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Charges dropped against fifth teen originally charged in May 1 murder

The Yakima County Prosecutor's office made it 0-for-5 yesterday when charges were dropped against the fifth suspect in the May 1 shooting death of George P. Salinas III in Outlook.

Rafael Mendoza, 19, was the lone adult charged in the murder and was the last to have his charges dropped yesterday.

On Tuesday of this week, the prosecutor's office dropped all charges against four juveniles allegedly involved in the murder.

"Initially we had probable cause that the defendants participated in the crime," said Yakima County deputy prosecuting attorney Steven Selby. "But we started to get conflicting statements."

Initially two defendants provided testimony regarding the murder, then changed their accounts of the incident. There were also conflicting reports from witnesses, Selby said.

He said bullet casings were found at the crime scene, but a weapon was not recovered and prosecutors weren't even sure what car was involved in the crime.

Lack of physical evidence combined with unreliable testimony led the prosecutor's office to drop charges against all five, Selby noted.

Charges were dropped without prejudice, though, meaning any or all of the five could again be charged if evidence turns up. The Yakima County Sheriff's office is continuing an investigation into Salinas' murder.

Selby wouldn't say for sure whether the inconsistent testimonies were deliberate attempts by the suspects and witnesses to obstruct the investigation.

He didn't rule it out, either.

"There's always that possibility in any investigation," Selby said. "Sometimes people are not telling us the truth."

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