Witnesses testify in stabbing trial

May 24, 2002|By MARIO RENTERÍA

Staff Writer

Several witnesses testified Thursday in the murder trial of 40-year-old Salvador Serrato of El Centro, accused of fatally stabbing 19-year-old Edward De La Cruz last year.

Serrato's attorney, Eduardo Rivera of Calexico, and Imperial County Deputy District Attorney Susana Salgado started the proceedings Thursday morning with opening statements.

Both agree Serrato stabbed De La Cruz but they disagree on the circumstances revolving around the incident. Salgado says Serrato murdered De La Cruz. Rivera claims it was self-defense.


The attorneys agreed both men had problems.

De La Cruz, a Harbor City resident who had lived in El Centro and had returned to visit relatives, regularly used drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine and had been arrested for petty thefts, both attorneys said. Serrato had been convicted of three felonies and served time in prison. He was on parole at the time of the stabbing.

The attorneys don't dispute that De La Cruz was stabbed the morning of July 1 in the 200 block of East Olive Avenue in El Centro by Serrato.

Salgado's scenario is that the stabbing happened in the yard of a residence. The owner of the house is Maria Ortiz. Living in the residence at the time was her son Trinidad Ortiz and Stephen Vasquez. In the rear of the property was a second house, occupied by Vasquez's brother Michael Gonzalez and his girlfriend Priscilla Llanas.

Salgado said during opening statements that Serrato went to the house to socialize with Trinidad Vasquez. Vasquez was watering the lawn. It was shortly before sunrise. A young woman, though to be a minor, was with Vasquez.

De La Cruz arrived and started talking to all the people assembled. Salgado claimed De La Cruz and Serrato started to argue about some comments made prior to that morning. De La Cruz and Serrato then engaged in a fist fight while Vasquez and the girl tried to stop it.

During the scuffle, Salgado alleged, Serrato made a comment to one of the people trying to break up the fight: "The fool made me mad. I'm going to kill him."

Serrato then pulled out a 4- to 5- inch knife and stabbed De La Cruz once in the upper left chest.

De La Cruz, said Salgado, allegedly then said to Serrato, "Ah dog, you stabbed me."

Both sides agree the time of the stabbing, as gleaned from witnesses' testimony, was around sunrise. Sunrise that day was at 5:34 a.m. but the call to El Centro police came in at 6:25 a.m. Exactly what happened to De La Cruz during the 50 or so minutes after he was stabbed is not known by investigators.

What is known is De La Cruz was carried across the street by Vasquez and Gonzalez while bleeding. Someone apparently washed off blood that was on the sidewalk and street with a hose.

Gonzalez has said he was inside his home during the fight and has told investigators he didn't see the brawl. Salgado said she thinks otherwise.

Gonzalez, when first interviewed by El Centro police Detective Angie Cuevas that day, said he walked out of his house and saw De La Cruz, or "Pipes" as he called him, lying on the ground across the street. Later he told police he and his brother carried De La Cruz across the street after they found him lying in their lawn but still said he didn't know how De La Cruz was stabbed.

As Gonzalez and his brother carried De La Cruz across the street, Gonzalez called 911 with a cordless phone.

Rivera's version of the stabbing makes Serrato the victim. Rivera said during his opening statements Serrato was at the residence talking to Vasquez.

De La Cruz earlier that morning had allegedly stolen a bicycle from a nearby residence and sold it to Vasquez, Rivera said.

When De La Cruz arrived at Vasquez's home he found Serrato in possession of the bicycle, which made him angry.

As Serrato and De La Cruz were talking, De La Cruz suddenly struck Serrato in the face three times with an unknown object, according to Rivera

Rivera claims Serrato, fearing for his life, pulled out a knife and stabbed De La Cruz. As a result of the unprovoked attack, Serrato suffered a long gash above his eye.

Serrato, because he was on parole, fled. He turned himself in to police July 16.

Salgado thinks Vasquez, Gonzalez, the minor and Llanas all witnessed the incident and said all were either under the influence of drugs or had been the night before.

The first El Centro police officer to arrive at the stabbing scene was Aaron Reel. He testified Thursday he saw Gonzalez trying to give cardiopulmonary resuscitation to De La Cruz, Reel immediately joined Gonzalez in his efforts to revive De La Cruz, who was not breathing.

After paramedics took over, Reel testified he started to gather evidence. He said he noticed a section of the street in front of the residence in question had been washed down. He also said he noticed some blood trailing from the walkway inside the residence but could not enter the property because Trinidad Ortiz did not give him permission.

About an hour later Maria Ortiz gave permission to detectives to enter the property.

The evidence gathered included De La Cruz' clothing. Inside the pocket of the T-shirt he was wearing was a small plastic bag covered by a piece of aluminum carrying a substance that was later identified as methamphetamine.

Testimony was to continue this morning.

>>Staff Writer Mario Rentería can be reached at 337-3441.

Imperial Valley Press Online Articles