Forensics 101: Industry Hills Sheraton 1996

The second presentation at the Cal State LA Crime Lab was Professor Donald Johnson’s crime scene reconstruction of the 1996 Industry Hills Sheraton incident. The case involved a woman who either fell or was thrown to her death from a hotel balcony.

In November 1996, Sandra Orellana and her married boss Robert Salazar traveled from Houston on a business trip to Los Angeles, staying the night in the Industry Hills Sheraton Hotel. They were seen behaving affectionately towards each other in the hotel bar, drinking and dancing together.

In the morning, Orellana’s badly battered corpse was discovered on the ground beneath her room’s balcony. Although Salazar initially denied knowing she was dead, physical evidence indicated that he had undressed hastily in her room the night before. Salazar then changed his story, admitting he had sex with Orellana, but claiming it was consensual, and that she had accidentally fallen from the balcony and he had panicked.

After hearing all the evidence, I’m still suspicious. Prof. Johnson says he thinks it was an accident, but there was one piece of physical evidence that was missing from the balcony railing, in my opinion, considering the victims heights and what she would have had to do to get over the railing. I think it’s possible a killer walked in this case, but that is, of course, my opinion. The guy’s been exonerated by the courts.

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