Chattanooga prosecutors present evidence against man in wife's brutal stabbing death

Chattanooga prosecutors present evidence against man in wife's brutal stabbing death

May 22nd, 2019 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

Zacarias Salas-Rufino

Zacarias Salas-Rufino

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Approaching three years after a 29-year-old woman was stabbed dozens of times and later died, Chattanooga prosecutors are trying her ex-husband for second-degree murder in Hamilton County Criminal Court.

Using 911 calls and a combination of forensic evidence and on-scene witnesses, Chattanooga prosecutors believe they can convict Zacarias Salas-Rufino, also known as Carlos Delposo, of second-degree murder in the fatal Sept. 26, 2016, stabbing of Yessica Ruiz. And on Wednesday, a day after picking a jury, they continued to widen their case by presenting crime-scene evidence and two previous instances of domestic unrest between the couple.

Rufino, 32, who is being represented by Assistant Public Defender Erinn O'Leary, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. He is being held in custody and watched the proof Wednesday while wearing a pair of headphones that helped translate English to Spanish.

Police said Salas-Rufino overheard his wife talking to another man in their home on Navajo Drive, so he went to confront her, grabbing a knife from the kitchen along the way. He said he planned to use the knife to scare Ruiz into giving him the cellphone, a court affidavit shows. But he said Ruiz struggled with him and during the struggle he stabbed her four times.

Yessica Ruiz, 29, was stabbed inside a home on Navajo Drive on Sept. 26 and died on Oct. 6 from her injuries. Zacarias Salas-Rufino, 29, is charged with criminal homicide.

Yessica Ruiz, 29, was stabbed inside a home...

According to court testimony, she was stabbed about 25 times in the chest, neck, arms, legs and back, and authorities found her lying in a pool of blood when police arrived around 7 a.m. She died days later, on Oct. 1, 2016, and their children, who were then 5 and 6, were shepherded into a neighbor's home and later placed with Children's Services.

Prosecutors on Wednesday said this was not the only time the couple fought.

Chattanooga police officer Calvin Cooper testified that he'd been called to the couple's home on May 23, 2016. He suspected that alcohol may have been involved and he used Google Translator to decipher the disagreement. Salas-Rufino and Ruiz each pointed the finger at each other, Cooper said, so he separated them. Salas-Rufino went to a relative's home in the Dodds Avenue area, Cooper said. Ruiz, meanwhile, had nowhere else to go, Cooper said.

Cooper later responded to another incident between the two in which Ruiz claimed Salas-Rufino struck her because she'd been with another man. Cooper said she had a mark on her face while Salas-Rufino said she arrived home with the mark "already on her." Because Ruiz didn't want to speak about the alleged other man, and because neither party gave him contact information to make heads or tails of the situation, Cooper said he was left with conflicting statements and separated the couple again.

After Cooper's testimony, Executive Assistant District Attorney Cameron Williams introduced 911 calls from that incident and another time in April 2016.

Salas-Rufino and his attorney have not been able to put on a defense yet.

So far, O'Leary has questioned the state's DNA evidence and the memories of on-scene state witnesses. Tolbert Dye, a Navajo Drive resident who lived near the couple, said he'd previously heard the couple arguing and heard a "boom" on the early morning in question. On cross examination, O'Leary questioned whether some of his testimony Wednesday was different from what he'd told police in 2016.

The trial continues Thursday in Hamilton County Criminal Court before Judge Barry Steelman.

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.