The first jury to be seated for a murder case in Grand County in at least 14 years rendered a mixed verdict in the trial of Omar Guerro Friday evening, May 31.
Jurors after about four hours of deliberations found Guerro, also known as Martin Armenta, guilty of killing Edgar Luna “Rojo” Nagera with the use of a firearm, guilty of one count of aggravated kidnapping and one count of being a prohibited possessor of a firearm.
He was found not guilty of two additional counts of kidnapping in a case rife with hardcore drug abuse, treachery, rivalry, violence, intrigue, a jailhouse snitch, and even a love triangle.
Nagera was shot twice in an execution-style killing either just before or after midnight on Oct. 28 inside an old singlewide trailer on Walnut Lane. As dawn broke four days later Guerro, along with Jaime Flores Solis and Jorge Hernandez Ayala, were arrested in Tuba City, Arizona following a lengthy pursuit.
Jurors over four days of testimony heard oftentimes riveting testimony about what led to the killing of “Rojo,” so nicknamed due to his red hair. They learned he was a drug addict and a low-level drug dealer, and that he was in the country illegally. They learned that others often abused him and that he had a violent relationship with his girlfriend.
At the end of testimony, they decided regardless of what or who he was, Nagera did not deserve to be shot execution style by a man likely hallucinating due to extreme methamphetamine use.
The Drug House
The faded red singlewide trailer in space No. 20 at 250 Walnut Lane was the gathering place for drug users – methamphetamine and heroin. On Oct. 28, about two pounds of meth was in the tiny house, along with several people who were drinking beer. Everybody, according to most witnesses, was smoking or shooting meth.
Eventually, Guerro’s attention turned to Rojo and Kevin Valencia, who was 19 last October and who now sits in the Grand Junction, Colorado, jail on first-degree felony drug charges.
Guerro accused them of stealing his meth – because his pound and a half and their half pound were packaged similarly – and, bizarrely, he accused them of harming his wife and children. He went so far as to accuse Rojo of dismembering their bodies and putting them “in the plumbing” at the trailer court, where he sometimes performed maintenance. According to testimony, nobody in Moab had ever seen Guerro’s family.
Hallucinations and paranoia are two of the hallmarks of meth use, particularly when it’s heavy. And make no mistake; everybody who was there that night was, by his or her own admission, an addict who used daily, based on testimony.
Pamela Ulmer, an assistant medical examiner for the State of Utah, said Rojo had a level of meth in his system that would have been lethal to a non-user.
Solis, Ayala and Rojo’s girlfriend, Breeanna Quinn, all testified that Guerro would not back off Rojo. He kept asking him to tell him about the drugs and about his family. He gathered everybody’s cell phones so they couldn’t call the police. The party had become decidedly miserable.
Rojo had no answers and it cost him his life.
Ulmer said the first shot entered the right side of Rojo’s chest and exited the left side before it went through his left arm. Witnesses said they thought it was a shoulder wound, but Ulmer said the bullet punctured Rojo’s left lung and would have been fatal without medical intervention.
Rojo cried, screamed and begged for help, beseeching anyone who was present to help him. Guerro mocked the injured man, calling him a woman for crying, and a dog, and that he would “respect his life” if he told him where his drugs and family were.
Rojo again said he had no idea what Guerro was talking about. The second shot was fired from about a foot away from Rojo’s head, said Ulmer, who told jurors the bullet entered his left temple and exited the right. Both spent bullets and casings were recovered at the scene.
According to witnesses, Guerro asked where Valencia was, because “he was next.” Valencia ran down the hall and locked himself in a bedroom. Before Guerro could kick down the door, Solis stood in front of him and told him “he had done enough.”
“Then get me out of here,” said Guerro, who witnesses said threatened Solis, Ayala and Quinn with the pistol in order to compel their assistance. They left the home and drove off in Ayala’s black Chevrolet Equinox. Guerro told them to return a few minutes later and ordered Solis to re-enter the trailer and retrieve the drugs and cell phones. He said he put all of the phones except his own in a small fanny pack-type bag, along with almost all of the drugs. He put his own phone in his pocket.
There was about half a pound left on a coffee table he neglected to retrieve. It was still there when law enforcement arrived soon afterwards.
They almost immediately ditched Ayala’s SUV, but not before Solis bolted from the vehicle. He said he ran to his father’s home near the Apache Motel on 400 East, but Guerro called him and told him if he didn’t come back he would harm his family.
