16-year-old certified as adult in Starr County teen’s murder

RIO GRANDE CITY — A juvenile charged with murder was certified as an adult Thursday, raising his maximum prison sentence from 40 years to the possibly of life in prison.

The 16-year-old is charged with murder and two counts of tampering with physical evidence for his alleged role in the July 30, 2017, death of Chayse Olivarez, a teenager who was reported missing only to be discovered shot to death two weeks later.

His attorneys, Abner Burnett and Heriberto Silva, filed a notice of appeal with the Starr County Clerk minutes after County Court-at-Law Judge Romero Molina’s ruling to transfer the case from his court — which handles juvenile cases — to state district court.

During Tuesday’s closing arguments in the certification hearing, Burnett charged Molina with already having made up his mind about certifying his client as an adult, largely on account of community pressure to punish those involved with Olivarez’s death.

Two other teens — one 17-year-old, who is legally considered an adult, and another 16-year-old juvenile — have also been charged with murder and tampering. A fourth suspect has been charged with tampering with physical evidence for his role in disposing of Olivarez’s body, which was burned and dismembered with a machete.

The certification hearing for the other juvenile has yet to be set, but Molina’s decision Thursday is an indication of how he will rule when that case goes before him.

Molina said he found that Burnett’s client was of sufficient sophistication and maturity to be tried as an adult, noting that the teen “understands right from wrong and appreciates the consequences of his actions.”

The judge said, “The prospects of adequate protection for the public and the likelihood of reasonable rehabilitation of (the juvenile) by the use of procedures, services and facilities that are currently available to the juvenile court are in doubt.”

He cited a clinical social worker’s testimony that the Texas Department of Juvenile Justice’s Giddings State School, which houses juveniles who have committed violence crimes, has a success rate of 50 to 30 percent.

The social worker, however, said that she did not know how to define TDJJ success, noting that it could not be assumed that success equated re-offending. She was of the opinion the teen was a good candidate for rehabilitation.

Once the juvenile’s attorneys file the appeal with the 4th Court of Appeals, all proceedings in the case will come to a halt until the appellate court issues a ruling.

Burnett told the judge he believed the court record — which contains all of the witness testimony and evidence presented during the four-day certification hearing — may convince the appellate court to reverse the decision.

The judge initially ordered the juvenile to be taken into the custody of the Starr County Sheriff’s Office, but after consulting with the attorneys, decided he would remain in juvenile detention for the time being.