Pretrial hearing in Olivarez murder pushed back

RIO GRANDE CITY — The final pretrial hearing in the Chayse Olivarez murder has been pushed back to August after a 16-year-old defendant in the case, who has been in custody for nearly a year, was not transported to Starr County for Monday’s proceeding.

Sebastian Torres is charged with murder, tampering with evidence and tampering with a corpse for his alleged role in the August 2017 shooting death of 17-year-old Olivarez, whose body was found badly burned and cut into pieces.

Torres was expected to be transferred from where he is being held in Nueces County into Starr County Sheriff’s Office custody in advance of Monday’s hearing, which was set back on June 1.

Omar Escobar, district attorney for the 229th Judicial District, directed requests for comment to the Starr County Sheriff’s Office, which he said schedules transportation for inmates in custody.

“Miscommunication between the coordinating and transporting agencies was the cause of Mr. Torres not appearing in court,” Starr County Sheriff Rene Fuentes said in a statement.

When asked to identify the coordinating agency referred to in his statement, Fuentes remarked “the judicial system.”

“The Starr County Sheriff’s Office was not advised that Mr. Torres was supposed to be brought to court like other times before,” he continued in his statement.

Torres, who was arrested Aug. 11, 2017, “is being housed in the Corpus Christi area for security reasons and it is to the best interest of the case that Mr. Torres be housed away from Starr County at this point,” Fuentes said, noting the “high profile” nature of the Olivarez case.

Abner Burnett, Torres’ lead attorney, could not be reached for comment.

Torres’ defense team had planned to argue several motions at Monday’s hearing, including opposing prosecutors’ request to combine his case with that of the other co-defendants, and changing the location of the trial from Starr County to Duval.

They argued in one motion that if the judge granted the state’s motion to consolidate Torres’ case with that of co-defendants Jose Luis Garcia Jr., 17, and Salvador Martinez, 18, that would “directly infringe on Sebastian’s right to a speedy trial, right to confrontation, and right to a fair and impartial jury …”

Prosecutors, they argue, are not ready for Garcia’s, Martinez’s or Torres’ cases, having continued to provide them with evidence to review since announcing on June 1 that they were prepared to go to trial on Torres’ case.

“A consolidation will compel Sebastian to halt his progress toward trial and to wait indefinitely while his co-defendants prepare their own cases,” the motion reads.

His defense team also took issue with the fact that Garcia and Martinez’s cases have been moved from Starr to Hidalgo County, a move they believe would still “not make the search for an impartial jury pool easier,” given that both “lie within the same media coverage zone …” according to another motion.

They argue Torres’ trial should take place in Duval County, whose courthouse is 120 miles north of that in Starr County.

Those motions will now be heard Aug. 9 at the rescheduled pretrial hearing. Jury selection remains scheduled for Sept. 24.