DAYTON — The trial for a man charged with murder and assault in 1996 opened Tuesday amid heightened security at the Columbia County Courthouse.
Benjamin Orozco, 44, was arrested in Mexico and extradited to Dayton in December 2016 and has since been housed at the Washington State Penitentiary in lieu of $2 million bail.
He is 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 allegedly fled to Mexico after the shooting. He is claiming self-defense in this case.
Tuesday’s trial, presided over by Walla Walla County Superior Court Judge Scott Wolfram, started with a lengthy jury selection that whittled the pool from 82 to 12 jurors with two alternates. Jurors weren’t sequestered but were ordered not to talk about the case.
One juror, speaking up after defense attorney Jane Richards said she was concerned with having few Hispanic people in the jury pool, called the proceedings a “circus” and said he’d like to be released from serving.
“I have a strong opinion about the way this case is going,” he said. Other jurors accused Richards of “pulling the race card.” Richards later apologized to the seated jurors and asked them “not to take it out on” her or Orozco when deciding the case.
High-profile murder trials, relatively speaking, are rare in this small community. Extra security, such as turning on the rarely used courthouse metal detector, added guards, and Washington State Patrol troopers patrolling the area, has been added, Columbia County Sheriff Joe Helm said.
Just before 4 p.m., the state called its first witness to the stand, former Columbia County Deputy Don Davis, who responded to the scene when he heard gunshots while he was leaving the sheriff’s office for a meal break at 10:55 p.m. July 7, 1996.
Davis said he and Deputy Dale Preas got into their patrol vehicles, and went to the scene, near the Dayton Inn, which doesn’t exist now but was located on the corner of Main and Second streets. They couldn’t find suspects, but did find shooting victims.
“He (Terry) seemed to be in some sort of pain,” Davis said. “Like he had a stomach ache … It was chaotic at that time. We were helping set up a crime scene, others were helping the ambulance crew … I wasn’t there that long, I was called away.”
Davis said he and other deputies searched everywhere for guns, but couldn’t locate any.
Davis also said he went to the hospital three times after the shooting: Twice to visit David Eaton, who was shot in the hand and knee, “because he was being belligerent to hospital staff,” and to interview Eaton, and another time because someone said they had information, but they actually didn’t.
When asked whether a witness had identified Orozco and Delarosa, Davis said, “yes.” He said he presented the person with two photo montages, one for each defendant, from which they chose the suspects.