Convicted killer accused of murdering former death row inmate goes on trial in Wash. state
Police said the killer used a makeshift knife in a prison shower attack, leaving behind a gruesome scene
By Jeremy Burnham
Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Wash.
WALLA WALLA, Wa. — A murder trial began Tuesday, April 18, in Walla Walla County Superior Court with an unusual set of facts — both the defendant and the victim already are convicted killers.
A Washington State Penitentiary inmate is accused of murdering former death row inmate Dayva Cross.
Ecarnacion Salas is charged with second-degree murder and is accused of killing Cross in the shower at the WSP on March 13, 2022.
Salas is serving a 20-year prison sentence for a 2019 conviction for murdering Jesus Cardenas Lopez in Snohomish County in 2014.
Cross, meanwhile, was serving a life sentence after his death sentence was commuted after the Washington State Supreme Court deemed the state's use of the death penalty unconstitutional in 2018.
Cross was convicted in 1999 of murdering his wife and two stepdaughters, ages 18 and 15.
The details of the case are gruesome. Cross' body was found cut open and some organs removed.
Police said the killer used a makeshift knife in the attack.
Salas' case has been filled with irregularities up to — and including — the first day of trial.
Salas is defending himself and has opted for a bench trial, forgoing a jury trial and placing himself in the hands of Walla Walla County Superior Court Judge Brandon L. Johnson.
Through the first day of the trial, Salas has hardly asked any witnesses any questions and has only objected to his opponent's questioning once.
Rachal Cortez, a Walla Walla defense attorney who Johnson assigned as standby counsel for Salas just days earlier, interrupted opening statements to ask that Salas be declared incompetent and that the trial be stopped.
Part of her argument was that Salas kept arguing the same point over and over after the judge ruled against him. The argument was first made at a hearing last week.
On Friday, April 14, at a status hearing, Salas motioned for the case to be dismissed, arguing that he did not have his arraignment on time.
He was charged with the crime on Dec. 23, 2022, and arraigned on Jan. 23, 2023.
State law requires most defendants to arraigned within 14 days of being charged. However, there is an exception.
For defendants who are not arrested or held in jail, but are instead summoned to court, the 14-day timer doesn't start until their first court appearance.
Salas was not being held on his new charge at the time. He was being held in prison on his past conviction. Therefore, the out-of-custody exception applied.
Salas' first appearance was on Jan. 23, the same day of his arraignment.
Salas spent almost an hour of the status hearing arguing that point — and citing the wrong law — despite Johnson explaining the exception to him several times.
On Tuesday, when Johnson asked Salas and Walla Walla County Prosecuting Attorney Gabe Acosta whether they had any last pre-trial issues to raise before the trial began, Salas again brought up his arraignment date and asked that the charges against him be dropped.
Again, Johnson explained that his arraignment was within the allowable time range.
When it was time for Salas' opening argument, he immediately went back to the same arraignment argument, prompting Cortez's objection.
Johnson ruled that Salas returning to the same issue many times was not enough for him to be deemed incompetent and the trial resumed.
Another oddity to the trial is that the defendant was in chains.
For the trial, Salas' legs are shackled together, and his left arm is cuffed to his table. His right arm is free so he can take notes and drink water. Normally this is not done in front of a jury because it might prejudice its members. Chains are not a concern in a bench trial.
After extremely brief opening statements by both sides, A WSP correctional officer testified that he was stationed in a booth observing inmates shower the day of Cross' death. He saw blood coming from the showers and called for floor officers to respond.
Salas' only question to the officer was whether he was still working at the prison.
Another correctional officer, William Hale, testified that he received notification that something was happening in the shower and that his assistance was needed.
When he arrived at the showers, he found Cross lying on the floor.
He said when he looked closer, he saw the Cross was hurt and had "his insides taken out."
Acosta then showed several photos, including photos of the victim's mutilated, blood covered body taken after it was found.
Hale testified that he did not attempt any life-saving measures because the victim's needs were far greater than the guards' ability to provide care.
Salas did not question Hale.
Ellis Erikson, a WSP correctional sergeant, testified that after the body was found and inmates were being returned to their cells, it was noticed that Salas had cut himself.
Salas did not question Erikson either.
Medical examiner J. Matthew Lacy said the victim's body was cut open and provided additional details about Cross' death. He said he ruled the cause of death to be blunt force trauma to the torso.
Again, the witness was not cross-examined.
Salas asked the next witness, another corrections officer, a single question: "You filed a report?"
Detective Marcus Goodwater of the Walla Walla Police Department found the weapon used in the crime in the shower stall with Cross' body.
He said it was "what I would describe as a shank. A makeshift knife, a cutting weapon."
Salas only asked Goodwater what department he worked for.
The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Wednesday, April 19.
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