HRLR
Los Tocayos Carlos
Chapter 7
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Chapter 7

Acquittal

On November 29, 1979, Corpus Christi police arrested nineteen-year-old Jesse Garza for the murder of Dahlia Sauceda.1

The police had an eyewitness who saw Garza beat, rape, and murder the young woman. Pedro Olivarez told them he saw his friend Garza strangle Dahlia with her blue jeans before using an old rusty kitchen knife police found on the floor of the van to mark a large 'X' on her back.2

Detectives also had a statement from Roger Fuentes, Garza's stepbrother and roommate. Fuentes said Garza wasn't home between 1:00 and 3:00 a.m. on the night of the killing.3 This matched Olivarez's claim that Sauceda had pulled up in her van around 1:30 a.m. and asked them to go "cruising" and that Garza killed her not long after that.4 Garza had no alibi.

Olivarez and Garza were friends from the Casino Club. The twenty-three-year-old Olivarez almost never missed a night there.5 Pudgy and cheerful, Olivarez was sort of the club mascot. He hung around with everyone but never really made it with any of the young women.6

Garza was handsome and a flashy dancer and dresser. He got a lot of attention from the women.7

* * * * *

If there was any good news for Jesse Garza following his arrest, it was that the court appointed an ambitious young criminal defense lawyer named Albert Peña to represent him.8 The case was a tough one, and its outcome helped to establish Peña's reputation as one of the top criminal defense lawyers in Corpus Christi.9

Describing the challenges he faced to investigators looking into the case years later, Peña said that at first he felt his biggest problem was his client, who swore he had nothing to do with the crime.10 To show how adamant he was, the young Garza had even bloodied his knuckles punching out a cinderblock wall during an interrogation, insisting he was innocent. Police had pictures of Garza's injured hands and the dents in the wall.11

Garza's resolve complicated the usual endgame in a case like this, which was a deal for a guilty plea in return for a lesser charge like manslaughter. But as Peña reviewed the physical evidence from the crime scene, he started to think that his client might just be telling him the truth.12

To begin with, the size 34 plaid boxer shorts found in the van were too big for the 5' 4," 135-pound Garza.13 Someone else had undressed in the van. Although recognizing the risk, Peña decided to go all in on Garza's claim of innocence.14

Peña's next problem was that an innocence investigation cost money for a private eye, and Garza didn't have any. But Jesse Garza was lucky again. His uncle Eddie Cruz worked days as a fraud investigator for an insurance company and agreed to help out for free.15

The name Carlos Hernandez came up early in the investigation. People who knew Dahlia Sauceda told Cruz and Peña that she and Hernandez had been sleeping together for months. It was even more complicated than that, however. Hernandez had a gripe with Dahlia. She'd dated his brother-in-law Freddy Schilling, luring him away to Houston, and Carlos was angry about the heartache this caused his sister Paula.16

The lead was promising. Although Peña didn't have proof that Hernandez killed Dahlia, he did have something against Hernandez that the police didn't have against Jesse Garza—a motive.

Paul Rivera, Corpus Christi Police Detective, Supplementary Report (Nov. 30, 1979) at 3 ("11–29–79. . . After obtaining the warrant . . . [I] went to 2522 Dunbar and executed [arrest] Warrant #1427 on suspect Jesus Z. Garza, a latin male, age 19 . . . .").

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Albert Peña, Lawyer for Jesse Garza in Dahlia Sauceda Case, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Feb. 25, 2005) at 17:42:10–17:43:40 ("My client [Jesse Garza] insisted that he was innocent.").

Crime Scene Photograph P1010001, Corpus Christi Police Dep't (Unknown Date) (showing injuries to knuckles caused by punching the wall);

Crime Scene Photograph P1010004, Corpus Christi Police Dep't (Unknown Date) (showing damage to the wall where Garza punched it);

James R. Peters, Corpus Christi Ranger, Progress Report in Dahlia Sauceda Investigation (Nov. 20, 1979) at 1 ("Both of [Jesse Garza's] hands were lacerated on the knuckle area. There was a dented area in the acoustical tile with blood on it on the wall of the Interrogation Room. When subject was asked what happened to his hand, subject stated that he had gotten mad and had beat the wall with his fists because he had been accused of murdering Dahlia.");

infra Figure 19 (showing Garza's injured hands and the damaged wall).

