Key witness in Fresno murder trial denies telling police her boyfriend is a killer

·3 min read

The girlfriend of Abel Echartea, who’s on trial for allegedly shooting a man to death in central Fresno, testified Wednesday she didn’t see the defendant commit the crime.

But Fresno County prosecutors say that’s not what she told Fresno police.

Rose Najera was the latest witness to take the stand Wednesday in the murder trial of Echartea, who’s accused of murdering Philip Ozuna at an apartment complex on Dec. 23, 2020.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Kelly Smith on Wednesday confronted Najera with several interviews she did with police where she named Echartea as the shooter.

Prosecutors believe Ozuna, 37, was killed after trying to intervene during a domestic dispute between Najera and Echartea.

Najera had sought the help of her lifelong friend Julia Sandoval and Sandoval’s boyfriend Ozuna after she and Echartea got into an argument over a broken tablet.

Najera testified Wednesday that she wanted a ride to her apartment at Fruit and Ashlan avenues. A neighbor told her Echartea was throwing her clothes and Christmas presents in the garbage bin.

When they arrived at Najera’s apartment, she and Sandoval began taking her clothes and gifts out of the garbage. A few moments later, Ozuna and Echartea confronted each other. Several shots were fired in rapid succession and Ozuna was found laying on the ground, bleeding, she testified.

In court, Smith reminded Najera that she told detectives that she saw Echartea shooting at someone in one of the hallways of the apartment building. And when police asked her if Echartea was the shooter, she answered, yes.

Detectives also discovered a Facebook post where Najera told a friend that her boyfriend killed Ozuna.

But under questioning by Smith, Najera denied the statements she made to police. At times while on the stand, she also claimed she didn’t remember what she told detectives.

Echartea’s defense attorney Antonio Alvarez further began to pull at the threads of her story. She admitted to lying to police because she was promised she would be able to be with her children.

She was even relocated by police to a new location out of concern for her safety. Najera is alleged to have told police Echartea had threatened her if she testified against him.

Alvarez asked her if Echartea threatened her. She said no.

Even after being relocated, Najera kept in close contact with Echartea. She testified that they spoke dozens of times over the course of several months.

They also traveled together to Indiana where Echartea was eventually arrested and returned to Fresno.

Asked if she ever saw Echartea with a gun. Najera replied she did not. She added that the only gun she saw the night of the murder was on Ozuna.

A surprised Smith asked her why she didn’t tell police Ozuna had a gun.

“Because they never asked me about Philip,” she said. “I tried to tell them but we never got into it.”

Najera testified that it appeared the police were only focused on Echartea.

“I told them (police) what they wanted to hear,” she said.

Testimony in the trial is scheduled to continue Thursday.