Witness describes drug-fueled night of violence at start of 2017 Edinburg murder trial

Gabino Salinas listens to testimony in his murder trial in the 206th state District Court at the Hidalgo County Courthouse on Monday in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

EDINBURG — Prosecutors alleged Monday that 37-year-old Gabino Salinas was the mastermind behind the 2017 kidnapping and murder of a man he believed orchestrated an attack in which he lost a leg during a home invasion.

Salinas, who was 32 at the time of the crime, was charged with capital murder, possession of marijuana, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and aggravated kidnapping.

On Monday, during the first day of trial into the murder, the state said Salinas dragged Jose Angel Martinez, 32, with his Jeep Grand Cherokee, stabbed him, slit his throat, chopped his body and buried it in a makeshift grave Nov. 8, 2017.

He has pleaded not guilty.

Salinas was charged along with Benjamin Chavez Sanchez, 25, Sandy Lutz, 32, and Hector Ruben Guerra, 48. All suspects face charges of capital murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and aggravated kidnapping.

Sanchez was also charged with possession of marijuana. He, Lutz and Guerra have pleaded not guilty and remain jailed on the charges.

Prosecutor Ana Liz DeLeon-Vargas said during opening arguments that Salinas was the mastermind behind the kidnapping-turned-murder.

According to the prosecutor, the group attacked Martinez in his home before tying him to the back of a jeep and dragging him through an orchard. Afterward, she said he was taken to a ranch where his throat was slit.

Deleon-Vargas told the jury during opening statements that Salinas attacked Martinez because he believed he was responsible for a home invasion earlier that year in which Salinas lost a leg after being shot.

The details of that night were revealed on the first day of trial through witness testimony given by one of the kidnapped victims, Ricardo Moreno, then 55, who was living with Martinez at the time.

Both lived in a blue rental home on MonMack in Edinburg where they would sell cocaine, DeLeon-Vargas said during opening arguments.

Ricardo Moreno testifies in the murder trial of Gabino Salinas in the 206th state District Court at the Hidalgo County Courthouse on Monday in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

Moreno said he was in his room watching TV when two individuals came to the house looking to buy cocaine from Martinez the night of the incident.

Guerra was acquainted with Moreno and Martinez, but according to Moreno he had never met the second person, Sanchez, who was 21 at the time.

A few minutes later, Martinez noticed someone was moving a surveillance camera outside the home, Moreno told the jurors.

Both Guerra and Sanchez offered to go outside and check, but when they returned they had pistols on them, Moreno testified. They then told Moreno to go into his room where they bound his hands and taped his eyes shut.

Moreno said he could hear a “ruckus” of furniture moving and Salinas’ voice coming from Martinez’s room, but could not make out what they were saying.

Moreno also said that someone he could not identify eventually told him to go outside where he was told to lay down inside a vehicle.

As they moved the vehicle, Moreno said he felt a bump when they drove away and thought they had run over Martinez.

Once they stopped, Moreno was pulled out of the vehicle, had his hands unbound and was told to help put Martinez in the back of the jeep, he said on the stand.

Moreno said he did not argue.

“You don’t argue with a man with a gun,” Moreno told jurors.

After they placed Martinez in the back of the vehicle, Moreno was told to lay down on top of Martinez. Moreno said he could hear Martinez moan in pain as his ear was against the victim’s chest.

Moreno said he had his hand on Martinez’s chest when he felt someone stab it. He moved it away, but was told to put it back where it was because they “weren’t done” with him yet.

Both Martinez and Moreno were stabbed multiple times until Martinez stopped breathing, Moreno said.

The witness told jurors that he and Martinez were taken to a ranch. He believed this because he smelled manure and heard a donkey or a calf.

He said he was then told to remove the duct tape off his eyes and upon doing so saw Martinez on the floor, naked and with his throat slit.

Moreno said he saw cuts on the body as if they were trying to dismember Martinez, adding that Salinas told him to cut the body with a machete.

Among the group watching Moreno was Salinas, Guerra, Sanchez, Lutz and a ranch hand he had never met before.

Afterward, Moreno said he and the suspects smoked crack and drank beer. He testified he didn’t leave because he didn’t want to anger the defendants and said they threatened to harm his family.

Moreno’s memory, however, is also hazy because of drug and alcohol use following the murder.

Later that night, the suspects, along with Moreno, went to another ranch to bury Martinez’s body, Moreno said.

Salinas ordered Moreno to place the body in a makeshift grave, according to the man’s testimony.

After this, Moreno said he and the suspects went to an Edinburg hotel where they continued using drugs, at least until Salinas let Moreno go. He later called police.

However, unbeknownst to him, Salinas and Chavez were already in custody.

Juan Marroquin also testified Monday, telling the jury he saw blood in the driveway and called police the morning after the alleged kidnapping.

Testimony resumes Tuesday morning.