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Witness Places Defendant at Slaying Scene

Trial: Woman says she saw Ramiro Salgado run from Ventura courtyard where William Zara was beaten to death in 1999.

September 10, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A prosecution witness told jurors Monday that she saw Ramiro Salgado running from the scene of a Ventura gang slaying two years ago.

Mary Pratt is the first witness in Salgado's murder trial to place him in the west Ventura neighborhood where 18-year-old William Zara was fatally beaten the night of Sept. 25, 1999.

Pratt came forward with the information late last week after being called to testify about people who attended a party that preceded the beating.

After stepping down from the stand last week, Pratt asked a district attorney investigator why no one had questioned her about seeing Salgado running from the courtyard area where Zara was killed.

The investigator interviewed Pratt in a courthouse anteroom and relayed the information to Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox, who told the judge and Salgado's attorney.

On Monday, Fox again called Pratt to the stand. She testified that Salgado, 23, who lived down the street from Zara in Ventura, attended the party at her aunt's house on the night of the slaying.

At some point, Pratt said, she heard a commotion, went outside and saw people running from the courtyard across the street. Salgado was among them.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Richard Loftus challenged Pratt's story and questioned her motives for coming forward.

Pratt said she never told police she saw Salgado in the street or mentioned seeing him when questioned before a grand jury.

"But I've had years to remember," she testified Monday.

In response to a question from Loftus, Pratt also said that her brother, Chris Gonzales, had been indicted on murder charges for participating in Zara's slaying.

Gonzales was later granted immunity from prosecution after providing information about Salgado's alleged role in the killing.

Salgado allegedly kicked and hit Zara as he tried to shield himself from assailants who mistakenly suspected him of reporting their loud party to police. Zara died after being bludgeoned with a shovel and a bat.

Salgado is the fifth and final defendant to stand trial in the slaying. Four others were convicted of murder last year and are serving sentences of life in prison.

This is Salgado's second murder trial in the case. A jury deadlocked over a disputed confession and prosecutors decided to retry the case. Pratt was not called as a witness during the first trial.

The defense opened its case Monday in Ventura County Superior Court by again attacking the confession. Salgado told a detective during an August 2000 interview that he had kicked Zara but recanted when police said they were going to arrest him on suspicion of murder.

On Monday, UC Berkeley sociology professor Richard Ofshe, who has researched police interrogation tactics, testified that the investigators who interviewed Salgado used psychologically coercive methods to obtain a false confession.

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