A Stephens County jury returned a guilty verdict and fixed punishment for a man from Mexico at life without parole after less than an hour of deliberation Friday following a week-long trial in a case dating back to 2016 in which Linda Salazar was murdered.
The case, which came before Stephens County District Judge Ken Graham this week, saw Baltazar Sanchez-Garcia, 30, who previously resided in Marlow and fled the country following Salazar’s killing, convicted of murder in the first degree with deliberate intent after he testified to slitting Salazar’s throat in court on Thursday. Sanchez-Garcia had previously entered a plea of not guilty.
Assistant District Attorney Cortnie Siess represented the State of Oklahoma and prosecuted the case. Sanchez-Garcia’s representation included court appointed Defense Attorney Ron Williams and Kelly Davis. A translator was present throughout the trial for Sanchez-Garcia, who speaks Spanish.
Jury selection for the case took all of Monday, May 3 and the case opened for trial Tuesday, May 4.
In the days leading up to Thursday, testimony came from numerous parties, including the law enforcement who responded on the case, the medical examiner, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation lab technicians and other key witnesses.
Testimony and evidence presented in the case showed Salazar’s throat was slit and she died on or around Nov. 5, 2016. Salazar was reported missing by a family member. Her body was found at the defendant’s residence near the intersection of Shamrock Road and McKinley Road in Marlow on Nov. 7, 2016.
Evidence and testimony showed Salazar was found face down in a barn-like structure on the residence. When she was rolled over, law enforcement discovered her throat had been slit left-of-center all the way to the right side.
The jury received evidence including video surveillance footage of the defendant in the victim’s car after her killing on Arapahoe Road. They also viewed the full video interview with the defendant and Stephens County Sheriff’s Office representatives on Jan. 22, 2020, the day Sanchez-Garcia arrived in Stephens County following his extradition from Mexico.
During the interview with law enforcement, the video shows a translator is present in the room.
Undersheriff Bobby Bowen interviewed the defendant first and the translator before the interview mirandized him in Spanish.
First, the defendant denied any wrong doing.
Later in the interview, Bill Perkins enters the room and takes over after Bowen has exited. After speaking with Sanchez-Garcia, eventually a confession comes out that he did slit Salazar’s throat. He also demonstrated to Perkins how he did it from behind the victim with his right hand.
During the interview, he said he was ready to pay for what he had done and to make amends.
The defendant testifies
Defendants have the right to testify in court if they so wish, but are subject to cross-examination from the State. They also have the right to remain silent.
On Thursday, Sanchez-Garcia decided to testify and took the stand. His interpreter stood beside him and translated between those asking questions and the defendant answering them.
Sanchez-Garcia’s counsel opened the defendant’s testimony by talking about his background. Williams eventually worked through the case and had Sanchez-Garcia walk him through what happened that day.
The defendant testified he went to work at El Campesino because he needed to pick up his check. He told Williams eventually Salazar called and said she was going to help him get insurance on his vehicle.
Through Williams’ line of questioning, Sanchez-Garcia testified about how after Salazar picked him up, and how they went back to the farm or residence on Shamrock he had been staying at. As Williams tried to work through what happened to Salazar that day, Sanchez-Garcia grew emotional leading up to the details of Salazar’s death. The court adjourned for a break to allow the defendant to collect himself.
After a 15 minute recess, Sanchez-Garcia returned to the stand, where he testified Salazar had told him he couldn’t see his child and that they began to fight.
He said Salazar continued saying these things and he eventually told her to be quiet but she held her ground “that she wasn’t going to let me see my daughter,” Sanchez-Garcia said.
He described how he went into the house from the barn, which took about a minute to walk between. He said she continued yelling at him, cursing at him and saying he’d always be alone.
Sanchez-Garcia testified to saying Salazar said she wouldn’t get back together with him and so he went into the home and took a small knife he had.
“She was continuing to yell at me from the door,” said Sanchez-Garcia through the interpreter. “I told her to be quiet and that I was fed up, I was fed up I wasn’t going to see my daughter.”
The defendant said Salazar walked back toward the barn and that he walked with her. He said he had the knife, not opened, and she didn’t see.
