Wrong Man series premiere recap: ‘ Evaristo Salas: The Letter’


“The Letter,” Episode 1 of Joe Berlinger’s Wrong Man focuses on the case of Evaristo Salas. Did we imprison the wrong man?

Wrong Man starts compellingly, as the case of Evaristo Salas is quite the winding road. When he was only 16, Salas was convicted of killing Jose Arreola in front of Arreola’s wife and child. The police suspected it was gang-related, and Salas actually did hang out with gang members. However, things are more complex.

The series’ investigative team — all legal professionals — claim the conviction was based on no physical evidence. For example, no murder weapon was ever found. In fact, the entire case against Evaristo Salas seemed built around eyewitness testimony, which is often notoriously unreliable.
On that note, there were wildly conflicting eyewitness accounts of the shooting.

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Who is to be Believed?

Some claimed the shooter had a Chicago Bulls hat, and others said it was White Sox or Braves. While such details may seem minor, in a criminal trial it can be the difference between innocence and guilt! That’s not all, though. Some said the shooter was white, while others claimed he “looked Mexican.” These are more substantially different accounts and may involve prejudice. In fact, even the different hats cited could involve prejudice, given how seriously some take sports, and with the reality of gang colors. There are definite problems here.

If that’s not enough, there are even huge variations in age range. Some said the killer looked 15-16 years old. Others felt he was between 25-30. Right off the bat, you have to wonder, how credible are any of these witnesses? If their accounts are so widely varied, who is to be believed and why? If no witness seems more credible than the others, how strong can a case be?

Opinions Matter in Witness Testimony

While facts are the main factor in a legitimate case, opinions on what happened help create a factual (or misleading) picture. They help tell the story. One of the witnesses was Michelle, who was only 12 at the time. Nevertheless, she and her mother believe the wrong man was convicted. While some might dismiss her due to age, it’s plausible that her age might lend her credibility. Obviously, as a younger person in the area, she may have had more insight into other neighborhood kids. She may have known who was who, where they were, and what they looked like. Her words could carry more weight than some older onlooker’s.

Then again, it’s plausible that she’s biased in some way, or may have even known Evaristo. Wrong Man really makes you think, and appreciate the frustrating nature of the criminal investigation. There are definitely many variables, with clear-cut cases being relatively rare. This episode doesn’t entirely blow the case open, or completely reconstruct the events. However, it does open the door to a clearer picture by delving deeper into people’s accounts.

Did Evaristo Salas Know Jose Arreola? How Close Was He to the Scene?

While people do murder strangers, whether or not an accused killer knew someone matters. It helps to establish motive and to potentially build a case. If someone lacks an apparent motive, any case is bound to be harder to prove. With this in mind, Wrong Man sent a Private investigator, Janell Wagner, to find out more about Salas. Based on the interviews, it’s apparent that the two didn’t know each other — or at least no one was aware of a relationship.

Also, quite interestingly, Evaristo wasn’t questioned until 6 months after the shooting. While this doesn’t mean he was innocent or guilty, it suggests they didn’t have an immediate slam-dunk case against him. In fact, some people claim Salas wasn’t even around at the time. An alibi witness, Sylvia, claims Salas was at her store eating a burrito not long after the murder, which happened on the other side of town.

Questions about Ofelia, the Closest Witness

Of all the eyewitnesses, the one closest to the murder was Ofelia, Jose Arreola’s girlfriend. While Ofelia maintained Salas’ guilt, that doesn’t necessarily prove it. Still, her accusation and the allegation of an informant is what the state built its case on. Though the informant claims Evaristo murdered as a gang initiation rite, it is just one more conflicting witness account.

Things get a more suspicious regarding Ofelia, too. According to the Wrong Man documentary, she may have messed with the crime scene. Four days after the murder — and apparently without investigator’s authorization — Ofelia retrieved the truck in which the murder occurred. She had it cleaned and the window changed, potentially destroying evidence. Fascinatingly, this was not mentioned to the jury, and Ofelia was dropped as a suspect.

Next: Wrong Man episode 2 recap: ‘Evaristo Salas: The Informant’

The Wrong Man investigative team: Ira Todd of Detroit’s Homicide Task Force, Civil Rights Attorney Ronald Ruby, former Prosecutor Sue-Ann Robinson, and Joe Kennedy, a retired NCIS investigator.

What do you think? Does it sound like the wrong man (or in this case, child) was convicted? Let us know in the comments!