Room 813: The Trial

Salazar Goes On The Stand

Robert Salazar, the man who was with Sandra Orellana the night she fell to her death from a hotel balcony, has been busy rebuilding his life.

He lost his job after the incident occurred in 1996, but he has managed to keep his marriage and family together. Over time, he has even rebuilt his career.

In an exclusive interview while out on bail, Salazar talked with 48 Hours, with his wife, Beth, looking on, to explain the events that happened that night - and why he should be found not guilty of the murder of Sandra Orellana.

"I was with another woman. I was in a room I shouldn't have been in. But I didn't cause her to fall off that balcony," he says.

He also denies accusations that he harassed Sandra: "I wasn't attracted to her. I mean, I was a married man. I had just gotten married and recently had a baby."

But that fateful night in Los Angeles began with a business dinner at a nearby restaurant. It also happened to be Sandra's 27th birthday.

Salazar says they each had four drinks over dinner, and some champagne when they checked in: "She was intoxicated. I mean, she had several drinks, just like me." Sandra's blood alcohol level was .22, four times the legal limit.

A business colleague, who had been with them at dinner, drove them back to their hotel. Salazar says they went into the bar and ordered some drinks. Afterwards, they began dancing, he says: "Started hugging, started laughing, started having a good time. Started kissing."

William Boone was also a guest in the hotel that night. He says he saw the couple together twice: "Both times they looked, they looked happy, to be in each other's company."

"We're talking about two adult people who were intoxicated and doing things they weren't supposed to be doing," says Salazar.

And they didn't stop there. Salazar says that when they got back to the 8th floor, Orellana opened the door to her room and pulled him inside.

He says they moved to the bed, where they were "becoming intimate with each other."

"Then she says, 'It's hot.' and she gets up and goes out to the balcony. And I get up and I follow her," says Salazar, who noted that this occurred just after midnight.

"We get out on the balcony. She's facing outside, I come out behind her and, and she says, 'Hold on.' And she turns around, she lifts her leg and turns around, put it on the railing, and lifts herself up. As she lifts herself up, she goes over, in one balance, she falls over."

Salazar recalls standing there for 15 seconds before grabbing all of his clothes and running to his room. He says he prayed and cried, but he didn't
call 911.

Rodriguez thinks not making that call shows Salazar's guilt. "There's no doubt in my mind that Sandra Orellana did not go over that balcony on her own."

Last October, nearly six years after Orellana's death, Salazar's trial began. If convicted, Salazar would face a sentence of 25 years to life.

Prosecutor Bob Foltz admits that making the case against Salazar was a challenge. "He's the only witness. We have no one to say exactly what happened. In those kind of cases, where it's built on circumstantial evidence, they're always extremely difficult."

The prosecution's theory is that Salazar carefully orchestrated his move on Sandra Orellana that night: First he got her drunk, then he got her into the room. But when he tried to have sex with her, she fought back and scratched his face. And that's when Salazar became angry and retaliated.

"Then he simply decided to make it look like a suicide by taking her out and putting her over the rail," says Foltz.

However, defense attorney Mike Coughlan said both Orellana and Salazar were drunk that night, and that her death was a horrible accident. "Her own reckless actions led to her death," he says. "She lost her balance and fell, accidentally, before he was able to grab her or do aything to stop her fall."

For the prosecution, the main witnesses were the investigators. Rodriguez came out of retirement to assist Foltz in the prosecution and to testify against Salazar. He told the jury about finding Salazar's underwear and shoe, and how he confronted Salazar.

The county coroner, fingerprint experts and other various experts testifying for the prosecution also painted the picture of a violent crime.

The defense, however, said the fall was an accident and that Orellana wasn't fighting Salazar at all. Boone testified that the pair seemed happy when he saw them that night.

Heidi Robbins, a county criminologist, who testified about the physical evidence, also seemed to help the defense under cross-examination. Coughlin got her to admit that nothing she found in Room 813 indicated that a struggle had taken place.

Using computer graphics, biomechanical engineer Carley Ward made the argument for the defense, that because Sandra's body ended up so close to the hotel, she couldn't have been pushed or thrown.

But the star witness was Salazar, who answered questions, sometimes emotionally, sometimes not. He didn't seem to have a very good explanation about why he made the phone calls to Orellana's room hours after she died. And observers in the court also remarked how easily Salazar seemed to be able to shift emotional gears.

It took the jury nine hours to reach a verdict: not guilty

For Salazar there was happiness mixed with sorrow: "We pray for her family. We pray for our family. And it was just a tragic accident and we're real sorry about what happened."

Even his wife, Beth, who had never spoken before, gave her reaction: "Mostly that of relief. It wasn't joy, because this was a tragedy."

One juror, however, summed up the difficulty of the case: "We didn't necessarily believe him, but we didn't have the evidence to prove a crime."

In fact, a number of the jurors that 48 Hours spoke to echoed the belief that they thought Salazar was lying about the events of that night almost seven years ago - but they said the prosecution did not make a convincing enough case to convict him of murder.

The Orellana family was left in pain. And for Rodriguez, it was a bitter end to a long battle: "I still feel that he is the one that is responsible for this death … He was found not guilty of murder by a jury. And I still think that he did it."

Since we last aired this program, Robert Salazar has found a new job in sales.

Go Back To Part 1.