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Albert Peña, Lawyer for Jesse Garza in Dahlia Sauceda Case, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Feb. 25, 2005) at 17:43:40:

We went up there shaking the bushes. In the van, the physical evidence that was there that did not point to my client was that there was a can of beer. And I believe it was Budweiser [sic, Schlitz], but I'm not sure. There were some fingerprints on this can of beer. And there was also some J.C. Penney boxer shorts of a certain design, 36 [sic, 34] inch waistline. So that led me to conclude that whoever left that there could have been the one that did it, because why would you leave so rapidly and leave your shorts behind? And my client was a very thin individual, those boxer shorts wouldn't have stayed up more than two seconds . . . . We went and talked to various people, to find out that Dahlia Sauceda had been dating Carlos Hernandez, the one we ultimately believed, and still believe—and I think it has been pretty much proven—that he was the one that actually committed the homicide.

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Albert Peña, Lawyer for Jesse Garza in Dahlia Sauceda Case, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Feb. 25, 2005) at 17:43:40–17:43:40 ("And there was also some J.C. Penney boxer shorts of a certain design, 36 [sic, 34] inch waistline. So that led me to conclude that whoever left that there could have been the one that did it, because why would you leave so rapidly and leave your shorts behind? And my client was a very thin individual, those boxer shorts wouldn't have stayed up more than two seconds.");

see Corpus Christi Police Dep't, Interrogation Report on Jesus Zaragosa Garza, Jr. (Nov. 28, 1979) (listing Jesse Garza's height as 5'4" and his weight as 135 pounds);

Olivia Escobedo, Corpus Christi Police Detective in Wanda Lopez and Dahlia Sauceda Cases, Trial Test., Texas v. Garza, No. 79-CR–881-C (Nueces Cty., 94th Dist. Tex. Jan. 31, 1980) at 820–23 (comparing underwear taken from the van where Sauceda was murdered and from Carlos Hernandez and noting that they "match closely"—they were both size thirty-four, J.C. Penney's brand, and with cleaning instructions to machine wash and hot tumble dry);

Pedro Olivarez, Witness Against Jesse Garza in Trial for Murdering Dahlia Sauceda, Trial Test., Texas v. Garza, No. 79-CR–881-C (Nueces Cty., 94th Dist. Tex. Jan. 31, 1980) at 146 ("Jesse [Garza] never wears [under]shorts . . . . Not inside a van. I didn't see him wear shorts in the van when I saw him . . . [take] his pants off.").

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Albert Peña, Lawyer for Jesse Garza in Dahlia Sauceda Case, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Feb. 25, 2005) at 17:42:10, 18:14:08 ("My client insisted that he was innocent. So we began investigating the case."; "I was trying to get the case dismissed against my client, and I had to reveal, of course, why. And that was, that Carlos Hernandez's fingerprints had been found on the beer can that was found in Dahlia Sauceda's van. And also, he was wearing the same kind of boxer shorts, size 36 [sic, 34], which had been left behind, indicative of somebody trying to get away quick.").

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Eddie Cruz, Private Investigator for Defendant Jesse Garza in Dahlia Sauceda Case, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Feb. 25, 2005) at 18:35:27–18:37:03 ("I retired on December 31st, 2004 as a senior field investigator in the fraud unit with Liberty Mutual Insurance. I worked the Southeast part of the state of Texas, and I was based out of San Antonio, Texas. I lived there while working for Liberty Mutual and I also lived in this area also. I had worked on the plaintiff's side of work, investigations, and I've worked on the insurance side of investigations. And I've done criminal work also, for different lawyers here in Corpus Christi.");

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Albert Peña, Lawyer for Jesse Garza in Dahlia Sauceda Case, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Feb. 25, 2005) at 17:42:10–17:43:40 ("But in any event, I was assisted by Eddie Cruz, who was a—his background was he was an insurance adjuster. He was also Jesse's uncle. So he assisted me in investigating the case. It was a very thorough investigation.").

