Employee ordered to stand trial in architect’s murderAround the City, Breaking News, Online Only, Top Highlights Wednesday, July 31st, 2013
BY NEAL PUTNAM
A judge Wednesday ordered a murder trial for an employee of architect Graham Downes who was beaten to death following a night of heavy drinking at a party at his Banker’s Hill home on April 19.
Higinio Soriano Salgado, 31, pleaded not guilty following a preliminary hearing conducted by San Diego Superior Court Judge John Einhorn. A trial date was set for Sept. 18. Salgado remains in jail on $3 million bail.
“There is probably cause, Mr. Salgado, that a murder was committed and you will be held to answer,” said Einhorn at the hearing’s conclusion.
Witnesses at the party testified almost everyone was drinking heavily, including Salgado and Downes, 56. A neighbor, Jeff Kunitz, testified he called 911 at 1:10 a.m. after hearing angry voices and seeing two men fighting on the sidewalk on W. Juniper Street.
A deputy medical examiner, Dr. Steven Campman, testified he saw between 17-21 injuries to the head and neck of Downes during the autopsy. There were bruises consistent with strangulation, fracture of the jawbone, and blunt force trauma to Downes, he said.
Attorney Jamahl Kersey argued the crime was not murder and said it was an employee “party environment” where “everybody is drinking.” Kersey said there was no malice or disregard for human life and unsuccessfully argued the charge be dropped.
“17-21 injuries. Blunt force trauma. That’s murder,” said Deputy District Attorney Amy Maund. “He was thinking about it, stewing about it. We believe this man committed murder.”
The judge said the number of wounds to Downes showed “this was not an accidental push. This was blunt force trauma to the head and neck.”
Witnesses said Salgado was overheard arguing with Downes about not hiring a former employee with whom Salgado had a disagreement. District Attorney investigator Scott Christie testified the former employee had advised Downes to fire Salgado.
Salgado worked for the Graham Downes Architecture firm as manager of rental property. The ex-employee told Christie that Salgado had taken property, specifically leather chairs which were missing. The ex-employee said he would be Salgado’s boss if Downes hired him back.
Bailey Bishop, the executive assistant to Downes, testified Tuesday Salgado raised his voice and was angry at Downes about the idea of the former worker returning to the firm. Another worker testified Downes told Salgado not to worry and that he would not hire the ex-worker back.
San Diego Police officer Eric Jones testified he arrived at 1:50 a.m. and found both Salgado and Downes lying face down on the sidewalk with Salgado’s arm over the architect. Jones said Downes had “severe trauma to his mouth. His jaw was locked open.”
Jones said Salgado was intoxicated and arrested him before an ambulance and took Downes to a hospital. Downes’ blood/alcohol level was .23, which is nearly three times the legal limit.
Downes died three days later without regaining consciousness. His design firm was started in 1994 and projects included the Tower 23 Hotel in Pacific Beach, Hard Rock Hotel San Diego, Palomar Hotel, and overhaul on the Tom Ham’s Lighthouse and Bali Hai on Harbor and Shelter Island respectively.
Downes represented the U.S. at the 1987 Rugby World Cup.
Salgado is a strong man with a weight of 320 pounds and a height of 5’5”, according to jail records.
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