Raffael Medlin says he saw accused murderer Gregorio Arenas shoot his friend in cold blood after pistol whipping him in front of their apartment. He says he then walked into their apartment and pointed a gun at him and his friends, warning if they talked to police he would come back and kill them.
The Arenas defense maintains Medlin is lying, his story changing several times and that his drinking issues may have clouded his memory. They say another man, known only as “El Pollo,” the Chicken, is the man who killed Albertano Guerro Trejo, 29, in July 2012.
The opposing views clashed Tuesday as the Arenas murder trial got under way at Warren County Courthouse. The accused killer is looking at life in prison if he is convicted on the top charge of first-degree murder. He is charged with gunning down Trejo outside the victim’s home at Cotten Apartments on July 20 of last year. The reason for the killing has never been revealed.
“Mr. Arenas had a gun and a plan to use it,” District Attorney General Lisa Zavogiannis told jurors during her opening statement Tuesday morning. “He had a plan to pick a fight and a plan to kill.”
Zavogiannis told jurors Arenas arrived at the apartment with the man they called “El Pollo,” a person some believe to be Juan Gonzalez Ortiz, although he has never been found and brought in for questioning. Zavogiannis said Arenas then picked a fight and lured the victim outside where he pistol whipped Trejo.
“He settled it with a shot from a 9mm pistol,” Zavogiannis said, noting the bullet passed through Trejo’s chest, piercing his heart before exiting through his back and striking the wall behind him.
The DA pointed out Arenas fled the scene and was caught days later hiding in a closet inside a home in Fairview.
The defense resisted the prosecution’s view, suggesting the issue between the shooter and victim was sparked over a prostitute one of the men had inside the apartment. Assistant Public Defender Scott Grissom maintains his client was not the one who pulled the trigger, but that instead the killer was El Pollo.
“My client saw things were getting out of hand so he tried to intervene and reach for the gun, but at that moment a shot was fired,” said Grissom, indicating it was The Chicken who fired the shot and not his client.
Grissom questioned why law enforcement never put out an all-points bulletin for The Chicken since he was obviously involved in some way in the homicide.
Taking the stand for the state Tuesday afternoon was the prosecution’s star witness, Raffael Medlin, who said he saw Arenas pull the trigger.
Medlin, who was one of the victim’s roommates, said he tried to stop Trejo from going outside after he saw a gun in Arenas’ waistband. He said he saw an altercation between the victim and Arenas outside and that he saw Arenas hit and shoot his friend, leaving him to die in the parking lot. He also said it was Arenas who threatened to do the same to him.
“He put a gun to my friend’s head and said he would come back and kill us if we said anything to the police,” Medlin recalled, noting that was why he and the other witnesses were reluctant to talk to police the night of the murder.
Grissom suggested Medlin was outright lying as the public defender pointed out Medlin changed his story several times since his first statement. At first, Grissom said, Medlin said he didn’t know who shot his friend and said the shooter ran off on foot. His story changed the next day; however, this time Medlin saying he saw the crime and recognized the shooter.
“He said he would come back and kill us,” Medlin said in his defense, claiming he feared for his life when first questioned. “The police weren’t going to stay with me. They were going to leave sometime.”
Along with pointing out Medlin lied to police, Grissom also wondered if his alcoholism may have hurt his memory. Grissom said Medlin was recently convicted of his sixth drunk driving offense, the witness admitting he has a problem with alcohol. Medlin contended he only had two beers the night of murder and is clear on what he saw.
Testimony continues Wednesday before Circuit Court Judge Bart Stanley at Warren County Courthouse. The trial is set for three days. In addition to murder charges, Arenas also faces charges for threatening witnesses.