Complications emerge in Las Vegas Strip bomb case
LAS VEGAS — Just off work, Willebaldo Dorantes Antonio entered a parking lot outside a Las Vegas Strip resort when he spotted what looked to be a plastic foam cup left thoughtlessly atop his car.
The 7-Eleven cup turned out to be a motion-activated homemade pipe bomb, rigged to explode when removed.
The powerful blast tore off the 24-year-old hot dog stand worker’s fingers, ripped a 12-inch hole in the roof of his 1995 Dodge Stratus and sent shrapnel flying across the Luxor hotel-casino’s parking structure. A piece of metal lodged in his brain, killing him. His girlfriend, who was with him, escaped uninjured.
The blast in May 2007 prompted fears at first of a Las Vegas terrorist attack, but prosecutors concluded the motive involved a jilted former boyfriend’s obsession with the mother of his child, and amounted to a simple case of revenge.
More than two years later, with opening statements expected as early as Wednesday, the case is proving as complicated as the intricately rigged explosive device that went off that morning.
Prosecutors say one of the defendants, Porfirio Duarte-Herrera, admits he built the bomb, but denies placing it on the victim’s car. The ex-boyfriend of the woman Dorrantes Antonio was with that morning, Omar Rueda-Denvers, acknowledges he was with Duarte-Herrera, but denies knowing anything about the bomb.
Police obtained detailed confessions from Duarte-Herrera, 29, of Nicaragua, and from Rueda-Denvers, before both men pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors have had to pare down the case to eliminate references to other bombings, deal with witnesses who’ve been deported as illegal immigrants, and fend off efforts to sever the trials of the two men.
And they acknowledge they don’t even know the real name and background of the jilted ex-boyfriend.
“The state has no real sense of who these defendants really are,” prosecutor David Stanton acknowledged during pretrial hearings. “Here we are on the eve of a capital jury trial, and we’re calling one of these defendants ‘Omar Rueda-Denvers.’”
The name belongs to a Panamanian businessman who called authorities to say he used to employ the man, Stanton said.
The man’s girlfriend, Caren Chali, told police he also used the name Alexander Perez. Jail records put his age as 33.
Chali witnessed the explosion and should be the key to the case. But jurors won’t meet her. Now 30, she is in federal Immigration and Customs Service custody pending deportation to Guatemala as an illegal immigrant. Instead, the prosecution plans to show her testimony videotaped in 2005.
Jurors also won’t hear from Duarte-Herrera’s brother, who owned a trailer where authorities say Duarte-Herrera cut open shotgun shells to obtain gunpowder for the bomb. Lawyers say the brother was deported to Nicaragua.
Charles Cano, a deputy special public defender, said Duarte-Herrera has two sisters in Nicaragua who would vouch for him, but U.S. authorities denied them visas.
Cano and Duarte-Herrera’s other court-appointed lawyer, Clark Patrick, are promising a courtroom battle with Rueda-Denvers’ defense team.
“We’re going to be pointing a finger and arguing about them,” Patrick said. “He’s going to be pointing the finger and arguing about us.”
One of Rueda-Denvers’ lawyers, Christopher Orem, argued that he should be able to tell the jury that the ex-boyfriend never intended to kill Dorantes Antonio, and that Duarte-Herrera was a serial bomber who spent years building and exploding increasingly complicated devices.
Duarte-Herrera told police he was responsible for several other bombs — one he said he detonated outside a Home Depot store on Halloween 2006, and another in the desert.
Duarte-Herrera initially was charged with the Home Depot bombing as part of the Luxor case. However, those charges were removed after a judge ruled that would prejudice the jury.
Orem maintains that although Rueda-Denvers drove with Duarte-Herrera to and from the pyramid-shaped Luxor’s parking structure, he did not know about the bomb. Duarte-Herrera acted on his own, the lawyer said, driven by an unspoken loyalty to Rueda-Denvers.
Patrick, who also sought a separate trial, protested that the jury is going to see two sides with “severe antagonistic defenses.”
“He’s going to … try to paint Mr. Duarte-Herrera as a serial bomber who does nothing but go around the city and setting bombs,” Patrick said.
“The jury is simply going to see the defense fighting each other,” Patrick added. “The state’s going to sit back and reap the benefits.”