Medford police hoped to strengthen a four-year-old murder case by searching downtown rooftops Wednesday for a five-inch-long, multicolored knife with the words "Viva Mexico" inscribed on it.
"It's always been frustrating to me why we didn't find it," said Tony Young, a Medford police detective.
Young and other investigators are gearing up for a new trial for Luis Alberto Salas-Juarez, 25, who has been convicted of the murder of Mark Edwin Lunsford, 23, of Butte Falls.
The Oregon Supreme Court ordered the new trial because it found important evidence had been withheld by Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Ray White.
Lunsford was stabbed on Aug. 13, 2006, in Theater Alley behind the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater.
Medford police Detective Terry Newell said that during his investigation, he determined Salas-Juarez had purchased the multicolored knife from CK Enterprises Inc. on Central Avenue two days before the stabbing. People who knew Salas-Juarez also saw him with the knife, he said.
Salas-Juarez has maintained he didn't kill Lunsford. His previous attorney, Rebecca Rosenstein, argued during the weeklong trial that police arrested the wrong man.
A jury unanimously convicted Salas-Juarez of Lunsford's murder in February 2007.
Jurors also found Salas-Juarez guilty of the attempted murder of 23-year-old Lawrence Matthew Crowley of Medford after slashing at him in the same early morning clash in Theater Alley.
The Supreme Court ruled that a jury should have heard evidence that a participant in the knife fight, Timothy Tracy Russell, had made a threatening statement while he was at a nightclub just an hour and a half before and may have been spoiling for a fight.
Russell, who lived in Medford and was 26 at the time, had showed off a knife he was carrying that night, the Supreme Court determined.
Despite the lack of murder weapon, Young said he has a strong case against Salas-Juarez.
Young said failing to find a weapon is not unusual in these types of investigations.
"It's so easy to get rid of stuff like that," he said.
Police scoured the area in 2006, looking into drains, garbage cans, bushes and other areas.
Young wanted to look it over again just to make sure. Medford Fire-Rescue provided a ladder truck to help detectives in their search.
Video footage shows Salas-Juarez fleeing the scene around Bartlett Avenue and Main Street, then heading south on Central Avenue over to the railroad tracks by Ninth Street. He was apprehended at 10th and Fir streets. Investigators determined a knife could have been tossed onto the rooftops, many of which are 20 or more feet tall.
Some of the buildings had new roofs installed since the stabbing, so Young asked anyone who might have worked on them to call him if they found a knife matching the description.
The knife bears the Mexican flag on the handle and is red, white and green. Young can be reached at 541-774-2244.
Young said the new trial has been particularly difficult on Lunsford's family.
"That's what makes me feel bad about this," he said. "Here we go again."
Salas-Juarez received the maximum penalty Oregon law provides for murder — life in prison with at least 25 years served before being eligible for parole.
White also imposed a concurrent 71/2-year sentence for the attempted murder conviction and ordered Salas-Juarez to pay more than $48,700 in restitution for Lunsford's medical and funeral costs.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.