Murder suspect pointed gun, witness says

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WALLA WALLA -- A member of Benito Gomez's own gang testified he saw Gomez pointing a gun when shots were fired that killed rival Julio Martinez.

Other associates of Gomez also are expected to testify against him at his trial.

But the defense is trying to cast doubt on the credibility of their testimonies and maintains that Gomez has denied from the beginning he was involved.

Wednesday, Alberto Ramirez testified he and fellow gang members Andres Solis and Michael Mercado gathered outside Ramirez's residence in the 400 block of Sprague Avenue. They were talking, Gomez showed up and they decided to walk to the alley adjacent to 331 Myrtle St. to fight some rival gang members, Ramirez told the jury.

He said in somewhat faltering testimony that he saw three guys approaching with weapons including a big knife and two large bats, so his gang members decided to pick up some rocks. "They ran towards us and then out of nowhere, I heard shots," Ramirez said under questioning by Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Joe Golden.

"At the moment, I didn't know who had a gun."

But then, Ramirez said, he saw Gomez with a gun pointed at the rival gang members and believes he saw someone fall.

Ramirez testified he heard about four gunshots and took off running.

He told the jury that the fight with the rivals was to involve fists and rocks, and there was no plan to shoot anyone.

Ramirez was testifying under oath. But during cross-examination, defense attorney Jerry Makus grilled him about former, false statements he had made.

In two formal police interviews after the shooting, Ramirez said he knew nothing about it and wasn't at the scene. It wasn't until after Gomez was arrested that Ramirez told authorities Gomez was involved.

"Sometimes you lie under penalty of perjury. Isn't that true?" Makus asked.

"Yes," Ramirez said after some coaxing.

He added that he decided to tell the truth because police were saying he could be charged with a crime. "They were telling me the prosecutor was giving one person a deal for saying what happened."

Later Wednesday, another witness, Sammy Deleon -- who is not in a gang, but knows some members -- said he saw Gomez with a bandanna over his face running from the area of the shooting.

Several other witnesses testified Wednesday they heard shots and saw people running, but couldn't identify the participants.

During Makus' opening statement before testimony began, he emphasized there is no physical evidence that Gomez was involved. Makus said those implicating his client primarily are Gomez's fellow gang members, including Solis and Mercado, who also are expected to testify against him.

"And they have all kinds of different stories," Makus said, adding Gomez has been consistent in telling police he didn't commit the crimes.

Makus urged the jury to be skeptical of testimony by the fellow gang members.

"We expect you to listen to it, evaluate it and return a verdict of not guilty," Makus said.

Terry McConn can be reached at terrymcconn@wwub.com or 526-8319.

AT A GLANCE

Defendant: Benito Gomez, 19.

Murder victim: Julio Cesar Martinez, 20, who was shot twice in the head about 6 p.m. on May 17, 2011, in an alley in the 300 block of Myrtle Street. He died later that night at Providence St. Mary Medical Center.

Superior Court charges: One count of first-degree murder, accusing Gomez of the premeditated killing of Martinez, a rival gang member.

In addition, Gomez faces six counts of first-degree assault.

Officials say that when Martinez was killed, Gomez also shot at Martinez's fellow gang members Miguel Saucedo and Joseph Dejesus as they were fleeing from the alley into their apartment building at 331 Myrtle St.

Two other people, Jessica Glasby and David Cloyd, also were outside the residence and fled toward it.

Roberto Cuevas and Patricia Nelson were inside an apartment at the house when a bullet entered through the door.

The charges against Gomez include firearm enhancements. If convicted as charged, he will serve the rest of his life in prison. The sentence would include 35 years on the enhancements, followed by an additional standard-range term of 66 1/2 years to more than 88 years.

The jury is composed of nine men and three women. Trial testimony began Wednesday and is expected to last several days.

Allegations: Gomez and three fellow gang members, Andres Solis, Alberto Ramirez and Michael Mercado met in the area of Sprague Avenue and Myrtle Street and decided to fight the rivals because they had moved into their area.

Gomez and his three fellow members walked south on Sprague, east on Chestnut Street and north into the alley between Chestnut and Myrtle. Gomez covered his face with a bandanna and the four approached the three rivals. As they were preparing to fight, Gomez drew a .40-caliber pistol and fired five shots. Martinez was struck in the head by two of them. Gomez then fled west on Myrtle. His fellow gang members headed south down the alley and dispersed.

The murder weapon wasn't found.

Gomez, who was arrested May 21, 2011, has denied being involved in what police say has been the only gang-related homicide in the city.

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