The case against a suspected illegal immigrant accused of killing a Moab man last fall could be heading to the trial phase.
Seventh District Judge Don Torgerson last week bound defendant Omar Guerro over to district court for a five-day jury trial that is currently set to begin on March 11; he also scheduled a pretrial conference for Feb. 26.
Guerro, who is also known as Martin Armento Verduzco Lopez and Irving Martin Verduzco Armento, has been charged with first-degree murder in connection with the Oct. 28, 2018, homicide of local resident Edgar Luna Najera. He also faces a second-degree felony charge of “restricted person in possession of firearm.”
The suspect, who is believed to be between the ages of 20 and 30, pleaded “not guilty” on Friday, Jan. 25, to both charges against him, following testimony from witnesses who identified him as Najera’s killer. (Many details about Guerro — including his legal name, exact age, national origin and residence — remain unclear in court records, which identify him in part by his approximate height, “stocky” body type and assumed date-of-birth.) Under the law, Guerro is presumed to be innocent unless or until a court formally convicts him of any charges.
Authorities say that the 30-year-old victim, who was also known as “Rojo,” died after an argument at his residence in the 200 block of West Walnut Lane. Police have said that Najera was found dead after he was shot twice.
The suspect and two other men remained at large until Oct. 30, 2018, when the Navajo Nation Police Department’s Tuba City and Kayenta districts and the Arizona Department of Public Safety’s Highway Patrol Division apprehended them in northern Arizona.
Police have said the other men — Jaime Flores-Solis and Jorge Hernandez-Ayala — were taken into custody on multiple charges. Both men are now cooperating with prosecutors, and in exchange for their “truthful testimony” in court, the Grand County Attorney’s Office has agreed to dismiss second-degree felony obstruction of justice charges against them. (A misdemeanor drug charge against Hernandez-Ayala would also be dismissed.)
Defense attorney Steve Russell, who is representing Guerro, stated that his client was prepared to waive his right to a preliminary hearing. But special prosecutor W. Brent Langston did not consent to that waiver, and the judge ultimately found that there was a sufficient basis to proceed with the Jan. 25 hearing.
In anticipation of heightened public awareness of the case, Judge Torgerson suggested that the court could summon a jury pool of 70 people.
“That’s double the normal,” the judge said.
But Russell questioned whether the court will need to call a larger number of prospective jurors.
“The only thing is, I don’t know if the press is here [and] if there will be any publicity; if there is, we may want to get even a bigger pool if the papers put a bunch out here following today’s hearing,” Russell said.
Ultimately, Judge Torgerson agreed to postpone the process until the pretrial conference.
“We can hold off to send out jury notices until that day,” he said.
Guerro remains in custody at the Grand County Jail; according to Langston, a records check would show that the defendant is in the country illegally and remains on a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) hold.
NUMEROUS WITNESSES IDENTIFY SUSPECT
According to an Oct. 30, 2018, Moab City Police Department statement of probable cause, dispatchers first received a call at about 1:30 a.m. on the morning of the incident that shots had been fired at Najera’s trailer.
Altogether, seven people were reportedly in the trailer at the time of the incident, including the victim.
The reporting party stated that several people left the scene in a black SUV right after the gunshots rang out, and before law enforcement personnel arrived at the trailer park.
Witnesses later came forward and told state investigators that they were present in the trailer when a man they knew as “Omar” shot Najera. Neither witness knew the individual’s last name, but they stated that he identified himself to others as “Guerro.”
The suspect’s photo was also identified via two Facebook accounts that were registered under the names of “Martin Armento Verduzco Lopez” and “Omar Guerro,” according to the probable cause statement.
Three witnesses stated separately yet consistently that they saw “Omar” with a .40-caliber Smith and Wesson handgun before Najera was murdered. Police said they later recovered a partially full box of .40-caliber Smith and Wesson ammunition from the SUV that was spotted leaving the scene.
PROSECUTION WITNESSES DESCRIBE HARROWING INCIDENT, AFTERMATH
In nearly two hours of court testimony, one key witness for the prosecution described the suspect as someone who appeared to be in the grips of methamphetamine-fueled paranoia and rage. Over the course of several days, he said, Guerro made wild accusations about Najera and others — including a man he’d never met before — and may have believed that “obviously” unrelated Native American children he later picked up in Arizona belonged to him.
Speaking through a court interpreter, Flores-Solis said he first met the defendant on Walnut Lane a few weeks before the Oct. 28 incident. He said he had no further contact with Guerro until the day that Najera was murdered.
Flores-Solis testified that he has no idea why Guerro came to Moab.
On that day, though, he encountered the defendant, who reportedly said that Hernandez-Ayala had loaned him a vehicle. Guerro told him that he would be seeing Hernandez-Ayala later and could give him a ride, Flores-Solis said, so he went with the defendant.