Sanchez-Garcia told Williams and the jury since Salazar kept yelling, he was getting angry. He said because he wasn’t legal he couldn’t see the daughter until she was 18, if the daughter even wanted to see him.
“And because of all of this, I couldn’t take it, she really bothered me,” he testified.
“And then?” Williams asked.
“I was tired of hearing her at the time and without thinking I opened the knife and I got close to her and gave her a slit in her neck,” he said.
Sanchez-Garcia told Williams there was blood and he got scared and he tried to get ahold of her. He said Salazar let herself down and he tried to pick her up and move her to the side.
When asked if she was still alive when he left, Sanchez-Garcia said “yes.”
When asked how long she was alive, he said: “I don’t know, I don’t know because I was scared. I cut her one time, maybe twice. I was scared. I was tired of her telling me I wasn’t going to see my daughter. I got scared and I got in (the) car and left.”
He confirmed the car was Salazar’s.
He also talked about how he changed and wadded up the shirt he was wearing and threw it out of the window onto the property along with the knife before he drove away.
During cross-examination by the State, Siess submitted evidence from Facebook messages between the defendant and a person he identified as his brother. In the messages, which are dated to take place in the two days before the victim was killed, Sanchez-Garcia said it would be better to be in Mexico than in America because here he would have to spend 40 or 50 years sleeping in jail.
In the messages, Sanchez-Garcia’s brother asked the defendant if he had killed, and at the time Sanchez-Garcia responded, “don’t get scared, hahaha” (translated from messages published in Spanish).
He told his brother in the messages he was scared because he would not be able to see his “baby or the sun.”
Siess asked Sanchez-Garcia if he had ever sought out a lawyer to help with his child and he said he came to the court to ask about how to see his child but they couldn’t do anything about it and that he also went to the police station. He said he never got a lawyer but said, “I’m from Mexico, I don’t know anything that goes on here.”
In reference to the Facebook messages, Sanchez-Garcia said the prison comments were about trouble he was in, in Texas because of a truck that belonged to him that he left with his friends. He said his friends put “something bad” in the truck and it was shot at which was why he was in trouble.
Sanchez-Garcia confirmed the messages were all sent before Salazar was killed. When asked if he intended to kill Salazar when those messages were sent, Sanchez-Garcia said, “no.”
During further questioning, Sanchez-Garcia was asked about how he met Salazar and when. He said they met at church but forgot when they met.
Previous testimony between Sanchez-Garcia and defense counsel showed Salazar and his relationship was “good” and “ok.” In questioning with Siess, he said the same before tension swept over the court.
“You’re only asking questions, I want to say how I feel inside,” Sanchez-Garcia said animatedly as the interpreter translated.
Siess responded, “You get to answer the questions and I get to ask them.”
Further questioning focused on how the cut to the neck actually happened.
As opposed to the interview with police, Sanchez-Garcia testified he cut Salazar’s throat from the front with his left hand instead of reaching around from behind her.
Later on in the cross-examination, Siess asked how Sanchez-Garcia made it from Tyler, Texas to Mexico. Through the translator, he said numerous times it was a friend and he didn’t know their name.
Siess asked the defendant if he didn’t know or didn’t want to tell her and in clear English, Sanchez-Garcia himself said, “I don’t want to tell you.”
He did testify to getting to Mexico on the very next day.
Further testimony also shows Sanchez-Garcia met another woman in Mexico and married. They have two children, though only one is biological to Sanchez-Garcia.
“You said in the interview you want to make amends, right?” Siess asked.
“Yes,” Sanchez-Garcia said.
“For what you did to Linda?” she asked.
A long pause took place before Sanchez-Garcia responded, “yes.”
“I want an opportunity to return to my country,” he said.
“To go to your family?” Siess asked.
“Not family, just my country,” Sanchez-Garcia said.
“Don’t you think Linda’s family wants to see her,” Siess asked as she motioned behind her to the front row where Salazar’s family sat.
“I know, I know,” Sanchez-Garcia said, “and I ask for forgiveness.”
