Neighbor testifies in Oates' murder trial to hearing shots, seeing Olivera fall

rlurye@islandpacket.comJune 17, 2014 

Dhayam Olivera's voice broke as she recalled the last look she shared with her husband.

Carlos Olivera of Bluffton was facing her, directing cars to pass as his brother tried to use a tow-truck driver's keys to unlock a boot placed on the couple's Toyota minivan minutes earlier, she testified in court Tuesday.

It was the first day of trial of Preston Oates, the man charged with her husband's Christmas Eve 2010 killing.

The Bluffton woman stuttered as she told the court Oates got out of his truck carrying a gun.

She yelled a warning to Carlos and he began to run, she testified.

"I saw the flash of the gun and he fell to the ground," she said. "I ran to Carlos ... In one moment, I was so angry, I start looking for Carlos' gun, but he didn't have it on him."

That semi-automatic Glock handgun was laying in the street, guarded by Oates until law enforcement and EMS arrived nine minutes later, according to testimony from Dhayam and Nelson Olivera, Carlos' brother.


One of 11 witnesses called by the state Tuesday, Nelson Olivera gave his account of the dispute with the 30-year-old Oates, charged with murder and possession of a weapon in the commission of a violent crime.

Olivera said his brother was briefly stopping at the Live Oak Walk home to deliver presents and talk before visiting their four other siblings in the Bluffton area.

A neighbor from across the street, Steven Varedi, knocked on his door to tell them Carlos' van was about to be towed.

The brothers rushed outside toward the cab of Oates' truck while Varedi walked back to his driveway. He said he could not hear their conversation.

Nelson Olivera said they pleaded with Oates, reminding him it was Christmas Eve and promising the owner was just about to leave.

Oates tried to call his supervisors, but said nothing could be done, according to Nelson Olivera. They could pay $300 that night or $400 the next day to remove the boot, a device locked across a wheel to immobilize a vehicle.

Nelson Olivera said he was standing between his brother and Oates when he heard the sound of a round being chambered and turned to see Carlos holding a handgun.

Nelson Olivera said his brother spoke to Oates: "He said, 'Release my car. Take that thing off. Nobody's gonna take my car.' "

Nelson Olivera said he tried to calm his brother and hold him he would take care of it.

"I said, 'Carlos, we don't need that. Put it away. And he listened to me right away," Nelson Olivera testified. "I remember my brother asking him, 'Do you have any paperwork?'"

Nelson Olivera said he turned back to Oates, who was shuffling papers and keys in his truck. He says he asked for the set of keys, which Oates handed him, then tried to unlock the boot.

"At this time, I thought everything was OK. I thought he was a gentleman, (that) he understood," Nelson Olivera testified.

As he tried a half dozen keys on the boot, his wife, Claudia, and Carlos Olivera directed passing cars.

Nelson Olivera came to the last key and told Claudia none of them worked.

That's when he heard what sounded like firecrackers.

Claudia told the court she watched as Oates shot her brother-in-law in the back and continued to fire at him while he was on the ground.

"He was just directing the traffic," she said of the victim.

Nelson Olivera said he ran first to his brother's lifeless body and then to Oates.

He said he was screaming at Oates. He testified the tow-truck driver told him not to come any closer or he would shoot. Nelson Olivera said Oates held the gun to his forehead.

"I said 'OK, kill me,'" he testified.


Oates did not testify Tuesday, but the prosecution entered into evidence several video statement he made to a patrol deputy and Beaufort County Sheriff's Office investigator. He waived his right to remain silent after the shooting, according to the deputies.

The screen playing the videos -- one of them about an hour long -- faced the jury and was not visible to the gallery.

In the video, Oates says Carlos Olivera asked him if he had any paperwork, documents or numbers for the minivan.

At that point, the accounts differ.

Carlos and Nelson Olivera were standing on the step of the tow truck cab, Oates says in the video.

"That's when I got scared," Oates told deputies. "That's when you get that pain right below your sternum."

Oates tried to ask for help by "sarcastically" telling neighbors watching the incident, "Don't worry about it, just go inside, he's got a gun, it's fine."

The neighbors walked away and Nelson Olivera grabbed Oates' set of keys and the device to unlock the boot and walked back to the minivan, Oates said in the video.

Soon after, someone yelled something in Spanish, Oates said.

Carlos Olivera unlocked Oates' truck door, swung it open and pulled out his handgun, Oates said in the video.

Oates said he reacted, jumping out of the truck and drawing his own weapon, which he'd placed on his lap with an assortment of papers from his glove box.

"He was already in draw, in motion," Oates told deputies. "It's now or never."

In Oates' call to dispatch, he can be heard frantically warning people to leave Carlos Olivera's gun where it lies.

When dispatchers told Oates to put down his gun, he refused, saying that he would not be left undefended.


On Tuesday Oates, wearing a black suit and blue tie, stared straight ahead as the videos were played.

Carlos Olivera's relatives filled two rows in the gallery. Several cried and one woman covered her ears as witnesses recounted the evening of his death. Dhayam Olivera sat apart in a back row.

Defense attorney Jared Newman argued Tuesday that Oates acted in self defense.

However, several witnesses called by 14th Judicial Circuit Assistant Solicitor Sean Thornton said Carlos Olivera was posing no threat to Oates when he was shot.

Thornton said the trial would last only a few days and the jurors would have to decide not how Carlos Olivera died, but why.

"You listen to every piece of evidence and don't make any determination until you've heard every piece of evidence," he instructed.

He asked jurors to ask themselves this question.

"Why? Why did Carlos Olivera have to be murdered on Christmas Eve 2010 with his family watching?"

Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye on Twitter at

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