A Grand County jury convicted a man of murder in the Seventh District Court in Moab on Friday, May 31, for the death of a local man shot execution-style in his home.
Authorities found Edgar Luna Najera, 30, dead inside his Walnut Lane trailer on Oct. 28 after suffering two gunshot wounds.
Witnesses who identified the suspect as Omar Guerro said Najera was shot in the forehead. Prosecutors said the evidence collected by authorities investigating Najera’s death corroborated witness statements and testimony made during the four-day trial from May 28-31.
The eight-person jury, comprised of five women and three men, unanimously found Guerro guilty of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping of one of the witnesses, also a first-degree felony, and “restricted person in possession of firearm,” a second-degree felony.
Guerro, who was referred to as “Martin” during the trial and who is also known as Martin Armento Verduzco Lopez and Irving Martin Verduzco Armento, will face sentencing on the charges at 9 a.m. on June 11. Seventh District Court Judge Don Torgerson is presiding over the case.
The four-day trial had court testimony from law enforcement, witnesses and stacks of evidentiary material including an image of a fingerprint of Guerro’s lifted from the magazine of a firearm recovered during the investigation.
In closing arguments on May 31, Grand County special prosecutor Brent Langston said the bullet casings investigators found in Najera’s trailer were consistent with the trajectory of where the shots were fired from that struck Najera. There was evidence of a one to two minute delay between when the first shot was fired and the second shot, indicated by bleeding in Najera’s lungs found by the medical examiner.
“… the victim was begging for his life,” Langston said of Najera in the one or two minutes between when the first and second shots were fired. Witnesses testified that “… Omar called him a dog,” Langston reiterated to the jury.
The jurors listened to Langston’s closing arguments with frowns and raised eyebrows as several of them took handwritten notes.
“The defendant would have you believe he did nothing but stand by,” Langston told the jurors about Guerro’s testimony.
In his testimony, spoken through Spanish-speaking interpreters present in the courtroom, Guerro answered questions about his involvement in Moab and with the witnesses and victim — testimony that indicated that he did a lot more than “stand by.”
Guerro admitted at trial that he smoked methamphetamine and was in possession of the firearm that was later recovered, although he denied ownership of the weapon.
At a preliminary hearing on the case reported by the Moab Sun News on Jan. 31, three witnesses stated separately yet consistently that they saw Guerro 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. In court testimony, Guerro was described as someone who appeared to be in the grips of methamphetamine-fueled paranoia and rage. Witnesses said there were about 2 pounds of methamphetamine in Najera’s trailer shortly before he was shot.
After Najera was fatally shot, Guerro and several witnesses quickly left Moab and spent several days traveling through Utah and northern Arizona.
Guerro and two other male suspects/witnesses to the murder remained at large until Oct. 30, 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 after a 100-mile pursuit.
Guerro was questioned at trial by his defense attorney Steve Russell. Guerro told Russell that he had been driving the vehicle during the pursuit.
“Were you guys imbibing in meth throughout the trip?” Russell asked, clarifying that by saying “you guys” he meant Guerro and the two other men apprehended in northern Arizona.
“Of course, sir,” Guerro responded. “To be able to stay awake for that long of a period of time, anybody that tells you that they’re not smoking to stay awake for days and those many hours is lying.”
At some point, the vehicle ran out of gas and broke down, and with the police behind them, Guerro and the two men, identified as Jaime Flores-Solis and Jorge Hernandez-Ayala, exited the vehicle and ran.
Russell asked Guerro why he ran.
“Well, sir, I had already seen my picture that I was being accused of being the killer and so I didn’t want to be caught,” Guerro said. He described how he and Solis and Ayala jumped over a wire fence near railroad tracks.
“And that’s where I lost them,” Guerro said. “I don’t know if they kept on running or hid. I don’t know, I continued running forward. And in fact, there was a point when I couldn’t keep running because I was very dehydrated because we had been using meth and meth dehydrates you. And that’s when they found me, like, laying on the ground.”
“And that was the end of that, right?” Russell said.
“Yes, sir,” Guerro responded.
Langston’s closing arguments asked the jurors to consider what would be “reasonable.”
“What would a reasonable person do?” Langston said. “If he had not done anything, why would he get in and go in the car with them? … Does it make sense he would flee and lead [law enforcement] on a chase? … In the light of human experience … is what he did reasonable if he’s innocent?”
Langston said Guerro, along with Solis and Ayala, were all involved “in the drug trade,” and are in the U.S. “illegally.”
In defense, Russell said Guerro didn’t tell law enforcement about the murder and instead fled, and ran from law enforcement during the pursuit, because he feared deportation, not because he was guilty of murder.
Langston said Guerro had been deported once before for “attempted possession of a firearm.”
“You knew that it was illegal for you to possess a firearm being a restricted person in the United States?” Langston asked.
“Yes, sir, but I’ve never owned it, I only cleaned it,” Guerro said.
“I didn’t ask you if you owned it, I asked you if you possessed it, and you admitted to possessing it, correct?” Langston said.
“Yes,” Guerro said.
Nearing the end of his questioning, Langston asked Guerro if he wanted the jury to believe that the witnesses to the murder were lying.
“Why wouldn’t they? They’re part of the same circle,” Guerro said.
“You have a lot riding on this, don’t you?” Langston said.
“Of course, yes sir,” Guerro said.
“You have a great motive to lie, don’t you?” Langston said.
“I believe that people are intelligent enough to figure out when a person is lying and when a person is not,” Guerro said.
“You don’t feel bad that Rojo was killed, did you?” Langston said.
“I didn’t even know the guy,” Guerro responded.
“You saw him killed right in front of you, didn’t you?” Langston said.
“Yes,” Guerro said.
“In fact, you did it?” Langston said.
“Why would I? I didn’t even know the guy,” Guerro said.
The jury, following directions from Torgerson, went into deliberation that lasted throughout the evening before returning with their verdict. The jury found Guerro not guilty on two charges of aggravated kidnapping for two of the other witnesses to the murder.