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Defendant Testifies in Woman's Fatal Fall From Balcony

October 31, 2002|Jose Cardenas | Times Staff Writer

A businessman testified Wednesday that his lover, a subordinate in the company where he was vice president, fell accidentally to her death from a hotel's eighth-floor balcony where they were making love.

Robert Lee Salazar, 39, also testified that he did not call police and made inconsistent statements to investigators the following day because he was afraid to lose his wife and executive job if their affair was discovered.

Salazar -- vice president of Houston-based Skillmaster Staffing Services at the time of the death -- made the statements while on the stand in Pomona Superior Court, where he is accused of killing Sandra Orellana, 27. Orellana worked in the company's workers' compensation department.

"I was scared that if I called they weren't going to believe me because I was drunk," he said. "I was worried about my wife, kids and my family -- they would leave me."

Michael R. Coghlan, his defense attorney, walked the jury through the events of Nov. 12 and 13, 1996, portraying them through the eyes of Salazar.

Salazar and Orellana arrived in Los Angeles to get acquainted with a subsidiary that Skillmaster had just purchased. The two checked into separate rooms at the Industry Hills Sheraton.

After a day of work, Salazar, Orellana and a representative of the subsidiary had dinner.

Salazar and Orellana spent the rest of the night drinking and dancing at the hotel bar, and Salazar testified that the two began kissing.

According to Salazar, the duo, intoxicated, went to the eighth floor, where Orellana pulled him into her bedroom, and she took off her clothes.

At one point, Salazar said, she went to the balcony, wearing just a top. Salazar, also partially dressed, followed, and they kept making love.

Salazar said Orellana was facing the railing, and he was standing behind her when she said, "hold on," and began to face him.

Then, Salazar testified, she began to turn, lifted her leg and hopped to sit on the railing and fell to her death.

"It was one motion," he said, adding that he had no chance to help her.

He grabbed some of his clothes and went next door to his room, where he pretended for several hours that he did not know what had happened.

During cross-examination, Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Foltz tried to get Salazar to reveal facts and poked holes in his story to support the prosecution's theory: that Salazar got Orellana drunk, had sex with her and, at the last minute, was afraid that he would lose everything if she revealed their affair.

Among other things, Foltz got Salazar to admit that, with a bachelor's degree in business management, Salazar was familiar with sexual harassment laws.

Foltz pointed out that just two weeks earlier, Salazar had become third in command in the company and had helped write the sexual harassment policy that prohibited sex between a supervisor and subordinate.

The killing occurred, Foltz suggested, when Salazar realized Orellana could pose a danger to him.

"If Sandra Orellana had survived that night," Foltz said, "she could have ratted to anyone on the planet: He got me drunk and had sex with me."

Salazar dismissed that suggestion saying, "If we had been thinking that far ahead, we would not have been doing that."

Salazar is expected to return to the stand today.

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