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Ventura County

Lawyers Spar Over Salgado's Role in Killing

Court: Prosecutor says the last defendant in 1999 Zara slaying is guilty. Defense says he was set up and tricked.


Prosecutors in the trial of Ramiro Salgado asked jurors Monday to convict the 22-year-old Ventura man of second-degree murder for his alleged role in the stabbing, kicking and bludgeoning death of a man the attackers thought had called the police on a noisy party.

In closing arguments, Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox said Salgado, the fifth and final defendant in the 1999 slaying, was a member of a west Ventura gang and told police he stomped and kicked William Zara, 18. The victim was also stabbed repeatedly and hit with a shovel and a baseball bat as he tried to crawl away.

The defense countered that Salgado had been misled by police, wrongly fingered by a lying witness eager to save his own skin and irresponsibly labeled a gang member by lazy law enforcement officials.

Fox showed color photographs of the party on East Warner Avenue in Ventura before it went terribly wrong the night of Sept. 25. Gang members are shown drinking and making gang signs. At some point, a neighbor telephoned police to complain about the noise. After police left, a group of gang members went out to find the person who called.

They beat several people on the street and found their way to Zara's home, wanting to teach a lesson in fear and intimidation, Fox said.

"This is a street gang; it's not a car club or shopping club," the prosecutor said. "They are a gang of thugs. Their main point is to instill fear."

About 10 men converged on Zara, who tried to fend them off with a baseball bat. One attacker hit Zara in the head with a shovel while another grabbed the bat and beat him with it. After he fell to his knees, others began kicking and punching him. Zara died the next day.

Fox said Salgado's statements to police placed him at the center of the attack.

"He tells the cops that he's standing right beside the guy with the shovel," Fox said. "He says he saw Matt Lohse on the roof throwing rocks at the crowd. This was a detail you wouldn't know unless you were at the scene."

Lohse, who lived nearby, was beaten by one of the gang members and later tried to get the attackers off Zara by pelting them with rocks from the roof.

Salgado, who faces 15 years to life in prison if convicted, told police he had kicked Zara twice in the back. "I stomped him. I'll take the blame for that," he said.

Chris Gonzales, another alleged gang member, who agreed to testify in exchange for immunity from prosecution, said Salgado also hit Zara with the shovel.

"Mr. Salgado admitted to punching and kicking Billy Zara when he was on his knees surrounded by 10 other people," Fox said. "You don't have to be the person who struck the death blow to be guilty of murder."

But defense attorney Richard Loftus spent half a day detailing why Salgado should go free. According to the coroner, he said, Zara had been hit four to six times in the head. Loftus said Benny Lopez Jr., 18, hit the victim three times with a bat and Frank Olvera hit Zara three times with a shovel.

Lopez was sentenced to 32 years to life in prison last year. Olvera, 34, his wife, Rosana Olvera, 37, and Terry Schell, 23, were sentenced to 15 years each for conspiracy and second-degree murder last August.

"Where are all the blows from Mr. Salgado?" Loftus asked.

He called Gonzales a habitual liar who turned in Salgado precisely because Salgado wasn't a hard-core gang member who could retaliate against him.

"Chris Gonzales said he would do whatever he could to talk his way out of it," Loftus said. "Well, he did."

Loftus acknowledged that Salgado was a former gang member, but said police insisted on saying his client was still in a gang without any evidence. He said all the photos shown at the party of gang members left out one thing--Ramiro Salgado.

"He wasn't there," Loftus said.

Police deceived Salgado, telling him they only wanted the people who used the shovel, bat and knife in the crime, he said.

Salgado believed he could go home if he simply said he kicked Zara, not realizing he was buying himself a murder charge, Loftus told jurors.

"They said ... they weren't interested in the other people," he said. "Officers are trained to get a confession. Mr. Salgado is not well educated and he ends up in a den of officers who control everything."

Closing arguments are scheduled to continue this morning, and the case should be given to the jury by day's end.

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