As murder trial closes, which lying drug dealer is more believable?
KINGMAN - John Langan wasn't described as a hostile witness when Russell Shields' first-degree murder trial resumed Tuesday, but he made it clear he would not testify unless forced to do so.
Langan also issued a veiled threat to defense attorney Christian Ackerley during questioning and an overt threat to Shields right after his testimony ended.
Langan attempted to invoke his right against self-incrimination, but because he has already been sentenced for his role in Alberto Orozco's murder sometime around midnight on July 18, 2011, he cannot be charged a second time and therefore could not incriminate himself.
"I ain't got nothing to say," said Langan, who at one time was accused alongside Shields in the murder. He pleaded guilty to a single charge of hindering prosecution last year and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
The state in exchange dropped charges of first-degree murder and other felony counts, including abandoning a body.
The attractive plea agreement led to speculation the state would call Langan to testify against Shields, but he was a witness for the defense - and unhappy to be there.
Langan was compelled to testify, however, and immediately blamed Shields for the murder when Ackerley asked Langan if he knew Orozco, and if the pair had ever smoked drugs.
"Russell Shields killed that fool," he said.
He said he repeatedly lied to detectives because Shields was his best friend and someone he would do anything for, until he learned Shields had told police that Langan was the killer.
Those lies could prove problematic for jurors, who must determine which witnesses have credibility and which of them do not.
During the trial, they watched Shields tell lie after lie in a series of recorded interviews with Kingman detectives and they heard Langan admit he told his share of untruths during the investigation, as well.
Shields said he lied because he was scared. Langan said he lied to protect both of them.
He said Shields had a gambling problem and while at a party on July 18 he was told they were going to "hit a lick," which is slang for committing a crime, usually a robbery.
They left the party, he said, and drove a short distance to Shields' home to meet Orozco, who apparently thought he was going to get a new supply of meth to sell.
But Langan said the men were to "shake up" Orozco for somebody to whom the mid-level meth dealer owed money.
Several months earlier, police raided both Orozco and Shields' homes in unrelated drug investigations. Following those arrested law enforcement attempted to get both men to become confidential informants and help them obtain evidence of drug dealing in Kingman.
In exchange for doing so, police agreed to help them get reduced sentences or have their charges dropped altogether.
Orozco refused to become a snitch, but Shields agreed.
A large quantity of meth and cash was seized in both instances, and both men owed their supplier for the lost product and cash.
Orozco owed several thousand dollars and so did Shields, and Langan said he was under the impression they were going to "tax" Orozco, meaning beat him up in an effort to get him to pay what he owed.
When Orozco arrived, Shields and Orozco were in his garage while Langan went to the restroom.
"They had to talk their secret squirrel stuff," he said.
Langan said he went into the bathroom to "slam dope," and he acknowledged he injected a "massive dose" of methamphetamine into a vein. He said he heard a gunshot as he was putting his paraphernalia away.
He did not see who shot Beto, he said, but pointed out Shields was the only person present. Ackerley seized on comments Langan made in earlier interviews with police when he told them a man named Chico or Rodrigo was present, and that this person - identified during the trial as Daniel Cruz Ortiz - might have been the shooter.
He said he lied earlier for many reasons, most having to do with his belief that he was protecting a dear friend, but he also acknowledged it is in his character.
"I'm a convict," he said. "I'm made to lie to the cops. It's what I do."
Langan also pointed out he has no reason to lie anymore. "I'm clear on this," he told Ackerley, secure in the knowledge double jeopardy applied. "Don't try to trip me up , dude."
He said he told police that someone named Chico was there to get them to look elsewhere for the killer and to provide for a "reasonable doubt" if the pair ever went on trial.
He also admitted he told police he wasn't sure who killed Orozco, saying the shooter could have even been him.
"You really need to quit talking to me like that, dude," said Langan when Ackerley aggressively tried to get him to answer a question.
"I didn't shoot Beto. I had no reason to shoot Beto," he said. He admitted the gun used, a chrome-plated .380-caliber pistol, was a "piece of garbage" that didn't have a safety, jammed and misfired with regularity.
He said he didn't know if Shields fired the weapon accidentally, but he did say Shields had a "surprised" look on his face when Langan came out of the bathroom and that Shields told him he made a bad mistake.
And while Ackerley was able to show Langan is a liar, he did not get the man to say anything that would lead jurors to conclusively believe he and not Shields killed Orozco - which is what he said Langan's testimony would do last week in his opening statement.
When Langan was sentenced last year, he promised relatives of Orozco's family that he would "make it right" if it takes 20 years. He refused to admit he knew Orozco was a drug dealer or that he ever did drugs with him.
"I'm not going to say one word about that man that isn't good," said Langan when Ackerley asked him if he bought methamphetamine from Orozco.
As he left the stand Tuesday following his testimony, Langan looked directly at Shields and said, "I will see you on the yard, yo."
Shields didn't respond, but the implication was obvious.
Shields has already been sentenced to 10 years in an unrelated drug case and will have to serve every year. He asked the judge handling his case to keep him locked up in protective custody.
Closing arguments begin at 9:30 a.m. today. Jurors will likely begin deliberations sometime later today.