When he saw the suspect that day, he said that Guerro had a silver-colored, “blocky-looking” semiautomatic pistol with a black grip. At the time, Flores-Solis said, Guerro’s demeanor was “normal,” and he didn’t appear to be angry or upset.
“I don’t know how to explain it, but I never imagined that what happened was going to happen,” he said.
Like Flores-Solis, an emotional-sounding Hernandez-Ayala said he could not have known what was about to happen that night.
“Honestly, no,” he said, speaking through an interpreter.
At some point, Flores-Solis said, Guerro told him to accompany him to a local convenience store, where Guerro bought two 12-packs of beer.
They eventually returned to the trailer park on Walnut Lane. Two “Navajo people” who were at the scene left about 15 to 20 minutes after Najera arrived at his trailer around the same time as another man showed up, he said; a woman appeared a few minutes later.
Guerro first told the other man that “they” had stolen his drugs, Flores-Solis said, and the other man argued with him for a while, telling Guerro that it was not his fault. The other man then left for a few minutes and came back in, and Guerro began to “interrogate” Najera, Flores-Solis said.
Guerro would not let anyone leave the trailer during this time, Flores-Solis said, and he took all of their cell phones. According to Flores-Solis, the defendant also pulled out his pistol and started asking people what “they” had done with his family.
“He started telling everyone that they were all rats — scumbags,” he said. “And where were the drugs was [sic] — the drugs that [Guerro believed] they had stolen.”
Najera kept telling Guerro that he didn’t know a thing, Flores-Solis said.
“And Rojo started to cry, and [Guerro] was telling Rojo to stop crying because Rojo was getting loud,” he said.
Najera kept yelling, and after Flores-Solis told him to be quiet, he said, Guerro pulled out the gun and shot him once in the torso.
Flores-Solis testified that he saw drugs at the scene, including an estimated two pounds of drugs in Guerro’s possession. He reiterated that Najera said he “didn’t know anything” and was just helping other people sell methamphetamine.
Hernandez-Ayala also testified that illegal drugs were a factor in any connection between the victim and the suspect, and said that someone brought drugs to Guerro at the scene.
Like Flores-Solis, he testified that Guerro grew angry and frustrated at Najera because the victim said he didn’t know anything.
“He turned and he shot him,” Hernandez-Ayala said.
About 20 minutes before the first shot was fired, Flores-Solis said, Guerro began to compare the drugs.
“He was kind of holding them and he was kind of breaking them in pieces,” he said.
When Hernandez-Ayala arrived at the scene, an argument was already under way, and Flores-Solis said that everyone but himself had been smoking methamphetamine shortly before the situation escalated.
After the first shot was fired, Flores-Solis said, Guerro hit Najera in the forehead with the gun’s grip.
By then, the woman was in Najera’s arms, telling Guerro to stop, he said.
“We didn’t know what to do after the first shot,” he said. “We were not expecting that; we all had our hands up.”
After Guerro allegedly shot Najera the first time, Flores-Solis said, the suspect demanded that the victim tell him the “truth,” while ordering him to stop yelling.
“He kept telling [Najera] to tell him where his family was,” he said. “That if he did, he was going to respect his life, and that’s when [the woman] told him not to do it, because Rojo didn’t know where [the] family was.”
Following the first shot, Flores-Solis said Najera was holding himself and appeared to be in “a lot” of pain.
“After he received the first shot, Rojo was looking at me the whole time, like asking me to help him,” he said. “And I was telling him that there was nothing I could do because I was in the same situation.”
Hernandez-Ayala said the victim just yelled.
“He was crying and telling us to help him, that he didn’t know anything,” he said.
Guerro kept demanding to know where his family was, and placed the gun at Najera’s forehead.
Although the woman told him to stop, Flores-Solis said, Guerro ultimately shot Najera a second time “without any mercy” in the forehead, and the victim fell to the floor.
Hernandez-Ayala testified that several minutes went by before Guerro fired the second shot.
After Guerro allegedly shot Najera, Flores-Solis said, the defendant started asking, “Where’s [the other man]? Where’s [the other man]?”
That individual tried to run away through the hallway to the trailer’s rear bedroom, and Flores-Solis said he stood in front of Guerro and said, “That’s enough; you’ve done enough.”
“[The other man] was a kid — very young,” he said.
SUSPECT ACCUSED OF ABDUCTING EYEWITNESSES
Guerro then grabbed Flores-Solis by the arm and pushed him, ordering him, Hernandez-Ayala and the woman to walk in front of him and get into a vehicle, which Hernandez-Ayala drove from the scene.
“I think I did what any man would do after a person was killed right in front of them,” Hernandez-Ayala said. “This person has got a weapon. What more could be done?”
