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Ventura County

Tape of Murder Suspect Heard

Testimony: In a police interview, Ramiro Salgado admits taking part in fatal beating of a Ventura man. Defense says confession is false.

September 06, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Ventura jury Thursday heard a tape-recorded interview in which a murder defendant admits taking part in the fatal beating of an 18-year-old Ventura Theater stagehand.

On the tape, Ramiro Salgado, 23, tells detectives that he hit and kicked William Zara as the wounded man tried to shield himself from attackers on the night of Sept. 25, 1999.

Zara died outside his apartment in west Ventura after being bludgeoned with a shovel and baseball bat by gang members who mistakenly thought he and his friends had reported their loud party to police.

In the two-hour recording, Salgado denies wielding the shovel or stabbing Zara with a knife.

But he tells Ventura Police Det. Patrick Stevens and Ventura County district attorney's investigator Dennis Fitzgerald that he kicked Zara in the back as he knelt on the ground.

"I stomped him," Salgado says on the tape. "I'll take the blame for that."

Defense attorney Richard Loftus contends that Salgado gave in to police pressure after an exhaustive two-hour interview and told them what he thought they wanted to hear. He says the confession is false.

It is an argument that has been persuasive before.

In May, Superior Court Judge Vincent J. O'Neill Jr. declared a mistrial after a previous jury was unable to decide whether Salgado was guilty of second-degree murder.

Lawyers said the panel--which deadlocked 9 to 3 for acquittal--could not agree on whether Salgado's statement to police was a truthful confession. Prosecutors decided to retry the case.

On Wednesday, Stevens testified that police initially were not sure whether Salgado, described as a west Ventura gang member, was a witness or a participant in the attack.

Stevens said he and Fitzgerald picked up Salgado on Aug. 16, 2000, to talk to him about the crime. The detective admitted that he used false information to "bluff" Salgado into talking about his role in the beating.

Eventually, he said, Salgado admitted being in the courtyard where Zara was beaten and taking part in the attack.

Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox played the tape-recorded interview for jurors Thursday. At one point near the end of the recording, Salgado becomes upset and accuses the detective of lying to him after Stevens tells Salgado he is going to be arrested.

"But you said you were going to let me go," Salgado says anxiously. "You told me to tell you I was back there, so I told you. Honestly, I wasn't back there."

"The problem is, Ramiro," Fitzgerald responds, "you were involved in this. We have no choice."

On cross-examination Thursday, Loftus questioned the police tactics and pointedly asked Stevens whether he lied to Salgado.

Stevens denied that he lied, but later admitted that he used false information to determine the level of Salgado's involvement.

Testimony is expected to continue next week.

Salgado is the last of five defendants to stand trial in Zara's slaying. Four others were convicted of murder last year and are serving life sentences.

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