EVERETT — A jury convicted Encarnacion “EJ” Salas of murder Wednesday for killing a close friend, who would call him “honey” and “husband,” by stabbing him over a dozen times in the throat and torso.
Salas, 27, attacked Jesus “Jesse” Cardenas Lopez in October 2014, while the dying man’s mother tried to fend him off. Four years ago, Salas testified that he acted in self-defense, but a Snohomish County jury found him guilty of second-degree murder.
The state Court of Appeals overturned that conviction because of technical errors by both the state and the defense. In the first trial, prosecutors showed PowerPoint slides of a “grim” photo of Salas juxtaposed with a cheery photo of Cardenas Lopez, 35, having fun at an amusement park.
Meanwhile, the defense neglected to object when the first jury heard statements Salas made to medical staff. The appellate court ruled Salas didn’t get a fair trial.
Neither side showed portraits in closing arguments this month, in the retrial. The new jury convicted Salas of the same crime.
The two men were neighbors in the early stages of a relationship, and Salas told Cardenas Lopez he wasn’t ready for sex, according to the defendant. Cardenas Lopez had a habit of being flirtatious and “touchy” when he drank, according to court papers.
Prosecutors argued Salas felt conflicted about his sexuality, and late on Oct. 24, 2014, he lashed out at Cardenas Lopez.
That evening, Salas brought a backpack with tequila and a KA-BAR knife to the Lopez apartment off 164th Street SW. Deputy prosecutor Robert Grant argued Salas wanted to get his friend drunk, waited for Cardenas Lopez’s mother to go to bed, and then brought out the knife to kill him.
Salas’ public defender argued Cardenas Lopez groped Salas twice that night on a balcony, and in a fight that followed the second incident — according to Salas — Cardenas Lopez swung a knife.
Cardenas Lopez’s mother testified this month through a Spanish interpreter. She recounted opening the door to see the men struggling. Her son had blood on his arm, but no wounds to his neck or face, she testified. Then Salas went to a backpack and grabbed something. He started making a cutting motion to the injured man’s neck, though she did not actually see the 6½-inch blade. The mother testified she tried to stop Salas from slashing her son’s throat in the kitchen, by pulling on his nose and ears.
Defense attorney Phil Sayles challenged her story, pressing her on how she could have kept her balance if the floor was slick with her son’s blood.
Salas jumped off a balcony and left reddish footprints as he fled the scene. Police caught him the next day, when deputies got a tip that he’d returned to his apartment.
The defendant did not take the witness stand this month. Instead a transcript of earlier testimony was read to the jury.
Jurors in the first trial could not reach a verdict on a charge of murder in the first degree, meaning they couldn’t agree on whether the killing was premeditated.
Prosecutors were allowed to retry Salas on that more serious charge. They argued that he had a plan to kill Cardenas Lopez — or at the very least, came up with that plan at a break in the fight, when he had a chance to flee the apartment, but instead went back and cut his friend’s throat several times.
“As he walks those 32 feet and lays on top of Jesus, and slits his throat despite (his mother’s) best efforts to yank her son’s murderer off of him — you know what his plan is,” said Grant, the deputy prosecutor.
Six women and six men began deliberating Monday in the jury room. They returned with a verdict of not guilty of first-degree murder around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, and guilty of second-degree murder.
However, when Judge Bruce Weiss began to poll the panel, Juror No. 1 told the court he felt Salas was guilty of first-degree murder — even though a verdict form said all the jurors were unanimous in their findings.
He told the judge he felt the jury could still reach a verdict on that count, given time.
It was the first time the judge and lawyers had heard that from a juror — after a verdict had already been read. Ultimately, the judge sent the jury back behind closed doors to deliberate again, with fresh verdict sheets.
Meanwhile, Salas’ attorney moved for a mistrial. That motion was denied.
The presiding juror, No. 13, told the judge around 1:30 p.m. that they were deadlocked as to first-degree murder, but reaffirmed that Salas was guilty of the lesser charge.
This time, all of the jurors agreed.
Weiss presided over the first trial in 2015. He’d sentenced Salas to 20⅓ years. He’s set to sentence Salas to prison again Sept. 25.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.