Eric Salone – a Navy sailor – is going to get away with shooting Brian Mendiola in the leg the evening of October 15, 2020 because the attorney general let the wrong man go. That is the essence of the defense Nicholas Moore will mount in his trial for the aggravated assault and terrorizing of Mr. Mendiola.
Seven men and nine women composing the 12 jurors and four alternate jurors Monday heard opening statements from prosecutor Grant Olan and defense attorney David Lujan. The lawyers portrayed what appears to be a trial that will be complicated by questionable forensic evidence, and testimonies that will conflict about who did what and when leading up to, during, and following the Agana Heights shooting.
Mr. Olan, in his opening statement, described the incident as “A drug deal gone bad.”
“Nick Moore paid to buy drugs,” Mr. Olan said. “His seller, Curtis Garrido, took off with the money. So Nick decided he wanted street justice.”
Mr. Olan said Moore drove his black truck with a passenger – Eric Salone – and that the pair drove through Agana Heights to chase Garrido to a house. “Nick and Eric chased Curtis,” he told the jury.” He told jurors that both Moore and Salone were carrying guns that Moore owned, but were not legally registered; and when they caught up with Curtis Garrido, they shot at him.
“They didn’t hit Curtis,” Mr. Olan said. “They hit his friend, Brian Mendiola.”
And that is where the reasonable doubt for the defense begins. While Nicholas Moore is the man standing trial for shooting Mr. Mendiola, even the prosecutor did not differentiate between Moore and Salone who the actual shooter was.
Mr. Lujan picked up on the glaring hole in the government’s case, and for three hours took the jury through the crime, the handling of evidence following the crime, and the testimonies of witnesses who told authorities Salone, and not Moore, was the actual shooter.
“You don’t see him here, because he cut a sweet deal with the government!” Mr. Lujan exclaimed to the jury about Salone’s absence at the defense table.
Salone initially was indicted with Moore earlier this year for shooting Mr. Mendiola on October 15, 2020. By June, Salone was removed from standing trial. He has signed a deferred plea agreement that, in summary, trades his testimony against Moore for his freedom.
Mr. Lujan told the jury the government either has been duped, or allowed itself to be duped for whatever motive there may be, because all the testimony and reliable forensic evidence points to Mr. Salone as the shooter.
“Not a single person will testify that Nicholas Moore has a 38-caliber pistol and used it that night,” Mr. Lujan told the jury. It was a 38-caliber bullet that supposedly was removed from Mr. Mendiola’s leg the afternoon following the shooting. Mr. Lujan raised doubts about the bullet itself, as a hospital error led to a failure to turn the bullet over to the Guam Police Department for a month after it was removed from Mendiola’s leg.
“You will not hear a single person say that Nicholas Moore shot Brian Mendiola,” Mr. Lujan exclaimed. “But you will hear Salone say it. You have a right to question Salone’s motive for testifying. Salone is going to get a free pass. He’s not going to go to jail. He will not spend a single day in jail.”
“Curtis Garrido said this is the man who shot Mendiola,” Mr. Lujan said, referring to Salone. “Curtis Garrido on that night said it wasn’t Nick, it was Eric who shot Brian Mendiola.”
Even the prosecutor, Mr. Olan, in his opening statements had to admit that witnesses to the crime changed their stories. He rationalized that these witnesses – his witnesses – are or were drug users with criminal histories and did not trust the police.
One of these witnesses was Mr. Mendiola himself, who when first interviewed said Moore shot him. He then recanted, and told police in a later interview that from his vantage point, he could not clearly make out who shot him.
“Brian initially said it was Nick, but then several times after said he had to go with what Curtis said because Curtis was in a better position to see who fired the pistol,” Mr. Lujan told jurors.
“The evidence will show that Curtis Garrido said, ‘I saw Nick with both his hands on that steering wheel,'” Mr. Lujan told the jurors, asking how Moore could have shot a pistol with both his hands on the steering wheel.
“Don’t fall for these distractions,” Mr. Olan warned the jury.
Mr. Olan will call his first witness, who he did not name, at 10 a.m. Tuesday.