Silva Found Guilty Of Manslaughter

Greeley Tribune
October 12, 2002

Perry Swanson

A jury on Friday found John Silva guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of 16-year-old Robert Watson. Silva had been charged with first-degree murder, a much more serious offense that could have meant life in prison. But with the manslaughter verdict, the 21-year-old Silva faces four to 12 years in prison.

The 12-member jury was in deliberations for two hours and 45 minutes before issuing a verdict Friday afternoon, capping a two-week trial. Watson was killed in the early morning of Sept. 29, 2001, when Silva and other gang members drove by a house on 9th Street where he was at a party. Silva fired at least one shot from the driver’s window, while a 16 year-old boy and fellow gang member crawled out the passenger window and fired two shots over the roof. Watson died at the scene.

Sentencing in the case is expected in about six weeks.

Jury members declined to comment on the case.

Silva’s mother, Jeannie Silva, stood outside the Weld County Courthouse after the trial along with perhaps 25 other family members who were hugging, crying and discussing the case. “I feel relieved it’s not life,” she said. “But what I don’t understand is why they’re only accusing two kids.”

The other defendant in the case is Trinidad Ramos, a Greeley teenager who police say fired the other shots at Watson. His trial on first-degree murder charges is expected to begin in November.

The trial turned on testimony from other gang members who were at the party or in the cars and saw the shooting. Some of them offered statements in court that contradicted what they told police earlier. Some also said police had pressured them to accuse Silva.

But prosecutor Al Dominguez said no evidence existed that witnesses had been pressured to make the statements to police. At least two of the witnesses who had initially accused Silva were ordered by Judge Roger Klein to testify, and they were granted immunity from prosecution for statements they made in court or to police.

One key witness was 17-year-old Raymond DeLeon, who initially told police investigator Michael Prill he saw Silva fire the fatal shots but in court said he had made it up.

Silva’s attorneys throughout the trial pointed to what they said were flaws in the police investigation and on several occasions said 17-year-old Jacob Martinez of Kersey could have been the shooter. Martinez hasn’t been charged in connection with the shooting. Defense attorneys John Briggs and Derek Samuelson also said police failed to fully analyze the crime scene evidence, such as clothing, a paper found with bullet holes through it and a swab of Silva’s face that might have indicated his proximity to a weapon’s discharge.

Dominguez pressed the jury to convict on the first-degree murder charge, which means the crime was premeditated. Silva and the other gang members passed the house once before they came back and Silva fired the shots. Between the passes, the three cars stopped at a nearby hardware store and discussed the shooting they were planning. Dominguez said it wasn’t a random shooting but directed specifically at Watson.

“You have time to make a choice. And what choice does John Silva make? Not to shoot at the house,” Dominguez said.