Man Convicted Of Murder At Age 15 Insists He’s Innocent, Seeks New Trial

Evaristo Salas Jr. says that “lies” have kept him in prison and what happened in his case “was easily swept under the rug.”

September 08, 2021

In 1995, a jury convicted 15-year-old Evaristo Salas for an apparent gang-related hit that left one man dead. His sisters say Evaristo is innocent, and they can prove it. They're hoping Chris and Fatima of Reasonable Doubt will get behind their fight.

Photo by: Actual Innocent Prisoners

Actual Innocent Prisoners

In 1995, a jury convicted 15-year-old Evaristo Salas for an apparent gang-related hit that left one man dead. His sisters say Evaristo is innocent, and they can prove it. They're hoping Chris and Fatima of Reasonable Doubt will get behind their fight.

By: Aaron Rasmussen

Supporters are rallying around a Washington man who is hoping to get a new trial or be released after spending almost a quarter century behind bars for a murder he says he did not commit.

On November 14, 1995, Jose Arreola was shot dead in a pickup truck in Sunnyside. Six months after Arreola’s death, then-15-year-old Evaristo Salas Jr. became a suspect in the case after an informant told police he overheard him bragging about killing Arreola. The only witness to the crime, Arreola’s girlfriend, Ofelia Gonzalez, then picked Salas out of a photo lineup as the person who fired the fatal shot.

Both Arreola and Salas were affiliated with area gangs, but Salas insisted to police he and the shooting victim had no problems with each other.

Salas was tried as an adult. He was convicted of the murder, and a judge sentenced him to almost 33 years in prison.

Now, Laura Shaver, an Everett-based attorney, is seeking a new trial for Salas, the Yakima Herald-Republic reported.

In motions Shaver filed with the Yakima County Superior Court, she has alleged critical key evidence that “would have overwhelmingly proved his innocence” was kept from George Trejo, Salas’s original attorney, in discovery, the process in which the defense is given access to all information and evidence prosecutors have in a case so they may adequately defend their client.

Shaver is seeking to have retired Sunnyside Police Sgt. Jim Rivard, who originally worked on the murder case, deposed under oath. According to Shaver, Rivard allegedly had an ongoing working relationship with the informant who linked Salas to the shooting and receipts allegedly may show the man was paid to testify against him.

According to Shaver, Gonzalez allegedly was responsible for the unauthorized removal of the pickup truck her boyfriend was sitting in when he was fatally shot. As a result, detectives could not process the vehicle for evidence. Sgt. Rivard allegedly filed a request for Gonzalez to be charged with rendering criminal assistance, but that information was never revealed to Salas’s defense lawyer, Shaver said.

Additionally, Rivard’s notes written after the murder allegedly show Gonzalez underwent hypnosis before looking at a photo lineup and indicating Salas was the shooter, claimed Shaver, who noted Washington state excludes this type of testimony in cases since suggestibility could be an issue.

At a recent hearing, Yakima County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Bret Roberts countered that Salas’s original defense attorney failed to do his due diligence and was aware Gonzalez got the vehicle. He also said there was no proof Gonzalez was ever hypnotized.

“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.”

In 2018, filmmaker Joe Berlinger released the documentary Wrong Man. The informant that helped put Salas behind bars alleged in the film that his testimony against Salas was untrue and Rivard had coached him, bolstering Salas’s claims he’s innocent of the crime, the Yakima Herald reported.

“What [happened] to me in 1996 was a great injustice and what has allowed these injustices to continue was the fact that nobody knew about it,” Salas wrote in an online petition seeking a new trial. “It was easily swept under the rug.”

“But the lies that have kept me in prison,” he added, “are beginning to crumble as more light is being shed on it.”

To learn more about this case watch the "Hynotized" episode on Season 4 of Investigation Discovery's Reasonable Doubt.

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