Closing arguments and a verdict
Both parties rested on Thursday. Court dismissed and reconvened Friday morning when jurors were given their final instructions and both the State and the defense presented their closing arguments.
Siess began her closing arguments first and expressed to the jury the State had, beyond a reasonable doubt, proved the guilt of the defendant and that the killing was deliberate.
First, Siess pointed to the medical examiner’s report, which noted Salazar died of a homicide due to an incise wound.
“You saw photos of her lying on the ground,” Siess said to the jury. “You heard it from the defendant himself in the courtroom. You heard it from the defendant himself in the interview from January 2020… The body was found at the defendant’s residence. Her purse was there.”
Siess reminded the jury of evidence they were shown that included a shirt Sanchez-Garcia admitted to being his. The shirt, which was tested by OSBI, had blood on it that matched the blood profile of Salazar.
Siess also pointed to footage of the defendant driving Salazar’s car on Arapahoe Road in Marlow near 12:12 p.m.
As another burden of the State, Siess said she must prove that malice aforethought took place in the case. She said it was clear through a receipt showing Sanchez-Garcia purchased luggage on Oct. 26, 2016, several days before the murder of Salazar took place, that he had plans.
She also pointed to Facebook messages between the defendant and his brother just days before the murder in which three times, Sanchez-Garcia stated he would have to sleep 40 or 50 years in prison here if he stayed in America and that he would rather be in Mexico. At this time, Siess said Sanchez-Garcia didn’t mention the truck in Texas or it being shot at or being in trouble for these reasons.
“He went in the house and got the knife,” Siess said. “He intended to kill Linda well before she got to El Campesino. He got the knife, he kept it close and hidden from her. He chose to open the knife up and he sliced her throat. He intended to kill her.”
Siess said he did it because the defendant was mad at the victim. She said he testified to being offended and in an interview with police he said there was the threat of child support.
During her statement, Siess reminded the jurors the testimony from Sanchez-Garcia on Thursday did not match the confession or interview footage from the defendant with law enforcement on Jan. 22, 2020, which was played in court for the jury earlier in the week.
“He stands Bill Perkins up and shows how he committed a murder,” Siess said. “He said she slid down and he cut her a second time … He switched up, changed hands during testimony.”
Siess also recounted tense moments in cross-examination of the defendant on Thursday with the jury and said, “remember how the defendant acted when I was cross-examining him?”
“I think that’s extremely important in this case,” she said. “His demeanor was very telling.”
Before closing, Siess said killing Linda Salazar didn’t stop Sanchez-Garcia from moving on and having another family.
“Ladies and gentlemen, there’s no life left for Linda to live,” Siess said.
Siess said Sanchez-Garcia said he was ready to pay for his crime, so she asked the jury to return a verdict of guilty and sentence him to a life without parole.
The defense, during closing, spoke briefly about weaponizing children, a question about which he asked the jurors during the selection process.
Williams told the jury Sanchez-Garcia had repeatedly been told he wasn’t going to see his child again, that he was a lesser Mexican because he was illegal and that he could see his daughter when she was 18 if the daughter even wanted to see him. Williams also told the jury that the defendant had already barely seen his 18-month-old daughter and wasn’t aware of his rights and didn’t know what to do.
Williams said while the defendant took these repeated jabs as the victim yelled at him, he still managed to walk past a machete and a folding knife which were found in a vehicle and on the property and previously tested but excluded as weapons.
Williams then talked about Facebook messages between the defendant and his brother and asked the jury to not get lost in translation.
“Why were Linda’s shoes off?” Williams asked. “Why did the aunt … not find out that she was married before Linda’s husband shows up after she’s been murdered, killed?”
He asked the jury to take the option of life without parole off the table.
Following closing statements Friday morning, the jury adjourned just a few minutes past 11 a.m. They returned and delivered their verdict to the court around 11:52 a.m.: guilty with punishment fixed at life without parole.
The defense requested a pre-sentencing investigation, which is set for June 15, 2021. A sentencing date is set for June 27, 2021.
Sanchez-Garcia was remanded to the custody of the Stephens County Sheriff’s Office.