Winston-Salem man will not face death penalty in fatal shooting


Jose Merlin Henriquez Portillo

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — A Forsyth County judge ruled Friday that a Winston-Salem man facing first-degree murder charges in a 2009 fatal shooting cannot face the death penalty because he is mentally retarded as defined under state law.

The Winston-Salem Journal reported that Judge Edgar Gregory of Forsyth Superior Court made the ruling in the case of Jose Merlin Henriquez Portillo after a week-long hearing that featured testimony from experts who had evaluated Portillo and had looked into his childhood growing up in El Salvador.

Because of Gregory’s ruling, Portillo, 28, now faces life in prison without the possibility of parole, if he is convicted of first-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Cirilo Laredo Avila on Dec. 16, 2009.

Avila, 35, was selling snacks from a truck for El Jarocho, a grocery store on Waughtown Street, in an apartment complex off Cole Road in Winston-Salem. Prosecutors allege that Portillo shot Avila four times during an attempted robbery.

Authorities say Avila also shot Portillo, once in the stomach, once in the back near the spine and once in the hand. Avila had been carrying a gun for protection because he had been robbed before.

Read full story: The Winston-Salem Journal

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