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Attorneys Present Final Arguments in Teen's Fatal Beating

Courts: Prosecutor says suspect in the retrial was part of a mob that killed the Ventura resident. Defense lawyer contends there is no credible evidence for the charge.

September 12, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

An angry mob beat, kicked, stabbed and bludgeoned an 18-year-old Ventura man on the steps of his apartment three years ago because they mistakenly thought he had reported their noisy party to police.

And because Ramiro Salgado was part of that mob, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday during closing arguments in his Ventura County trial, he should be found guilty of second-degree murder.

"He's there. He participated. He is guilty," Senior Deputy Dist. Atty. Maeve Fox said during a two-hour summation.

"He took part in an incredibly savage beating of a human being for no reason at all."

But a lawyer for Salgado, a 23-year-old Ventura resident, urged jurors to find him not guilty of murder and a second charge alleging gang involvement.

Attorney Richard Loftus told jurors that prosecutors have no credible evidence to prove that Salgado participated in the Sept. 25, 1999, slaying of Ventura Theater stagehand William Zara.

Loftus argued that three witnesses to the attack could not identify his client.

He attacked the credibility of the only trial witness who placed Salgado near the crime scene, arguing that her brother was granted immunity from prosecution after identifying Salgado as one of the assailants.

And while Salgado admitted in an August 2000 police interview to stomping and hitting Zara, Loftus told jurors that investigators coerced Salgado into giving a false confession.

"We don't know what Ramiro supposedly did," Loftus said, "or whether he was even there."

Zara died outside his Warner Street apartment in west Ventura after being hit with a shovel and baseball bat by gang members who suspected that he and his friends had called police about their party across the street.

According to court testimony, partygoers waited for the officers to leave and then confronted one of Zara's friends--sparking a fight between a few residents and up to 15 gang members who poured into the courtyard of the small apartment complex.

Zara was knocked to the ground and fatally beaten. Witnesses said the assault lasted only a few moments before the assailants scattered in different directions.

Some neighbors reported hearing laughter.

When police officers responding to a 911 call returned to the area, they found Zara lying unconscious on the ground and suffering from severe injuries, including a cracked skull.

Seven people were indicted on murder charges, although charges against three were later dropped. The four remaining defendants were convicted of murder last year and are serving life prison sentences.

Salgado, who was arrested 11 months after the slaying, is the last defendant to stand trial in Zara's slaying.

This is his second trial. Five months ago, Superior Court Judge Vincent J. O'Neill Jr. declared a mistrial after the jury deadlocked over the alleged confession.

Jurors told lawyers afterward that they questioned whether Salgado participated in the attack or simply told authorities what he thought they wanted to hear.

On Wednesday, Fox argued that details in Salgado's statement to police corroborate other evidence and show that he was an active participant who knew firsthand what occurred in the courtyard that night.

As for the defense allegations of police coercion, Fox told jurors that investigators just outsmarted Salgado.

"There is zero coercion," she said. "It's bunk. It's baloney."

Loftus, meanwhile, urged jurors to reread the transcripts of the disputed interview and decide for themselves whether the statements are reliable.

The jury began deliberations late Wednesday and will return today.

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