Man convicted in 2015 burned bodies case

EDINBURG — After four hours of deliberation Friday, a jury found Hector Alvarado guilty of capital murder in what the state called a “horrific, brutal and excessively violent destruction of two human beings.”

The 26-year-old showed little emotion, his gaze often downcast, throughout the six-day trial, which stretched over a seven-week period due to delays from evidence technicalities and major flooding in the county.

The jury found Alvarado guilty of three counts of capital murder for his role in the May 2015 deaths of Jose Luis Salinas Torres and Lazaro Alejandro Martinez Esparza, who were found in the trunk of a burning car along a canal near Delta Lake. An autopsy revealed both were fatally shot in the back.

He was the first of three co-defendants in the case to stand trial as dates have yet to be set for Edwin Salinas, 25, and Carlos Palacios, 32.

Attorneys for the state and defense agreed only on the brutal nature of the crime during closing arguments Friday, and each side urged jurors to give the confession Alvarado made to a Hidalgo County sheriff’s investigator varying degrees of credibility.

Alvarado told the investigator Salinas and Palacios shot the victims during a drug deal he had arranged between them and Salinas, a longtime friend, and Esparza, a drug trafficker. He confessed to witnessing Palacios bash Esparza’s face with the butt of a gun before the co-defendants turned their guns on him, threatening to hurt his family if he said anything about the murders. He then went with them to Delta Lake area where Palacios and Salinas set the car on fire.

Assistant District Attorney Cregg Thompson argued that “parts of (Alvarado’s) statement are not consistent with other witnesses and evidence” and that “it is full of many lies.” This includes Alvarado’s then-girlfriend who testified that he confessed to bashing Esparza’s head upon her seeing human teeth on a picnic table at the home where the drug deal took place. Esparza was missing teeth, according to the forensic examiner who conducted the autopsy, and the state alleges this was on account of his face being hit by a weight.

Other witnesses contradicted Alvarado’s account of his whereabouts in the hours and days following the crime.

“The statement is merely evidence of his consciousness of his guilt,” said Thompson, adding Alvarado lied so as not to “put himself as a party to the crime.”

Defense attorney O. Rene Flores, on the other hand, argued the state presented “no reasonable evidence” that Alvarado had planned or caused the victims’ deaths, noting it only showed he had arranged a drug deal, a crime with which he wasn’t charged.

He argued in favor of the credibility of his client’s confession to only arranging a drug deal, not knowing what would transpire, emphasizing the sheriff’s investigator testified that Alvarado’s statement was in fact consistent with their investigation.

“I am disappointed in the verdicts, but I respect them,” Flores said. “I believe there are several issues to appeal and I look forward to that.”

As Alvarado was led out of the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies, his other defense attorney Rogelio Garza could be heard telling him, “This is the first time; it’s not over yet.”

He will be sentenced Monday to the automatic sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole by Auxiliary Court Judge Jaime Garza.

msmith@themonitor.com