LAWRENCE – Quiet and shy with two young children, Amaralis Roldan didn’t go out much. But on Sept. 6, 2010, on Labor Day weekend, she went to the La Guira nightclub with her sister, cousin and another girlfriend.
The four stood together near a back wall in the packed Broadway nightclub listening to music. Suddenly, they heard what they thought were balloons popping. Aida Roldan said she felt “heat” rush by her ear and then her older sister, Amarilis, told her to get down.
“All I heard was my sister saying ‘throw yourself on the floor,’” Aida Roldon testified yesterday.
Aida Roldan, 24, survived the La Guira nightclub shooting after taking cover under a table and then sprinting out of the club. But her sister Amarilis, the mother of a 1 and 3-year-old, did not. Aida burst into tears yesterday as jurors were shown a smiling picture of her sister on a projection screen in the courtroom. Amarilis Roldan was 24 when she was killed at La Guira.
Johan Saint Clair, 32, is accused of the first-degree murder of both Roldan, of Dorchester, and Juan Esteban Suaza-Soto, 34, of Hyde Park. He was allegedly armed with a semi-automatic handgun when he opened fire into a crowd of 200 people gathered at La Guira at midnight. Prosecutor James Gubitose described the killings as deliberate and premeditated.
Saint Clair is also charged with wounding Valerie Verdejo and Jose Luis Medrano Baez and illegally carrying the semi-automatic handgun.
The trial, which is expected to last two weeks, opened yesterday in Lawrence Superior Court after two days of jury selection.
Aida Roldan and several others who were at La Guira that night testified about the chaotic scene that erupted in the crowded club after shots were fired. The six men and eight women on the jury were shown a series of photos of the club, some which included pools of blood and medical debris left by paramedics on the floor. Another photo showed Suazo-Soto lying dead on his back in the nightclub. A visibly shaken woman, who was sitting in the courtroom gallery, got up and left when the picture flashed up on the projection screen.
In his opening argument yesterday, Gubitose said Saint Clair was a drug dealer exacting revenge against “joloperros,” a Lawrence kidnapping gang that ties up, tortures and steals from drug dealers, when he started shooting at La Guira that night. Saint Clair was a previous joloperro victim, he said.
“The defendant is one of those people. The defendant sold drugs,” Gubitose said, during his opening argument yesterday. “Those worlds collided that night at the La Guira restaurant.”
Saint Clair’s DNA was found on the bullets that ripped through people’s bodies and his thumbprint was found on a gun’s magazine, Gubitose said. And, the prosecutor told jurors, “you will hear in his own words how he told others he did this.”
But Saint Clair’s defense attorney, Russell Sobelman of Lynn, said the prosecutor’s motive in this case is “inaccurate.” He told jurors they would learn more about the Spanish word “joloperro,” which means thief. Saint Clair intends to testify and Sobelman urged the jurors to pay attention to physical evidence presented and eye witness testimony.
Saint Clair’s DNA and fingerprints were on the gun, Sobelman noted, “but not on the trigger.” He also said police gave him a gun powder residue test immediately after the shooting which came back negative. “He had no gun powder on his hands or his clothing or anything,” he said.
Also, he noted, a prosecution witness testifying against Saint Clair, a fellow Middleton Jail inmate who is now in federal custody, was promised “good things” in return for his testimony. By trial’s end, jurors will realize “they are accusing the wrong guy,” Sobelman said.
State police crime scene analyst Erik Koester was the first prosecution witness. He explained various photos that were taken, where blood was found and how spent projectiles and casings were recovered.
Lawrence police Officer Joseph Padellaro testified he was the first officer to arrive at La Guira that night and that “the place was trashed.” The first person he saw was a man who suffered facial injuries and was bleeding. Another man was on the ground and three women were being treated by paramedics. One woman, believed to be Amarilis Roldan, “was lying on her back. It appeared blood was coming from the back of her head,” he said.
Aida Roldan said after the shooting, she lost track of her sister and tried to find her when she got outside. “I kept calling my sister and she didn’t answer,” Aida said.
Benito Serrano, the La Guira DJ, said he saw what looked “like fire” and an armed man “with his finger on the trigger.” He did not see the man’s face, however, he said.
Verdejo, 36, a La Guira waitress who was shot twice, said she saw people running so she threw herself on the floor. She didn’t immediately realize she was shot either. “I said my legs were hurt. When they took off my skirt, they could see the wounds.”
The gunshots went through the top of both of Verdejo’s thighs, slicing right through her flesh and exiting, she explained.
Charged with two counts of first degree murder, Saint Clair faces life in prison without the possibility of parole if convicted. He is also charged with two counts of armed assault with intent to murder, two counts of armed assault by means of a dangerous weapon and illegal possession of a large capacity firearm.
Saint Clair wears headphones in court. A Spanish interpreter sits next to him and translates the court proceedings for him.
Spanish interpreters also translated for many witnesses called yesterday.
La Guira was shut down in August after its liquor license was revoked by the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission.
The trial resumes this morning.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter under the screenname EagleTribJill.