Murder trial heading to jury

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Attorneys scheduled to deliver closings today

By Martin Salazar

The prosecution and defense in the Eric Vigil murder trial agreed last week that the crimes were horrendous and brutal.
On the night of Dec. 19 or the early morning hours of Dec. 20, 2007, Damian Ortiz, 24, was shot in the head four times, three times in the temple  at close range and once on the top of his head.

His fiancee, Stephanie Dimas, 25, was also shot four times, twice in the face, once near her right ear and once in the back of her head.

The couple — both Highlands students studying to be teachers — drew their last breaths in the doublewide mobile home they shared on Dora Celeste.

Now almost six years after the murders, a jury is being asked to decide whether Vigil, 32, was there that night and whether he was one of the triggermen.

The trial got under way in state District Court in Las Vegas last Monday, and by Friday afternoon, both sides had presented their witnesses. Vigil did not take the stand in his own defense.

Closing arguments in the case are scheduled to begin at 10 this morning, and then the jury will begin its deliberations.

The jury panel is made of eight men and five women. One of those individuals is an alternate and won’t be allowed to take part in the deliberations.

The case is being prosecuted by Thomas Clayton and Russell Miller. Vigil is represented by Anna Aragon and Herman Chico Gallegos.

District Judge Abigail Aragon is presiding.

For the most part, the case comes down to the credibility of JoeBary Vigal who was 17 at the time of the murders. Vigal contends that he was at the scene when Vigil shot Ortiz and when one of Vigal’s older brother’s, Michael Vigal, killed Dimas.

During his opening statement, Clayton acknowledged that JoeBary Vigal had received probation in exchange for agreeing to testify truthfully against Vigil and his own brother.

“JoeBary did get a deal,” Clayton told jurors. “But his testimony fits the evidence.”

Clayton also acknowledged that Ortiz used and sold marijuana, and he said that Ortiz received a shipment of high-grade marijuana the night before he was killed. He argued that Vigil and three Vigal brothers showed up at Ortiz’s home that night to take the marijuana and cash and that Vigil shot Ortiz four times because Ortiz disrespected him, pushing him and telling Vigil to “get the (expletive) out of his house.”

During her opening statement, Anna Aragon told jurors that Vigil wasn’t at the home the night of the murders and that he had no part in the killings.

She immediately began to attack JoeBary Vigal’s credibility, saying that he gave three different statements to police, initially saying he knew nothing about the murders. She suggested that he decided to change his story when he heard about reward money being offered, but that he didn’t realize that he was implicating himself by the made up story he began telling.

Anna Aragon told the jury that there are major inconsistencies in JoeBary Vigal’s story. She said he picked up enough bits and pieces from jail house talk, from discovery later on and from talk on the street to put together a story.  She said that when JoeBary was arrested he was livid and decided to sacrifice his brother and Vigil in order to get himself out of trouble.

Michael Vigal pleaded guilty to two counts of murder and other charges last year and was sentenced last August to 30 years in prison.

“He cut a deal...,” Anna Aragon said of JoeBary Vigal. “He’s never going to be charged with these two homicides. He got probation even if it meant throwing his own brother in prison. If he would throw his own brother in prison, why not Eric? Why not anybody? The evidence doesn’t lie, ladies and gentlemen. People lie.”

She argued that there wasn’t a shred of physical evidence placing her client at the house the night of the murders.

Anna Aragon told jurors that her client wasn’t a saint and that he had been in prison and was on probation when the murders occurred. In fact, she said, the Las Vegas Police Department was conducting a parallel burglary investigation, and a short time after the murders took place, Vigil was in custody and the house where he had been staying was searched. Anna Aragon said authorities found nothing linking Vigil to the murders on him, in his car or in the house where he had been staying.

During testimony on Friday, prosecution witness Alicia Mares told the jury that she initially lied to police about being with Vigil the night of the murders because he asked her to. She also testified that Vigil had left her a message in which he said that he was on his way to the ranch to stash guns, $5,000 cash and other items. Mares told the jury that Vigil was unemployed at the time.

The defense called two witnesses.

Las Vegas police Commander Robert Gutierrez testified that he was investigating a burglary the day after the murders and that Vigil was a suspect in that case. He said that because Vigil was on probation, he reached out to the adult probation office and asked for help locating Vigil.

Leroy Garcia, a supervisor in the probation office, testified that he searched part of the home where Vigil had been staying. In response to questions from the defense, Garcia testified that he didn’t find large sums of money, nor weapons nor bloody clothing.

On cross examination, however, Garcia testified that he didn’t search the entire house, such as the closet belonging to Vigil’s mother or under her bed.

Vigil is on trial for two counts of first-degree murder, evidence tampering, and other charges.