helped Salas was falsely withheld from the trial.
She has filed a 1,007-page rescheduling motion for Salas and a court order that will put the lead investigator – retired Sunnyside Police Sgt. Jim Rivard – under oath.
Shaver brought her case to a hearing in Superior Court Judge David Elofson on May 14.
Elofson is expected to decide on Friday whether Rivard should be deposed.
Defense lawyers have a right of access, which means they have access to any information that is passed on to the prosecutor in a case in order to ensure an adequate defense.
Shaver argues that no crucial information was provided to attorney George Trejo, who defended Salas 24 years ago.
Information that Arreola’s girlfriend removed a pickup truck from evidence before it could be processed and a request for criminal assistance charges was not disclosed, she said.
Arreola was in the pickup truck parked at his girlfriend’s apartment when he was shot in the head.
Receipts showing Rivard’s longstanding relationship and an informant who said he heard Salas brag about the gunfire were never given to Trejo when he asked for them.
This evidence also suggests that the informant, Bill Bruhn, was paid to testify against Salas.
Handwritten notes from Rivard also suggest that Arreola’s girlfriend Ofelia Gonzalez underwent hypnosis before identifying Salas as the shooter, Shaver said.
And Arreola’s mother, who was with Gonzalez when she identified Salas, said Gonzalez underwent hypnosis before removing him from a photo constellation.
Arreola’s mother continues to stand behind her story, Shaver said.
“I think that’s pretty powerful,” said Shaver.
Studies have shown that hypnosis increases suggestibility and can be used to create false memories, and such testimony is out of the question in Washington state, Shaver said.
Deputy prosecutor Bret Roberts argued not to have Rivard deposed, saying it was Trejo’s responsibility to dig deeper into the matters that Shaver is now dealing with.
Roberts said there was no evidence that Gonzalez was hypnotized and that at a pre-trial hearing in the presence of Trejo, she admitted that she bought and sold the pickup.
“So Mr. Trejo knows that the victim’s girlfriend or partner, the only witness, received custody and was allowed to sell the crime scene,” said Roberts. “If that doesn’t raise a red flag for a lawyer without investigating and deciding it’s not a big deal, then I don’t know what that does.”
Roberts also argued that Trejo could have digged deeper to get receipts that Bruhn might have received.
“Finding a new trial relies on new information that was not available at the time of the trial, rather than old evidence that was not presented in the trial,” he said.
A fresh investigation into Salas’ conviction was launched by filmmaker Joe Berlinger, best known for his documentaries on wrongful convictions.
Berlinger assembled his own investigation team to uncover information that questioned the integrity of the Salas trial. These results were highlighted in the documentary “Wrong Man”, which was published in the summer of 2018 on the television channel STARZ.
Berlinger’s team discovered police reports of Gonzalez’s unauthorized removal of the pickup from the towing company, cleaning it and selling it.
A document prepared by Rivard was also discovered asking Gonzalez to have committed criminals in a murder and additional reports of her dishonesty about how she removed the pickup truck.
In the documentary, Bruhn told investigators that his testimony was a lie and that Rivard taught him what to say.
Bruhn told investigators that he was disillusioned and tired of living with Salas’ convictions. He agreed to a polygraph that showed he was telling the truth.