Encarnacion Salas enters the courtroom to start his retrial Wednesday morning at Snohomish County Courthouse. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Encarnacion Salas enters the courtroom to start his retrial Wednesday morning at Snohomish County Courthouse. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

His murder conviction was tossed out. Now he’s back on trial

Encarnacion Salas again claims he acted in self-defense in the death of Jesse Cardenas Lopez.

LYNNWOOD — A jury will not need to ponder who stabbed Jesse Cardenas Lopez more than a dozen times at his Lynnwood apartment.

Encarnacion “EJ” Salas does not dispute that he killed his close friend at the Avana apartments on 164th Street SW on the night of Oct. 24, 2014, his defense attorney Phil Sayles said Wednesday, at the outset of the defendant’s second murder trial.

“What is in dispute is whether his actions are justified,” Sayles told the jury. “And did he act in self-defense, to fend off Jesse Lopez?”

It’s the second time Salas has gone on trial for the same crime. A jury convicted him of second-degree murder in 2015, after a 9½-day trial where Salas claimed self-defense.

The state Court of Appeals overturned a guilty verdict in early 2018, because of technical errors by both the defense and the prosecution.

In closing arguments of the first trial, a prosecutor showed the jury two pictures, “juxtaposing a grim photo of Mr. Salas (akin to a mugshot) with a flattering photo of the decedent,” that is, Cardenas Lopez, “posing with a group of cartoon characters at a theme park,” according to the Court of Appeals ruling. Another photo showed Cardenas Lopez happily snuggling on a Ferris wheel ride. The appellate court found the slides made Cardenas Lopez look childlike, while it made Salas look aggressive.

Also, the defense attorney in the first trial didn’t object to the jury hearing statements made by Salas when he was being treated at the hospital. He’d reportedly chuckled when he told a doctor he killed someone.

The court found Salas hadn’t received a fair trial.

Salas, 27, entered a Snohomish County courtroom for his second trial Wednesday in a plaid black-and-white shirt, with his black hair pulled back in a ponytail. Deputy prosecutor Tyler Scott outlined the state’s case in about a quarter of an hour. The defense attorney gave Salas’ side of the story in under 10 minutes.

The pair’s relationship was, in Salas’ words, “kind of homosexual,” according to quotes in the Court of Appeals ruling. “… It wasn’t a true homosexual relationship. It was more trying to get to that level, to be comfortable, in order to get there.”

His friend made a sexual advance in August 2014, but Salas told him he wasn’t ready for that, according to Salas’ earlier testimony.

On the night in question, Sayles said, Cardenas Lopez groped Salas, and that upset Salas.

They kept hanging out and drinking, though. Then Cardenas Lopez groped Salas again, “and couldn’t take no for an answer,” Sayles said. A fight broke out. The two men wrestled on a balcony. In the defense’s version, Salas acted in self-defense and tore a knife away from Cardenas Lopez. Then in the fight that continued into the kitchen, Salas stabbed his friend.

In the prosecutor’s version, Cardenas Lopez’s mother had just gone to bed, while her son sat out on the balcony drinking tequila with his friend. She heard shouting, went to check that everything was OK, and saw her son had a serious cut on his arm — but no injuries to his neck or face. She witnessed Salas stand over her son and kill him, Scott said. She could not pry away the attacker, according to the prosecutor.

“Mom,” Cardenas Lopez cried, according to court papers. “Help me, I’m dying.”

Cardenas Lopez suffered three punctures to his lungs, two punctures to his liver, defensive wounds and three cuts from ear-to-ear. He bled to death, in spite of neighbors’ efforts to save him.

Salas left bloody footprints as he fled to the woods.

He was arrested the following afternoon, when he returned to his apartment. In the kitchen police found a gym bag packed with clothes, toiletries, survival gear, honey, four jars of peanut butter and a makeshift first-aid kit. Officers found a combat knife in the closet where Salas hid from police. The knife hadn’t been there when police searched the apartment earlier in the day.

Court records show Salas had no felony record.

Cardenas Lopez was born on Christmas Day 1979. His given first name was Jesus.

The lead attorneys in the first trial are no longer on the case. The deputy prosecutor, Cindy Larsen, was elected as a Superior Court judge in 2016.

The public defender was Paul Thompson, who was appointed to be a Superior Court judge in 2018. He’s on the ballot in November.

At sentencing in the first trial, Judge Bruce Weiss said the way Cardenas Lopez was killed reminded him of “an animal being slaughtered by a butcher.” The defense filed a motion seeking to put the case in front of another judge this time. Weiss denied the motion. He’s presiding over the second trial.

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

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