DAYTON — Tears fell as the verdict was read Friday in the Columbia County Courthouse for a man charged with a 23-year-old murder and assault: guilty on all three counts: second-degree murder and first-degree assault, both with firearm enhancements, and second-degree unlawful firearm possession.
Benjamin Orozco, 44, was arrested in Mexico and extradited to Dayton in December 2016.
He was accused, along with former co-defendant David Delarosa, of shooting to death Lance Terry and injuring David Eaton on July 7, 1996, near downtown Dayton. Delarosa was granted immunity in 1996 in exchange for testifying for the state.
Orozco and Delarosa fled to Mexico after the shooting, according to court documents. Orozco claimed self-defense in this case.
Orozco’s trial, presided over by Walla Walla County Superior Court Judge Scott Wolfram, concluded Friday with Orozco taking the stand in his own defense. He told about his life, including his birth in Dayton, moving to Walla Walla where he graduated, and moving back to Dayton, where he was a migrant worker and encountered “racial issues” and “wasn’t treated fairly.”
He also said he hadn’t seen Terry or Eaton for a while and hadn’t spoken to them until the night he shot them.
The trial’s conclusion also included the verdicts, with family members on both sides shedding tears of relief and sadness. Jurors deliberated about an hour and 45 minutes before returning with their guilty verdicts.
Terry’s father, Ed Terry, said he was the family’s spokesman to media, and Terry’s mother, Sue Gallitan, who now lives in Kennewick, and others were present.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “I had trust in above and God, but any human though has moments of doubt.”
Ed Terry, now living in Oklahoma, said he finally got the call saying Orozco was located. Ed noted he’d hoped to see Orozco having a little remorse.
“I was disappointed in his demeanor,” he said. “I saw remorse in Delarosa.”
Terry’s other family members said the one thing they wished for couldn’t be done, bringing Terry back.
Orozco wasn’t allowed to speak to the media and his family could not be located after the verdict.
“My thoughts are with the Terry Family,” Columbia County Prosecutor Dale Slack wrote in an email. “I know this decision has been a long time coming, and that they have suffered through a lot of disappointments. I hope that the verdict can give them and Davey Eaton some sense of comfort, or at least closure.”
Orozco’s sentencing will take place following a pre-sentence investigation, which is common in more severe crimes, and should be completed in two or three weeks. His bail was revoked following the verdict.
Orozco testified earlier on Friday that he was “messing around with friends a family member” at a house party, the night of the shooting, when he and several others went to the mini mart to get more beer. The PDQ was crowded with people and cars, he said, and he waited by the car while an unnamed girl went inside to buy the beer.
A friend with them had gone toward the crowd, he said, but came running back with Terry following and yelling ethnic epithets and an insult aimed at Orozco.
Orozco said he didn’t respond, but felt uncomfortable while waiting for the fourth friend, who was the driver, to return. When they got back to the party Orozco said he decided to see what had happened at the mini mart and left, visiting friend Jose Acevedo’s home and a relative, who also lived nearby. He said he saw Delarosa and the car with Terry and Eaton in it, but he didn’t know it was them inside at that point. Then, he said Terry exited the car while it was in the street and Eaton aimed what he thought was a gun at him while sitting back in the car.
“I was just frozen at first,” Orozco said. “I screamed at David Delarosa … “We’re screwed (in Spanish). Lance charged at me and I pulled out my gun and started shooting … He grabbed his chest.”
Orozco said he rand down to the alley, where he saw a pickup truck, which almost hit him. He didn’t know it at the time, but Dolores Willis Thompson, testified on Wednesday she was driving with her husband back from Idaho, where they had gone to get supplies for the bar they used to own, Homeport Tavern. She later identified Orozco in two separate montages, according to deputies.
But Orozco said he was scared.
“I was running for my life,” he said. “I didn’t know who was behind me. I thought, that was it. I was done. I thought I was going to end up right there where I was standing.”
He said he continued running because he “wouldn’t get a fair trial” and thought people wouldn’t like him because he’d shot Eaton and Terry.
Orozco said he went to Idaho and various other places before deciding to go to Mexico.
When asked about his Benton County felony conviction and why he had a firearm, he said he “thought it was just another ticket,” so assumed he wasn’t restricted from having one.