Jury hears from Glenwood murder defendant’s ex-girlfriend

Thomas Phippen
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Then 3-year old Layton Salas, center, and Blanca Judith-Salas, left, at a domestic violence awareness vigil held in Centennial Park in 2016 following the slaying that October of Blanca Salas-Jurado south of Glenwood Springs.The vigil was put together by The Advocate Safehouse Project for National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and was an opportunity to help the community, survivors of domestic violence and their families heal.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent file

A Garfield County jury heard testimony of key witnesses Tuesday during the trial related to Blanca Salas-Jurado’s death, as prosecutors presented their evidence against her estranged husband and accused murderer, 29-year-old Gustavo Olivo-Tellez.

During her testimony, co-defendant Michelle Castillo, 26, said she has obtained legal counsel to get back into court and withdraw her guilty plea to accessory murder for Salas’ death.

Castillo’s testimony began late Monday and had not been completed when the trial adjourned for the day Tuesday evening.

Castillo pleaded guilty to accessory murder in December 2017. She appeared in court in custody, as she is serving a 16-year sentence with the Colorado Department of Corrections.

During cross-examination from Olivo-Tellez’ principal defense attorney, Garth McCarty, Castillo said she believed the charges weren’t properly explained.

Castillo was initially charged with accessory murder after being arrested with Olivo-Tellez. At a spring 2017 meeting where prosecutors offered her a plea deal in exchange for cooperation, law enforcement believed the information Castillo provided was “not credible,” according to court filings from the case. That plea deal was withdrawn and Castillo was charged as an accomplice in April 2017, before eventually pleading guilty to the original charge.

“Is it fair to say your purpose is to get back to court and withdraw your guilty plea?” McCarty asked Tuesday.

“Correct,” Salas said.

Castillo said she was a girlfriend of Olivo-Tellez from 2015 to late February 2016.

After they were no longer in a committed relationship, they still saw each other and occasionally had sex, including in the Grand Junction hotel where the two stayed the evening after Salas’ death Oct. 7, 2016.

Castillo picked up Olivo-Tellez from Denver Oct. 7 and drove him to Glenwood Springs. She purchased a box of 9 mm bullets in Denver, after Olivo-Tellez asked her if she wanted to go shooting with his gun, she said. Target practice was a common activity for them, she said.

She said she always bought the bullets for the gun because Olivo-Tellez did not have valid identification.

Prosecutors intend to prove that Olivo-Tellez planned to kill Salas as much as five days prior to her death. The defense argues that Olivo-Tellez acted in the heat of passion, fueled by psychosis from methamphetamine, and therefore the shooting was not carried out “after deliberation,” a stipulation of first-degree murder.

Castillo said during Deputy District Attorney Donald Nottingham’s questioning that she had never seen Olivo-Tellez take methamphetamine. She said she was once at a party, where Olivo-Tellez was supposed to meet her, and saw people taking some kind of drug, perhaps methamphetamine crystals, through a cut-off soda can.

When Olivo-Tellez arrived, he removed her from the scene, in what she said was a protective act.

Castillo said during cross examination that some friends had told her Olivo-Tellez was taking drugs beyond alcohol and nicotine.

Castillo’s apparently misleading statements to law enforcement were an issue throughout her testimony.

According to Castillo’s testimony in court, she did not realize Salas was dead until police questioned her the day after Salas’ death, after Castillo and Olivo-Tellez were arrested. At first, police told her that Olivo-Tellez was wanted for a domestic violence issue.

Olivo-Tellez had told Castillo that Salas was dead during the night, but when police mentioned domestic violence the following morning, she assumed he had been mistaken about Salas’ death, and did not want to make anything worse, she said.

After police told her that Salas was dead, she told law enforcement what Olivo-Tellez had said to her. At one point during the night, Olivo-Tellez, in Spanish, made a statement about no one crossing him.

The exact wording is unclear, but Castillo said it was along the lines of “no one makes fun of me, no one cheats on me and gets a way with it, kind of stuff,” she said on the witness stand.

Defense attorneys said during opening statements Monday that Salas was shot after Olivo-Tellez confronted her about an alleged betrayal.

Both the perceived betrayal and Olivo-Tellez’s response were part of his psychosis from meth and alcohol use, McCarty said. According to the defense team, Salas may have criticized Olivo-Tellez’s manhood prior to the shooting, saying he was “half a man” due to complications from testicular cancer.

McCarty asked Castillo whether Castillo was aware of Olivo-Tellez’s sensitivity about his surgery. Castillo said Olivo-Tellez was uncomfortable about it, and wanted to be intimate only with the lights off at first, but later became more comfortable.

When asked if she thought the deformity made Olivo-Tellez feel like he was less of a man, Castillo agreed. She said he became more comfortable as their relationship continued.

Castillo’s testimony is scheduled to continue Wednesday morning.