RIO GRANDE CITY — A 16-year-old waiting to learn whether or not he will be moved to adult criminal court to stand trial for a murder charge will have to wait a few more weeks.
Closing arguments in his certification hearing are scheduled for Jan. 9. That’s when the Starr County attorney and the juvenile’s lawyers will present their final case to County Court at Law Judge Romero Molina as to whether the teen accused of playing a role in Chayse Olivarez’s death should be tried as an adult.
The teen is one of three charged with Olivarez’s murder. Another suspect is also 16-years-old and considered a juvenile, and the third defendant, 17-year-old Jose Luis Garcia Jr., is considered an adult.
All three face additional charges of tampering with evidence and a human corpse.
A fourth suspect, 18-year-old Salvador Martinez, was arrested on tampering charges.
As per the Texas Family Code, in addition to the seriousness of the crime, the judge must consider “the sophistication and maturity of the child,” the juvenile’s criminal history and the likelihood that the juvenile could be rehabilitated through the juvenile justice system.
Throughout the three days of the hearing that have taken place so far, County Attorney Victor Canales Jr. emphasized the serious nature of the murder charge. The state called multiple law enforcement officers to the witness stand to detail the crime.
Testimony from an investigator with the Starr County Sheriff’s Office and a Texas Ranger revealed that Garcia allegedly shot Olivarez multiple times before the teens burned, cut up and placed his body in trash bags. The bags were discovered in a Roma lagoon in August, and Olivarez was identified through dental records.
Canales alleges that the juvenile facing possible certification assisted in the disposal of the body given his detailed knowledge of the manner in which it was disposed, but this remains in dispute, as emphasized by the juvenile’s attorney Abner Burnett.
When asked by Burnett whether any of the teens said his client was physically involved with the disposal, the Texas Ranger testified that they had not.
While the state underscored the manner in which Olivarez died, Burnett highlighted his client’s immaturity.
Testimony from both the psychologist called by the state and the licensed social worker called by the defense — who were each tasked with evaluating the juvenile — bolstered this factor the judge must consider.
“We see a pattern of him not being able to deal with high levels of stress and rejection (from his peers),” the social worker testified Thursday.
According to the juvenile’s interviews with investigators, he believed he was going to the Roma ranch where Olivarez was shot to smoke marijuana.
Both the psychologist and social worker testified it was their expert opinion that he was a good candidate for rehabilitation at a Texas Department of Juvenile Justice facility.
The assistant chief of the Starr County Juvenile Probation Department, however, disagreed, testifying she believed he should be tried as an adult “because of the severity of the crime.”
If the judge decides to certify the juvenile as an adult, he could face up to 99 years or life in prison if convicted of the murder charge.
If he remains in juvenile court, he would face a maximum sentence of 40 years.