At some point soon afterwards, Flores-Solis said, Guerro remembered the cell phones and drugs, so he told Hernandez-Ayala to turn around and go back to the scene. He said the defendant then ordered them to collect the items and stayed at the door watching Flores-Solis and Hernandez-Ayala as they retrieved them.
Hernandez-Ayala subsequently drove away from the scene, and while the car was still running, he made eye contact with Flores-Solis and slowed down. Flores-Solis then jumped out of the vehicle and ran off toward his father’s home.
“When I saw that Jaime got out, then I accelerated the truck,” Hernandez-Ayala said.
Flores-Solis said he did not call the police after he escaped because Guerro had allegedly threatened to kill his family members.
His father asked him why he was scared, and appeared not to believe Flores-Solis when he said he’d been exercising. Flores-Solis said he doesn’t know why he didn’t tell his father about the incident, adding that he was frightened.
“I didn’t want to put him in the situation I was in,” he said.
On the way to Flores-Solis’ home, he said, Guerro intercepted the car that he and his father were traveling in. By then, he said, his father realized that something was wrong, but at Guerro’s command, he drove the three men straight to the town of Green River.
As his father traveled north, Flores-Solis said, Guerro threw the cell phones away along U.S. Highway 191 near Canyonlands Field Airport. They continued on to the home of Flores-Solis’ uncle, where they stayed in the living room and Guerro allegedly threatened to kill the man, he said.
After his uncle left the home, Flores-Solis said, Guerro began to look through the man’s belongings and claimed that clothing he found actually belonged to his own family members.
All the while, he said, Guerro continued to use illegal drugs and went without sleep.
Eventually, he said, Guerro ordered him to call someone to “get him out of there,” so Flores-Solis called his cousin’s husband. When his in-law arrived at the home, Guerro ordered them to take him toward Las Vegas, he said; the in-law told them to just take the vehicle after they dropped him off at his house.
After they filled up the vehicle’s tank at a gas station in Green River, Flores-Solis said, they drove to St. George and Hurricane, and then on to Page, Arizona. In Page, he said, Guerro met with someone at a Mexican restaurant.
Flores-Solis testified that the suspect appeared to be in a panic and didn’t trust anyone.
“He thought that everyone was going to give him up to the police,” he said.
From Page, they drove on to Tuba City, where Guerro allegedly fired a shot inside the vehicle.
“He was saying that he was going crazy,” Flores-Solis said. “He was pointing the gun at us and, like, counting.”
At a certain point, Guerro stopped the truck and ordered Flores-Solis to get out of the vehicle, he said; the suspect allegedly pointed a gun at Flores-Solis’ head and then accused him of killing his family.
“I told him, ‘I don’t know you; I didn’t know your family,’” he said. “… I told him, ‘We got you out and you keep torturing us. If you’re going to kill us, just kill us.’”
Guerro got behind the wheel of the vehicle at one point and “started driving like a crazy man,” he said.
“He drove as fast as the truck would go,” he said. “The needle was all the way — all the way — to the end.”
While they were in Tuba City, Flores-Solis said, they met with individuals who gave Guerro weapons and a cell phone in exchange for drugs, and then sent him to another residence for “information” about Guerro’s family. It was at that home, he said, where Guerro picked up three juvenile strangers and said he would take them to a Halloween party.
Flores-Solis said he convinced Guerro to let the young children go, telling him that the Native Americans were obviously not his kids. When the children were released, Flores-Solis told someone that he and Hernandez-Ayala had been kidnapped, and asked them to call the police.
Later on in the evening, he said, authorities caught up with the vehicle and pursued it. By the time they finally stopped, he said, about 20 patrol vehicles were behind them; at some point, he testified, he saw Guerro throw out a gun that appeared to match the murder weapon.
Flores-Solis said that he and Hernandez-Ayala ran about 100 feet off to one side, in order to get away from Guerro.
“Jorge was all frightened,” he said. “I told him to stop, to not be so afraid — that everything was fine.”
PROSECUTOR OUTLINES CRIME SCENE OFFICER’S TESTIMONY
Langston said an officer who processed the crime scene would testify that during the process, she saw Najera’s body face-down on the floor with two apparent gunshot wounds — one through his left chest, and one through his left temple.
In further processing the scene, he said, the officer found a spent .40-caliber slug consistent with the angle of the first shot that was fired. Later on, Langston said, police found a second .40-caliber slug in the northwest corner of the room that was consistent with the second shot; they also located two spent bullet casings inside the room.
The officer would testify that the autopsy determined the cause of death was a gunshot wounds consistent with witness testimony.
When the suspect was finally apprehended, Langston said, a search of the general vicinity yielded a .40-caliber pistol consistent with the weapon that previous witnesses had described.
“It wasn’t in the vehicle; it was outside,” he said.
A spent .40-caliber casing was also found inside Guerro’s pocket when he was apprehended, Langston said.
Omar Guerro pleads ‘not guilty’ to first- and second-degree felonies