Family and friends gather in hopes of a retrial for Evaristo Salas in the 1995 Sunnyside murder
Family and friends – about two dozen in total – gathered outside the Yakima County courthouse on Friday to support a man who has spent nearly 25 years in jail for a murder he says he did not commit.
They held up signs saying “Libre Evaristo Salas Jr” and “Justice for Evaristo Salas Jr.” Two people were holding a large banner with Salas’s photo and conveying the same message. They were all wearing T-shirts calling for the release of Salas.
Passing motorists often honked their horns.
The rally supported efforts to secure a new trial for Salas, who says he is innocent.
Everett’s lawyer Laura Shaver believes so. She questions the integrity of the investigation and trial that led to her conviction.
Salas’ sister Debbie Salas said the family had planned the rally around a hearing originally scheduled for Friday, but had been postponed.
“I know a lot of people know this, but I want a lot more people to know it,” she said of the effort. “It’s going to be fine somewhere. I know it does – I just have a hunch.
Salas was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to almost 33 years in prison for the November 14, 1995 shooting death of Jose Arreola, also known as Bugs.
The two had gang connections, but there was no beef between them, Salas told police.
Salas, 15 at the time, was tried as an adult and sentenced just days after his 16th birthday.
Shaver says Salas did not get a fair trial because crucial evidence that would have proven his innocence was not presented.
Retired Sunnyside Police Sgt. Jim Rivard was the lead investigator in the case. Police reports describe how Salas became a suspect six months after Arreola’s death.
Rivard said an informant claimed he heard a child brag about shooting Arreola. Rivard later photographed Salas with a Polaroid camera when he was questioned at the police department about another case. Rivard said he returned to his office where the informant was located and identified Salas from the photo he had just taken, according to police reports.
Arreola’s girlfriend Ofelia Gonzalez – the only eyewitness to the shooting – identified Salas as the shooter in a series of photos from the department, according to police reports.
Although police recommended criminal assistance charges against Gonzalez, this and other information was withheld from the defense attorney, Shaver said.
“If this evidence had been disclosed to Mr Salas’ attorney general, it would have largely proven his innocence,” Shaver said. “Now, 25 years after a 33-year prison sentence, Mr. Salas is seeking critical information on this undisclosed evidence from the only person at the base – Jim Rivard.”
Shaver has filed motions in Yakima County Superior Court to request a new trial and question Rivard under oath.
Rivard declined to comment on the matter.
Prosecutor Joe Brusic, who supports Salas’s conviction, has asked the Washington State Patrol to look into the issues Shaver raised when they filed the petition for a new lead.
Brusic worked as an assistant prosecutor in the juvenile division when the Salas case was transferred from the juvenile court to the Superior Court.
Assistant District Attorney Bret Roberts is representing the state in the pending case.
Shaver’s petition contains over 2,000 pages of trial transcripts, notes, police reports, crime scene photos and witness information.
Last month, Superior Court Judge David Elofson told Shaver he needed more time to review the mountain of documents and asked him to cut his motions into more digestible chunks.
A follow-up hearing scheduled for Friday afternoon was postponed because lawyers needed more time to prepare, Shaver said.
Shaver says the following information was not presented during the trial:
• The van Arreola was sitting in when he was shot was removed from evidence by Gonzalez before investigators could process it, according to police reports.
• Mutual legal assistance charges have been recommended against Gonzalez.
• There were handwritten notes, one of which was supposed to be written by Rivard, saying that Gonzalez would be prepared to undergo hypnosis if it helped him identify the shooter.
Defense attorney George Trejo said he received none of this information when representing Salas over 24 years ago.
He submitted a brief in support of Shaver’s motions.
Defense lawyers are granted a right of discovery, which means they are allowed to examine all evidence held by prosecutors in a case to provide a fair and adequate defense.
Shaver said she reviewed the discovery dossier Trejo received and that information about the unauthorized removal of the evidence truck and the recommended charges against Gonzalez had been omitted.
This information was discovered in a later application for registration filed with the Sunnyside Police Department, she said.
In a recent interview with the State Patrol, Rivard told Washington State Patrol investigators that he sent everything to then-prosecutor Jeff Sullivan, according to the report.
“We have filed this document with the prosecutor’s office. They received these reports – we had nothing. I mean, you know, if there was a piece of scrap paper in this file, it would have been sent to the prosecutor, ”Rivard said in the report.
Arreola’s mother said she was accompanying Gonzalez when she identified Salas and said she had undergone hypnosis, Shaver said.
Shaver said Arreola’s family were upset to learn Gonzalez was under hypnosis – they said the family discussed it, Shaver said.
Shaver found a handwritten note that was allegedly written by Rivard saying that Gonzalez would accept hypnosis if it could help.
Rivard told state patrol investigators that hypnosis was not used because it was against departmental policy.
The testimony of someone who has been hypnotized is not admissible in court because hypnosis allows suggestion and false memories, Shaver said.
Gonzalez told State Patrol investigators she can’t remember if she had undergone hypnosis.
“I remember he asked me, but I don’t remember whether I said yes or no to him,” she said in the state patrol report.
Shaver also has questions about the photos she obtained of Rivard with the pickup.
Polaroid photos show the pickup truck in what appears to be a residential yard with dated notes underneath that appear to describe the dimensions of the truck and the trajectory of the shooting. The handwritten notes were dated November 29, 1995.
The truck was impounded in custody on November 14, 1995, and it was removed without permission four days later, according to police reports and receipts from the towing company.
Another photo shows Rivard standing next to the van with a measuring stick as it was parked in the same yard.
Interest in Salas’ conviction was renewed when it was featured in the documentary “Wrong Man” which aired on the STARZ television network in the summer of 2018.
Filmmaker Joe Berlinger has formed an investigative team to probe Salas’ conviction.
Now, Salas’ conviction will be featured in another documentary series – “Reasonable Doubt” – which airs Tuesday on the Investigation Discovery television network.