Carlos Hernandez, Trial Test., Texas v. Garza, No. 79-CR–881-C (Nueces Cty., 94th Dist. Tex. Jan. 31, 1980) at 944, 973 ("Q. How long had you known [Dahlia] Sauceda? A. Nine months, let's say."; "Q. So did you have sexual intercourse with her? A. Yes, sir, I did. . . . About ten to fifteen minutes.");

Freddy Schilling, Brother-in-Law of Carlos Hernandez, Trial Test., Texas v. Garza, No. 79-CR–881-C (Nueces Cty., 94th Dist. Tex. Jan. 31, 1980) at 871 ("A. [I]f [Carlos Hernandez is] drinking, he's always bringing up something, you know, about the past, that I did this to his sister. . . . Q. [T]hat you were going out with Dahlia? . . . And also that you had gone off to Houston with Dahlia? A. Yes, sir. Not exactly because I had gone off with Dahlia; because I mess around and stuff like that.");

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Albert Peña, Lawyer for Jesse Garza in Dahlia Sauceda Case, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Feb. 25, 2005) at 17:43:40–17:47:09:

So that led us into the clique, the so-called group that would hang out together a lot [around Carlos Hernandez]. We went and talked to various people, to find out that Dahlia Sauceda had been dating Carlos Hernandez, the one we ultimately believed, and still believe—and I think it has been pretty much proven—that he was the one that actually committed the homicide. That he had been upset with Dahlia because Dahlia had been dating his brother-in-law. I can't remember the first name but it was Schilling, was the last name. He had a grudge for her. . . . But then the more and more we got into it, seemed like this Carlos Hernandez really had this real hot grudge. Several people said that he was very disgusted and angry that his sister was being abused, in the sense that her husband not only beat her up but also was going out on her.

Sita Sovin & Lauren Eskenazi's Notes on Interview with Pricilla Hernandez Jaramillo, Niece of Carlos Hernandez (Sept. 16, 2004) at 3 ("Carlos [Hernandez] admitted [to his family] that he was sexually involved with Dahlia Saucedo.").

Pedro Olivarez, Witness Against Jesse Garza in Trial for Murdering Dahlia Sauceda, Statement to Corpus Christi Police Dep't (Nov. 29, 1979) at 1, 4:

My name is Pedro Olivarez. I am 23 years old . . . . Jesse told Dahlia, "I am going to rape you and if you don't I'm going to beat the hell out of you." Then Jesse started taking off her pants, but Dahlia held her hand on the top of them. Jesse then hit her in the face knocking her down. Then Jesse pulled Dahlia's pants off and panties. Her pants she had on were blue jeans. Then Jesse pulled down his pants and started fucking her. Dahlia started screaming, and yelled, "Pete help me, his [sic] hitting me." Then Jesse went wild. He started hitting her all over, in the nose and all over her body. He just kept hitting her in the stomach till she stopped yelling. Then he got her blue jeans and wrapped the legs of the jeans around her neck and started choking her. I then turned around and left, because I didn't want to see what Jesse was doing to Dahlia. I closed the van door. I waited about thrity [sic] minutes. While outside I saw the van rocking side to side as I opened the door I saw Jesse kneeling over Dahlia. Dahlia was laying on her back naked. Jesse then turned Dahlia over and Dahlia was laying face down. Jesse got an old rusty kitchen knife that was laying on the bar table in the van. Jesse then went back to where Dahlia was lying and bent down and took the knife by the point and made a big 'X' on her back.

Dahlia Sauceda's first name is spelled differently in different documents, including as "Dalia" in Pedro Olivarez's statement quoted here. For the sake of consistency and readability, we have substituted the spelling "Dahlia" here and elsewhere, without indicating where different spellings were used in the original source.

Paul Rivera, Corpus Christi Police Detective, Supplementary Report (Nov. 30, 1979) at 2 ("At this time, reporting officer along with Sgt. Smith, and officer Ray De La Garza, asked the juvenile, Roger Fuentes, in the presence of Jesus Garza if Jesus Garza had been at home from 1:00 a.m. until 3:00 a.m. on 11–20–79, a Tuesday morning, and the juvenile, Roger Fuentes, stated that Jesus Garza and Pedro Olivarez had not been at home during those hours.").

