Efforts continue to free a man who has spent more than 24 years in prison for a murder he says he didn’t commit.
Evaristo Junior Salas was convicted of first-degree murder in the 1995 slaying of Jose Arreola in Sunnyside. A teenager at the time, Salas was tried as an adult and sentenced to nearly 33 years in prison.
Now, defense attorney Laura Shaver of Everett is seeking a new trial for Salas. She argues crucial evidence that would have helped Salas was wrongfully withheld from the trial.
She’s filed a 1,007-page motion seeking a new trial for Salas and a court order forcing the lead investigator — retired Sunnyside Police Sgt. Jim Rivard — to be questioned under oath.
Shaver made her case in a May 14 hearing before Superior Court Judge David Elofson.
Elofson is expected to decide Friday whether Rivard should be deposed.
Defense attorneys have right of discovery, meaning they are allowed access to all the information submitted to the prosecutor’s office in a case in order to provide an adequate defense.
Shaver argues that crucial information was not provided in discovery to attorney George Trejo, who defended Salas 24 years ago.
Information about Arreola’s girlfriend removing a pickup truck from evidence before it could be processed and a request for her to be charged with rendering criminal assistance wasn’t revealed, she said.
Arreola was sitting in the pickup that was parked at his girlfriend’s apartment when he was shot in the head.
Receipts showing a longstanding relationship between Rivard and an informant who said he overheard Salas bragging about the shooting were never given to Trejo when he requested them, she said.
Those receipts also suggest the informant, Bill Bruhn, had been paid for his testimony against Salas.
Handwritten notes from Rivard also suggest Arreola’s girlfriend, Ofelia Gonzalez, underwent hypnosis before identifying Salas as the shooter, Shaver said.
And Arreola’s mother, who accompanied Gonzalez when she identified Salas, said Gonzalez underwent hypnosis before picking him out from a photo lineup.
Arreola’s mother continues to stand behind her story, Shaver said.
“I think that’s pretty powerful,” Shaver said.
Studies have shown hypnosis increases suggestibility and can be used to create false memories, and such testimonies are excluded in Washington state, Shaver said.
Deputy prosecutor Bret Roberts argued not to have Rivard deposed, saying it was Trejo’s responsibility to look deeper into the matters now being addressed by Shaver.
Roberts said there’s no proof Gonzalez was hypnotized and that in a pretrial hearing wotj Trejo present, she admitted to acquiring and selling the pickup.
“So Mr. Trejo knows the girlfriend or the partner of the victim, the only witness, was given custody of and allowed to sell the crime scene,” Roberts said. “If that doesn’t throw up red flags for an attorney without investigating and deciding that it’s not a big deal, then I don’t know what does.”
Roberts also argued that Trejo could have dug deeper to obtain receipts Bruhn may have received.
“Seeking a new trial hinges on new information not available at time of trial, not old evidence that wasn’t presented at trial,” he said.
A new probe into Salas’s conviction was prompted by filmmaker Joe Berlinger, known for his documentaries on wrongful convictions.
Berlinger assembled his own investigative team, which turned up information questioning the integrity of the case against Salas. Those findings were highlighted in the documentary “Wrong Man,” released on the STARZ television network in the summer of 2018.
Berlinger’s team discovered police reports about Gonzalez’s unauthorized removal of the pickup from the towing company, cleaning it and selling it.
Also discovered was a document prepared by Rivard requesting Gonzalez to be charged with rendering criminals in a homicide and additional reports about her being dishonest about how she removed the pickup.
In the documentary, Bruhn told investigators his testimony was a lie, and that Rivard coached him on what to say.
Bruhn told investigators he had sobered up and was tired of living with Salas’ conviction. He agreed to a polygraph that showed he was telling the truth.