Sunday, February 18, 2007


Luis Alberto Salas-Juarez

A jury Tuesday found Luis Alberto Salas-Juarez guilty of murdering 23-year-old Butte Falls resident Mark Edwin Lunsford. Clad in T-shirts printed with Lunsford's picture, the victim's family and friends breathed audible sighs of relief when Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Ray White announced the verdict. Salas, 23, of Medford, also was convicted of attempting to murder 23-year-old Medford resident Lawrence Matthew Crowley in the same Aug. 13 street fight that claimed Lunsford.Jurors returned their unanimous decision at about 2 p.m. Tuesday, after more than five hours of deliberation that capped off the week-long trial. Salas' sentencing was put off until a later date, yet to be determined.

Salas' family said he is a victim of racism against Hispanics and that they planned to appeal the verdict. Their prayers in vain, two dozen relatives from Oregon, Washington and California joined hands, bowed their heads and fingered rosary beads while jurors pondered Salas' fate. After hearing the verdict, Salas' mother, Maria, collapsed into a chair outside the courtroom. Her nephew, 19-year-old Antonio Salas, fanned air over his aunt's face while Medford Police Chief Randy Schoen urged the group to leave the Justice Building.

"I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time," Salas, 23, told Medford Police Detective Terry Newell. "How the hell did they think I stabbed him ... I was never even close to him. Salas had no answer when police asked why Ricks and Tommy Lunsford chased him to 10th and Fir streets if he hadn't attacked Mark Lunsford. "They can say whatever," Salas said when confronted with the witnesses' statements.

Salas Prosecutor David Hoppe said he planned to argue for Oregon's mandatory penalty — life in prison with a minimum of 25 years before parole eligibility — despite a charge of illegally being in the country lodged Wednesday against Salas.

David Hoppe, the Jackson County deputy district attorney who prosecuted the case, read a letter from Lunsford's mom, Kelli Lunsford, at Friday's sentencing. "I cannot begin to explain how difficult it's been to lose my firstborn and at such a young age," she wrote. "I keep thinking he will walk in the door, but he won't." She wrote of the "emptiness in our world," that she, Lunsford's brother, sisters and toddler son must deal with every day, but feel especially strongly on holidays such as Mark's birthday and Christmas. She acknowledged that the Salas-Juarez family will experience a loss, too, but that it won't be the same. They still will be able to call, write and eventually be reunited if Salas is paroled. She closed her letter with a call for the maximum sentence for Salas. "It will bring us peace and closure and most of all, it will bring justice," she wrote.

Mark was married and was a father.

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