Pedro Olivarez, Witness Against Jesse Garza in Trial for Murdering Dahlia Sauceda, Statement to Corpus Christi Police Dep't (Nov. 29, 1979) at 3 ("Shortly after that Dahlia came back in her van and pulled up into the driveway. Dahlia asked Jesse if he would like to go cruising around, Jesse said yes. I asked Jesse if I could go and Jesse said yes. We drove around for awhile [and] around 1:30 a.m. we stopped at a Seven Eleven Store.").

Bruce Whitman's Notes on Interview with Pedro Olivarez, Witness Against Jesse Garza in Trial for Murdering Dahlia Sauceda (Aug. 20, 2004, Mar. 1, 2005) at 1 ("Pedro Olivarez was a regular patron at the Casino Club in 1989. Pedro hung out there with his friends including Jesse Garza.").

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Eddie Cruz, Private Investigator for Defendant Jesse Garza in Dahlia Sauceda Case, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Feb. 25, 2005) at 18:41:45 ("I'm not too sure if that [other] individual [Pedro Olivarez] was all there, mentally-wise. I think they stated that he wasn't capable, or didn't have the mentality of a 20 or 21 year old that he was.");

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Albert Peña, Lawyer for Jesse Garza in Dahlia Sauceda Case, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Feb. 25, 2005) at 17:40:18 ("Olivare[z] was . . . mentally deficient.");

see also Pedro Olivarez, Witness Against Jesse Garza in Trial for Murdering Dahlia Sauceda, Trial Test., Texas v. Garza, No. 79-CR–881-C (Nueces Cty., 94th Dist. Tex. Jan. 31, 1980) at 69–70 (discussing the nature of his relationship with Dahlia Sauceda at the Casino Club).

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Eddie Cruz, Private Investigator for Defendant Jesse Garza in Dahlia Sauceda Case, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Feb. 25, 2005) at 18:52:43, 18:54:20 (recounting how Jesse Garza met Dahlia Sauceda when he was dressed in a "white, totally white, a white outfit"; noting that Jesse was "a good-looking kid");

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Eddie Cruz, Private Investigator for Defendant Jesse Garza in Dahlia Sauceda Case, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Feb. 25, 2005) at 19:22:16 ("Those guys were good-looking guys, and Jesse liked the spotlight and Carlos [Hernandez] liked the spotlight. And they knew they could go into the Casino Club and score any time they wanted to.");

Bruce Whitman's Notes on Interview with Jesse Garza, Defendant in Dahlia Sauceda Killing (Aug. 12, 2004) at 2 ("Jesse liked the ladies, he liked to dance and hang out with his friends including Pedro Olivarez.");

Bruce Whitman's Notes on Interview with Yolanda Ortiz, Owner of Casino Club (Sept. 21, 2004) at 2 (describing Jesse Garza as a regular at the Casino Club and as "a little guy who thought he was bad").

Application by Court Appointed Defense Counsel for Compensation, Texas v. Garza, No. 79-CR–881-C (Nueces Cty., 94th Dist. Tex. Jan. 31, 1980) at 1 ("Defendant is indigent and [Albert Peña] has been appointed by this Court to represent the Defendant.");

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Albert Peña, Lawyer for Jesse Garza in Dahlia Sauceda Case, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Feb. 25, 2005) at 17:40:00 ("I was [Jesse Garza's] defense lawyer, I was appointed by the court.").

Transcribed Videotape Interview with Eddie Cruz, Private Investigator for Defendant Jesse Garza in Dahlia Sauceda Case, in Corpus Christi, Texas (Feb. 25, 2005) at 19:38:35 ("So I think that if Mr. Peña had not been the attorney on the case, and, obviously, if I hadn't been the investigator on the case—but I went through his guidance—I think that Jesse, obviously, there's no doubt in my mind, he would have at least served 10, 15 years and been placed on probation, and possibly even been killed because of what he was accused of doing and the kind of family that Dahlia Sauceda had.").

Chapter 7
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