January 18, 1997 - Tucson, Arizona
Judge Drops Murder Charge, Cites Insufficient Evidence
by Norman Peckman
TUCSON DAILY CITIZEN Staff Writer
A first degree murder charge against a 25 year old man was thrown out by a judge yesterday uring his trial because there was not enough evidence for the case to go to the jury.
"She made the right decision without a doubt," said defense attorney David Alan Darby speaking of Pima County Superior Court Judge Deborah Bernini's decision to direct a verdict of acquittal in the case against Jose Ramon Atondo-Saldana.
Atondo-Saldana was charged with first degree murder in the fatal shooting death of Eduardo Enriquez Moreno, Sr.
Moreno was killed March 24 last year at his home on North Elaine Boulevard when according to conflicting testimony one to four men came into the home for a drug deal, said Darby.
Darby said the prosecutors linked Antondo-Saldana to Moreno's death through a pager number that one of Moreno's daughters wrote down the night before the shooting.
The daughter jotted the number after receiving a call on a cellular phone while she and her family were working at a local swap meet.
The prosecution claimed that the call was made by Atondo-Saldana, but Darby said his client did not make the call.
He said the pager number the daughter supposedly wrote down was the same as Atondo-Saldana's, but Darby said Atondo-Saldana gave Moreno's family his pager number several days before the shooting in person because he was planning to fix Moreno's car.
Darby said his client was at Moreno's sometime before the shooting to repair one of Moreno's car.
Darby said the state further tried to bolster its case from statement's from a man who was placed in the same jail pod as Atondo-Saldana.
That man new details of the shooting, some accurate, but others were "totally off the wall," Darby said.
He added that the man in jail for having sex with a 2 year old girl, had an incentive to "snitch" on Atondo-Saldana because of a plea agreement he struck with prosecutors if he cooperated in the case.
While Bernini directed a verdict of acquittal after the prosecution rested its case, Darby said he would have presented witnesses who would have testified that Atondo-Saldana was about to eat dinner on the "other side of town" with family members at the time of the shooting.
Furthermore, he said, no one inside Moreno's house when the shooting occurred could identify him.
Darby said the multiple shots were fired inside the house, and at the time the shots were being fired, Moreno's family ducked for cover or hid.
He said the state did not accuse Atondo-Saldana of being the shooter, but charged him under the state's felony murder rule - which says that defendant's can be found guilty of first degree murder if someone dies while they are committing certain felonies such as burglary.
Atondo-Saldana was charged with four counts of aggravated assault - because Moreno's family members were in the home when the shooting happened - and with burglary, because the prosecutor's alleged he entered the house.
But like the first degree murder charges, Darby said Bernini also threw out those charges against his client.
Darby said the prosecutors claimed Antondo-Saldana went into Moreno's home to talk about a drug deal, walked out and directed two men to steal Moreno's cocaine and kill him.
The prosecutors claimed the two men were ex-judicial police from Mexico, Darby said.
He said the authorities found three packages of cocaine on Moreno after he was shot.