A jury Friday evening convicted Gustavo Olivo-Tellez of second-degree murder for shooting Blanca Salas, his estranged wife and the mother of their son, in 2016, a verdict that angered family and friends of the victim.
Olivo-Tellez, who had been charged with first-degree murder, showed no reaction when the verdict was read, staring straight ahead as he stood between his two attorneys. At least one supporter of the victim gasped when the verdict was read. Another angrily cursed at him in Spanish, yelling “Maldita!” and shoving her finger at him twice before storming out.
Olivo-Tellez, 29, faces 16 to 48 years in prison when he is sentenced on April 30. The jury did not find that he shot Salas four times in the “heat of passion,” a mitigating factor that would have meant a much shorter prison sentence.
Still, Karla Salas, Blanca’s sister, and Corina Person Minniti, a close friend, said the verdict means Olivo-Tellez will eventually get out of prison and “walk away” from the murder.
“And Chula never will,” Karla Salas said, using her sister’s nickname, which is Spanish for beautiful.
Even if Olivo-Tellez receives the maximum sentence, it’s “nothing,” she said. “It doesn’t come close to what he took away. He took a precious life, and he’s not paying for what he did.”
His lawyers did not dispute that he shot Salas, who was 29 and a graduate of Aspen High School, on Oct. 7, 2016, inside her Spring Valley apartment. But they argued that it was not premeditated, a key factor for first-degree murder.
The jury of four women and eight men took about 10 hours to reach the verdict, one of four charges for which Olivo-Tellez could have been convicted. Along with first-degree murder, jurors could have found him guilty of manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.
The case hinged on whether the defendant killed Salas after premeditation or if he pulled the trigger in the “heat of passion” and in a methamphetamine-addled state that wouldn’t have allowed him to form the intent to kill her.
The defense said Olivo-Tellez was heavily using the drug and drinking large amounts of alcohol in the days leading up to the shooting. Dr. Dawn Obrecht, a board-certified expert in addiction, testified for the defense. She said Olivo-Tellez’s brain was acutely afflicted by the drug and alcohol, and had “sabotaged” his thinking.
According to her testimony and that of a psychologist employed by the state-run mental institution, he made statements involving paranoia and persecution — including believing that common screws in his ceiling were listening devices, that he was being followed and that his car’s brakes had been tampered with — and had unwarranted jealousy.
Because of that, he was carrying a gun with him when he went to Salas’ apartment that day, where they argued about whether she was having an affair, according to the defense’s theory, sparking him to suddenly shoot her in anger.
That also upset her friends and family.
“She would never do that, and everyone who knows her, and a lot of people in the valley know her, would” say the same, Minniti said, decrying how her friend was portrayed.
The district attorney’s office charged Olivo-Tellez with first-degree murder for numerous reasons, prosecutors said.
When he confessed the day after shooting Salas, he told investigators that he had planned to kill her starting four days prior; he had his then-girlfriend buy a box of bullets on the day of the murder; he placed their son into a hallway outside the home before confronting Salas; and he tried to hide evidence, including throwing the handgun he used, the box of bullets and his cell-phone battery into the Roaring Fork River — all of which points to him being sober and thinking rationally at the time he shot the victim, prosecutor Sarah Nordgaard told jurors.
“He acted in a methodical manner … with a purpose,” she said. “He thought Ms. Salas was ending the relationship so he ended her life.”
She, prosecutor Don Nottingham and District Attorney Jeff Cheney declined comment, as did defense attorneys Garth McCarty and Ryan Dawson.
The trial involved 11 days of testimony and evidence, some of it horrific. The jury was shown photos of the murder scene and Salas’ body. A juror who ended up being an alternate and sat in the gallery Friday was overheard saying they will be offered counseling.