To a casual observer, the evidence was overwhelming and damning: Surveillance cameras at multiple locations showed Ernesto Reyes as he stalked his victim, Melanie Goodwin, and then coldly went about the grisly work of disposing of her body. But for the defense, the 90 minutes that Reyes was not on tape provided critical room for reasonable doubt.
Fearing a blistering cross examination, Reyes' attorneys did not allow him to testify in front of the jury. Instead, they relied on a Spanish-language TV interview that was shown in court that in effect let Reyes tell his tale without a prosecutor to challenge him directly.
Reyes' defense was a standard case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He claimed that his friend, Donovan Young, was the actual killer.
"I never wanted to be a killer. I was just there in the wrong place, hanging with the wrong people," he said in the interview.
A key witness at the trial, Young admitted that Reyes came to his apartment about 3 a.m. on the night of Melanie Goodwin's murder. Shockingly, Young also testified that Reyes led him to the parking lot and showed him Goodwin's body, her underwear slightly pulled down, in the back seat of the red Saturn.
"I seen her eyes were open. When I looked in the back seat. He said he killed someone. It looked like a dead person," he told the jury.
Unfazed at the site of Goodwin's lifeless body, Young did not stop to call the police or get assistance. Instead, he helped Reyes cover up the gruesome crime, lending him money and a gas can before returning to sleep in his apartment. "He said he needed some gas, he said he needed a few dollars," Young told the jury.
Young's cold-hearted testimony left an opening for Reyes and his attorneys, who saw this unsympathetic character as their scapegoat.
Click HERE for a slide show of Melanie Goodwin's life.
While Reyes did admit to following Goodwin at the convenience store, his account of what happened in her car contrasted starkly with that of the prosecution.
"I asked for a ride, and she said to me, 'Where are you going?' And I told her, 'To my friend's house.' And she said, 'Yes.'"
According to Reyes, Goodwin approach him and asked for drugs. Reyes said he instructed her to drive to Young's house. He got in the back seat while Goodwin and Young sat in the front seat sharing marijuana and pills.
At this point, Reyes claimed that things turned ugly, but provided scant details in his interview.
"I don't know how it happened, the fight, I didn't know if he was hitting her or messing with her. Then I started getting scared. You could see that she was not OK and then I asked, 'What happened?' And then when I said, 'I am going to leave,' this guy pulled a gun on me, a black pistol. I am not guilty, this guy is the one who killed her," he claimed.
Reyes did admit that he disposed of Goodwin's body, dragging it from her car then setting it ablaze. Again, he pinned the blame on Young.
"He said to me, 'Put gasoline on her,' and I said to him, 'No.' And he told me laughing, laughing, 'You do it, you do it.' So I did it," Reyes testified, also claiming that Young threatened him with a gun.