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SALT LAKE CITY — A jury on Wednesday acquitted a West Valley man of all charges in a 2015 robbery and killing.
Eddie Salazar, 42, was found not guilty of murder, aggravated robbery and aggravated kidnapping, first-degree felonies, as well as aggravated assault, a second-degree felony.
Rudy Bautista, Salazar's attorney, said that when the primary witness in the case took the witness stand during the trial this week, her testimony was inconsistent and unbelievable. He also emphasized there was no forensic evidence tying Salazar to the scene.
Salazar was charged in the case alongside two others — Arturo Frias-Gonzales, 26, and Bernadette Ramirez, 48 — but proceeded to trial alone. Frias-Gonzales accepted a plea deal and admitted to lesser charges last month. Ramirez's case is ongoing.
Police say the trio went the apartment of 63-year-old Steven Louis Valdez, 4150 S. Bluejay (4985 West), and shot and beat him. Police found Valdez dead in an upstairs bedroom with a wallet and necklace reportedly stolen from him. He died from a gunshot wound to his leg and blunt force trauma to his head believed to be from a tire iron, according to an autopsy.
Valdez's niece, who was in the home at the time and saw the trio with weapons standing next to her badly bleeding uncle, escaped their gunfire and fled out of the window of the home with her infant, according to charging documents.
However, Ramirez and Frias-Gonzales caught up with the woman outside the home and forced her into an SUV, charges state. The two allegedly ordered her to tell police she witnessed "a home invasion robbery by a gang of masked men" and that they were in Wendover at the time of the killing.
In her initial statements, the woman repeated the story Frias-Gonzales and Ramirez had given her.
However, when the woman took the witness stand at trial, Bautista argued that her statements had been "so inconsistent and were unbelievable." He also told jurors that the woman didn't relate the account of witnessing the attack and being held captive until after she was facing drug-related charges of her own and was promised immunity.
On the stand, the woman described her uncle's head injuries as so severe that he no longer looked human, Bautista said. However, medical records showed Valdez had only "superficial injuries" to his face, the attorney said.
Bautista also argued that the cuts to the back of Valdez's head didn't match those that would have come from the tire iron Salazar was allegedly holding, as the woman had claimed in charging documents. She said Frias-Gonzales and Ramirez were armed with guns.
Bautista said no tire iron was ever found, and no DNA, fingerprints or forensic evidence had linked Salazar to the scene.
Now exonerated, Salazar was released from jail, where he had been held for about 14 months awaiting trial, Bautista said.
Ramirez still faces charges in the case and remains in custody in the Salt Lake County Jail. Police searched her apartment as part of a drug investigation later in 2015, finding watches and a necklace belonging to Valdez, charges state. Later, Ramirez called a detective from Valdez's stolen cellphone, according to police.
Ramirez told police she had gotten into an argument with Valdez for stealing her drug customers, and then blacked out, according to charging documents.