SALEM, Mass. — Prosecutors said Latin Kings gang member Christian Almonte was at his friend's house on the night of Feb. 24, 2008, just down the street from his secret lover Willie Escobar's Methuen apartment, when his friend said he needed a car.
"(Almonte) said, 'I can get you a ride. Wait here. I don't want you to be scared,'" prosecutor A.J. Camelio told jurors yesterday at the beginning of Almonte's murder trial in Essex Superior Court.
Almonte allegedly left for an hour and came back with Escobar's Toyota Camry. That was an hour before Escobar's roommate came home.
The roommate discovered his room was ransacked and when he went to check on Escobar's room, he found the 41-year-old on the floor in a T-shirt and socks, covered with more than 20 stab wounds. A pornographic movie was playing on the television and a letter on the floor read, "I love you but you know we got to hide what we got."
The apartment door had been locked when the roommate got home. Escobar's apartment keys were on the same ring as the car keys Almonte gave his friend that night, Camelio said.
Camelio made his case against Almonte during yesterday's opening statements, saying the North Andover gang member killed Escobar because he didn't want Escobar breaking the "code of silence" hanging over their secret homosexual relationship. He also was angry that Escobar was sleeping around with other men.
Almonte, 26, who also goes by his gang name "King Joker," is on trial on charges of murder and larceny of a motor vehicle.
Police allege that Almonte and Escobar had been seeing each other before Almonte went to prison for four years for stabbing a Lawrence youth, and continued the relationship when he got out in December 2007.
Almonte has said he ended the relationship when he got out of jail.
His attorney, Edward Hayden of Lynn, told jurors Almonte did not kill Escobar.
Hayden argued that the murderer could be any one of Escobar's lovers, that the police wrongly fingered Almonte for the crime.
He used another one of Escobar's lovers, Johnny Pagan, as an example, saying Pagan said he had sex with Escobar 10 hours before he died and the love letter in the bedroom was written by him.
Pagan will serve as a witness for the prosecution, saying he heard Almonte threatening Escobar during conversations over their Nextels.
Hayden said Pagan's bodily fluids were all over Escobar's body.
"They never seized his clothes, never searched his apartment. ... The problem when they did that is they disregarded other potential suspects," Hayden said. "Escobar lived a dangerous lifestyle. Any one of the guys he was having sex with is a potential suspect."
Hayden said police found only tiny drops of blood inside the hood of Almonte's jacket and on the bottom of a pair of socks in his bedroom when they searched his home and seized his clothing a few days after the killing.
"Whoever killed (Escobar) had to have more blood on his socks and shoes than tiny droplets," Hayden said.
Prosecutors argued yesterday that there wasn't much blood splatter in Escobar's bedroom, and that the drops of blood on Almonte's clothing place him at the scene.
Jurors were bused to the crime scene and then down the street to Almonte's friend's house to show how close the two locations are. Testimony begins today.
Camelio told jurors that they will hear testimony from a friend of Almonte that he called her and told them to lie about how they ended up with Escobar's car.
Almonte's friend and two women were arrested in Haverhill with the car the night after the killing. Camelio also said Almonte's former girlfriend will testify that Almonte told her he was going to "terminate Willie."
Hayden ended his opening statements warning jurors.
"You're not going to like Christian Almonte. You're not going to approve of his lifestyle," he said. "You're not here to judge his lifestyle. You're here to determine whether he's a killer."