Solis woke up his father and the pair drove to the Mormon Church on Locust Lane, where Guerro and Ayala were hiding. Quinn had escaped.
From there they drove to Green River, where a relative of Solis loaned them his Chevrolet Avalanche. The men drove to St. George and from there to Page, Arizona before ultimately driving to Tuba City, Arizona.
Guerro drove like a demon. Nobody slept throughout the ordeal. At one point, an angry Guerro fired a round from the Smith & Wesson through the windshield, just below the rearview mirror. They picked up a woman and drove around for a while. They traded drugs for another handgun.
When the Navajo Nation police began their pursuit, it was because somebody had reported three Hispanic men driving erratically and were harassing another female. They followed the Avalanche at speeds ranging from 40 to 80 mph. It wasn’t until a dispatcher advised officers that the men were wanted for questioning in a murder in Moab that the pursuit got serious. Solis’ relative had called Moab police and alerted them. Guerro’s photo was posted online.
It ended after Guerro failed to make the turn onto a dirt road and the engine overheated. The men bailed out of the vehicle with Guerro going one way and Solis and Ayala the other.
They jumped a fence and crossed railroad tracks before they were captured. Guerro was so exhausted he lay on the road.
Navajo Nation officer Garrick Joe testified he found a spent casing in Guerro’s pants pocket. Another officer testified he saw Guerro toss the weapon when the men fled on foot.
They were taken to jail in Flagstaff and were extradited to Moab a couple of weeks later.
It is somewhat unusual for murder defendants to testify, but defense attorney Steve Russell put Guerro on the stand to give his side of events. Guerro said he was new to Moab and not part of the clique. He said he had no money to buy a gun, drugs or anything else, and that Solis had done everything he was accused of doing. He also indicated there was friction between Ayala and Valencia, who were dating the same woman – a woman who was sick and in a back bedroom after ingesting heroin.
Solis was clearly not completely innocent. He beat up Rojo at least once – and perhaps many times. By his own admission, Solis testified he once beat up the victim because he kept half the proceeds from a vehicle he helped Solis sell.
Russell asked Solis if he was a member of a Mexican cartel, an allegation Solis hotly denied, accusing the attorney of deliberately putting his life in danger.
Jailhouse informant Justin Nelson testified Guerro confessed to the killing while the men were housed in the Grand County Jail. Nelson knew a lot about the shooting of Rojo, but his credibility took a hit once jurors learned that Nelson was also housed with Solis and Ayala on another tier.
An angry Quinn testified and while her story did not perfectly match the testimony of either Solis or Ayala, they all agreed on one key point: Guerro was the shooter and that he was upset over drugs and his missing family.
Ayala was the lone witness who apparently connected with the jury. He became emotional describing the killing, saying Rojo was his friend. “When I needed help the most, Rojo was always there. He opened his door to me.”
Guerro, Solis, Ayala and Rojo were all in the country illegally. Solis and Ayala are awaiting deportation. Solis, who has lived in Moab for 17 years, was last deported in September, but he was back in Moab that same month.
When asked why he was deported, he told Russell it was because he was an “illegal.” When Russell asked him how he got back into the country, Solis paused and said with a smirk, “Illegally.” The response elicited a small laugh in the gallery and among a handful of jurors.
Expert witnesses in addition to Ulmer testified that the spent bullets and casings found in Rojo’s home matched the gun Navajo Nation police officers found in the desert the day the men were arrested.
Guerro’s fingerprints were found on the gun’s magazine. He admitted on the stand to cleaning the weapon a couple of times; a stance prosecutor Brent Langston said was improbable. “Why would he clean someone else’s gun?”
One issue that raised alarms is the fact that Guerro was segregated from Solis and Ayala in the Grand County Jail, but Solis and Ayala were housed on the same tier and, as Russell pointed out, had seven months or so to “get their story straight.”
But Quinn and Valencia told stories that largely corroborated what the men had to say, and the physical evidence supported their testimony.
Russell in his closing argument told jurors they could believe the testimony of many against one, or one against many. They decided to believe the many – but only to a point.
Jurors agreed Guerro killed Rojo. They agreed he was obviously a prohibited possessor of a firearm based on his own testimony. They acquitted Guerro on the kidnapping charges against Solis and Quinn, the girlfriend, but, inexplicably, they convicted him for kidnapping Ayala.
Seventh District Judge Don Torgerson set a June 11 sentencing date. Solis and Ayala will remain as material witnesses in the Grand County Jail until then so they can participate in the hearing. Guerro faces decades behind bars.