EVERETT — A former Lynnwood man serving 20 years in prison for a 2014 killing saw his conviction tossed out Monday after an appeals court held that lawyers on both sides of the case failed to properly do their jobs.
Encarnacion “EJ” Salas IV was convicted of second-degree murder in the Oct. 24, 2014, stabbing death of Jesus “Jesse” Cardenas Lopez near Lynnwood.
The state Court of Appeals reversed that conviction Monday and sent the case back to Snohomish County for a new trial.
The court held that Salas’ 2015 trial was flawed because a former deputy prosecutor showed jurors two problematic slides in a PowerPoint presentation offered during closing arguments in the case. The court also ruled that the defendant’s lawyer should have objected to testimony about statements Salas made while undergoing treatment at a hospital after his arrest.
The court held that the prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel were sufficient to toss out Salas’ conviction.
Jurors heard differing stories about the violence that ended Cardenas Lopez’s life. Key to the case was the defendant’s credibility.
Prosecutors said Salas, then 24, attacked Cardenas Lopez in anger over the victim’s wish for their relationship to become more intimate. Salas maintained he acted in self defense and was wounded fighting off the 34-year-old victim’s advances.
As the trial concluded, then-deputy prosecutor Cindy Larsen (now a Superior Court judge) showed jurors a PowerPoint as she made closing arguments.
The appeals court found two slides were unfair to Salas. One showed an oversized image of his face, culled from his driver’s license, juxtaposed with a photo of Cardenas Lopez kneeling next to Smurf characters at an amusement park. The captions read: “Jesse Lopez: 5’5.5”, Band leader, saxophone player, customer service representative,” and “EJ Salas: 5’11”, Football player, fighter, outdoorsman.”
The other problematic slide for appeals court judges was an image of Cardenas Lopez snuggling on an amusement park ride with a family member.
“A rule of thumb for using PowerPoint is ‘If you can’t say it, don’t display it,’” the court wrote. ” … PowerPoint slides should not be used to communicate to the jury a covert message that would be improper if spoken aloud.”
In this case, the appeals court found that the images suggested Salas was aggressive and intimidating while the victim was more “childlike and submissive.”
Such an inference was unfair to Salas, the court held.
The court also found Salas’ public defender, Paul Thompson, failed to argue that statements his client made at the hospital were protected for purposes of treatment and should not have been allowed at trial. The lawyer did object, but on other grounds.
Salas reportedly chuckled when he told a doctor that he “killed someone,” and that made him appear callous, the court found.
In closing arguments, lawyers focused attention on a deep wound on Salas’ right arm. Larsen said Salas cut himself after fleeing the scene. Thompson said the cut was from Cardenas Lopez, who he said had wielded the knife at the start of the fight.
At trial, jurors were told the victim died from 15 knife wounds to his lungs, liver, neck and head.
In imposing a 20-year sentence, Superior Court Judge Bruce Weiss called it “a brutal murder” that reminded him “of an animal being slaughtered by a butcher.”
Scott North: 425-339-3431; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snorthnews.