WILKES-BARRE — Jurors Thursday in the Adamis Arias homicide trial were instructed to ignore the testimony of a witness read to them from a paper transcript and instead listened to him when he appeared in the flesh to testify against the accused killer.
Rafael Santana-Nunez told the jury Arias, 22, fired first in a dispute over money that killed 19-year-old Angel Villalobos the night of Feb. 23, 2013, on West Maple Street in Hazleton.
Santana-Nunez, 25, also suffered a gunshot wound to the butt and said it came from one of two shots fired by Villalobos who was running from Arias.
The testimony was similar to what the jury heard Wednesday when Santana-Nunez was nowhere to be found and Luzerne County Judge David Lupas allowed prosecutors to use a transcript from Arias’ preliminary hearing more than a year ago.
It appeared that would be what jurors would have to rely on in their deliberations until Santana-Nunez turned himself at the county courthouse early Thursday. Handcuffed and shackled, sheriff’s deputies led him before Lupas, while the jury was not in the courtroom, for a contempt of court hearing.
Lupas, who had issued a warrant for his arrest Tuesday, delayed the start of the trial and appointed an interpreter and attorney Janan Tallo to represent Santana-Nunez for the hearing.
Tallo said Santana-Nunez does not read English and did not understand “the involuntary nature of the subpoena.” He has been staying at his mother’s house in Hazleton and once he learned of the warrant he turned himself in, she said.
Initially, assistant district attorneys Jill Matthews and Chester Dudick wanted the transcript to suffice for the testimony of Santana-Nunez. But defense attorney Allyson Kacmarski opposed, saying she wanted the transcript stricken, a mistrial declared and Santana-Nunez declared a hostile witness.
Lupas ordered Santana-Nunez to be held in sheriff’s custody and they escorted him to the county detectives’ offices in the courthouse basement.
When the attorneys returned to the juror-less courtroom at approximately 2:25 p.m., Lupas said he was prepared to rule on Kacmarski’s motions. But before he announced his ruling Dudick said, “The commonwealth intends on calling Rafael Santana-Nunez to testify.”
Lupas said he would order the transcript testimony stricken from the record and instruct the jurors to disregard it.
Dudick questioned Santana-Nunez about the night of shooting, and the witness often responded “Yes” during the 15-minute direct examination.
He said he heard Arias ask Villalobos, “Where’s my money?”
He testified that he saw a gun in Arias’ hand, but did not know what type. He said Villalobos “fell to the floor” after he was shot in the back by Arias. He said he heard but did not see Villalobos return fire.
He admitted he first did not identify Arias in photo line up shown him by police. He called them later to say Arias was in the second line of photos.
When pressed why he could not identify Arias the first time, he said, “Because I was afraid of what was going on. I really didn’t want to get involved in the situation.”
Kacmarski spent approximately an hour questioning Santana-Nunez and went over inconsistencies in his statements.
Again he responded “Yes” to many of her questions.
In his first written statement to police the night of the shooting he did not say Arias fired first. Nor did he say who first pulled out a gun. The preliminary hearing, nearly two months after the shooting, was the first time he said Villalobos was shot in the back, he acknowledged after being shown a transcript of the proceeding.
He said he was against a wall when Arias started shooting at Villalobos and later ran wounded from the scene.
“I was the victim who was shot by Angel, but I could have been the deceased person,” Santana-Nunez said.
The trial resumes today and is expected to conclude.