Teen charged in Starr County slaying makes first court appearance

EDINBURG — A 17-year-old charged in the slaying of another teenager made his first appearance in Hidalgo County district court Friday, after the case was moved from Starr County for security reasons and to ensure a fair trial.

In addition to murder, Jose Luis Garcia Jr. faces tampering charges involving a human corpse and physical evidence — all stemming from the July 30, 2017, shooting death of 17-year-old Chayse Olivarez on an abandoned Roma ranch.

The case is being heard by visiting Judge Robert Garza, who was assigned after a Rio Grande City school district employee was accused of attempting to bribe a Starr County judge’s brother to reduce Garcia’s bond, which was initially set at $2 million.

Garza reduced the bond to $1.15 million last month. On Friday, Garcia’s attorney, Ricardo “Rick” Salinas, asked the judge to consider lowering the bond further, this time to $750,000. Garza said he will contemplate the request over the course of the next few weeks.

Additionally, the assistant district attorneys trying the case told the judge they are still waiting for the results of DNA and gun evidence tests, which they expect next month.

Salinas asked the prosecutors to hand over any initial statements his client, or any of the three co-defendants, made to investigators prior to making any incriminating statements against his client — particularly statements that “exculpate(d),” or exonerated, Garcia.

Previous hearings revealed that more than one of the four defendants — who ranged in age from 16 to 18 at the time of their arrest — allegedly confessed to the crime during interviews with Texas Rangers and Starr County sheriff’s investigators.

“If we have co-defendants that made statements implicating my client or someone else, but initially made mitigating statements — like ‘I don’t know, I don’t remember, he didn’t do anything’ — and then later on for whatever reason … decided to say something very inculpatory, all the statements before that that lead up to the statement, we’re entitled to that,” Salinas said.

The judge agreed, telling the assistant district attorneys to review the investigators’ interviews.

The judge also set the next hearing in the case for May 11, noting that he expected to rule on motions at the time and set a trial date for September or October.

“We need to get this tried,” Garza said.