KINGMAN - Larry Ellis had been friends with accused murderer Russell Shields for about six months on July 18, 2011, the day Alberto Orozco was shot to death and his body abandoned on the street, inside his car.
But he had been friends with Orozco since their school days in Kingman.
"Beto was a really good friend," he said Tuesday while testifying in Shields' trial on first-degree murder and other charges. "Like family."
The night Orozco died, Ellis said he went bowling with his girlfriend, Amanda Pryor, Shields and his girlfriend, Danielle Berg, Shields' former co-defendant John Langan and Langan's girlfriend, and the 10 children he and Pryor have between them.
After bowling, the group returned to Ellis and Pryor's Cypress Street home. Beer was bought and they spent the night playing dominoes.
Sometime before midnight, Shields and Langan said they had to leave for a while.
"Russ said he had to go meet somebody," said Ellis. "They were gone a good while. He was noticeably gone."
That person was allegedly Orozco, who had just collected a debt from a man staying at the Motel 6 and was going to "re-up," drug slang for getting more methamphetamine to sell.
The debt-payer, James Duncan, is currently a prison inmate and was reluctant to testify. He did, however, agree with Camacho that he paid Orozco a debt and that the victim said he was going to use it to buy more methamphetamine.
When the pair returned after midnight, Ellis and others in the home noticed Shields was "all sweaty."
Berg asked him why he looked like he just ran a marathon, said Ellis, and Langan vomited outside, behind Ellis' 1962 Chevrolet Impala.
Prosecutor Doug Camacho asked the witness if Shields had money. Earlier in the evening, the defendant told Ellis he was broke and couldn't go bowling, so Ellis loaned him $100. When he returned, he had more.
"Russ had a few hundred bucks, it was all crumpled up, like a two-year-old had it in their pocket," said Ellis. "He was still short on his mortgage payment and I loaned him some more money, about $300."
Later on Tuesday, Kingman Police Detective Dennis Gilbert told jurors that he subpoenaed Shields' and Berg's bank records and discovered that Danielle Berg deposited $700 cash on July 18, less than a dozen hours after Orozco was killed, leaving a balance of about $713.
The following morning, Ellis said Shields came to his home and told him Orozco had been killed and that he learned of his death when someone left a note on his front door.
Later that day, Ellis said Shields came to his home and his comment surprised him.
"Russ told me we needed to get our stories straight," said Ellis. "I said, 'What are you talking about?' A bunch of cops showed up right afterwards."
The story Shields allegedly wanted Ellis to get straight was that he was to tell police that neither he nor Langan left the party the night before, but Ellis told police the men did leave.
Under questioning from defense attorney Christian Ackerley, Ellis vehemently denied he owed Shields money and he also denied Orozco was his drug dealer.
"That's ridiculous," he said. "I never in my life owed Russ money for anything. Ever."
Ackerley did not provide an opening statement before testimony began, telling Judge Derek Carlisle he would do so when he begins the defense side of the case.
However, based on his questioning of lay witnesses Tuesday, it's apparent Ackerley will attempt to blame Langan for Orozco's death.
Langan was originally charged with the same crimes as Shields, including first-degree murder, but he reached a plea agreement with prosecutors and pleaded guilty to hindering prosecution last year. Judge Steven Conn sentenced Langan to eight years in prison.
The deal led to speculation that Langan would testify against Shields, but Camacho will not call him to the stand. Ackerley will.
Ellis denied he gave Langan the keys to Shields' home the night Orozco was killed, asking rhetorically, "Why would I have Russ' house keys?"
He also denied he has been pressured by Kingman police officers.
Amanda Pryor essentially corroborated her boyfriend Ellis' testimony, but she also said Langan asked her if he could do a load of laundry because he vomited.
She said he gave her two dark-colored pairs of pants and nothing else, and that she didn't notice blood on either pair.
She also testified that when the men returned, Shields parked his car on the side of their home, which she said was an odd place to park.
Roughly a month after the killing, Langan showed Kingman detectives where he and Shields broke apart a gun - not a shotgun as has been previously reported, but a semiautomatic .380-caliber pistol. Parts of the pistol, including the magazine holding three rounds, were recovered.
Detective Gilbert told jurors he was the on-call detective the night of the killing and he responded to the area of Lomita Street and Beverley Avenue, where a homeowner found Orozco's body in a car.
Resident Derek Vicks was drawn to the vehicle because the stereo was playing, he said, and he called police when he noticed a body slumped over on the front passenger seat.
Gilbert found Orozco's driver's license and bloody cell phone on his body. The phone was searched and it was noted the last call Orozco received came from a cell phone registered to Berg, Shields' girlfriend.
Police interviewed Shields and Berg that day and served a search warrant at their Apache Street home about a month later. Luminol, a spray that is used to detect traces of blood, was used and it showed such traces on the walls and carpet, said Gilbert.
At that time, police left the home in order to file an amended search warrant.
Gilbert's testimony came late in the afternoon and will resume at a later point in the trial, which is expected to last two weeks but will probably end sooner.
Today's testimony will involve additional lay witnesses as well as testimony from police who investigated the killing.
Shields already faces 10 years in prison for selling methamphetamine following a plea agreement and sentencing last year. If convicted of killing Orozco, he could face life in prison with no chance for parole.
Both he and Langan have asked to be housed in protective custody.
Langan, at his sentencing hearing, essentially swore he would exact revenge on Shields.