Day 5 of Mission election trial offers conflicting testimony, frustrated attorneys

EDINBURG — The frustration was palpable during Monday’s testimony in the Mission election contest as witnesses could not remember facts, would not answer questions directly, and even at times contradicted themselves.

Ricardo “Rick” Salinas, the attorney representing his father, former Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas — who filed the election contest to challenge the results of the June mayoral runoff election in which he lost to current Mayor Armando O’Caña — called four witnesses to testify on Monday, most of whom gave inconsistent testimony.

The first witness, Leticia Cooley, was the only witness to testify in the morning, as the attorneys kept her on the witness stand for about two hours trying to clarify her statements.

Cooley testified that two women, one of them named Elizabeth Hernandez, came to her home with a ballot, left it with her for three days, then returned to pick up the ballot, which she says she signed and sealed herself. Cooley said she did not place a stamp on it or mail it herself.

However, there was confusion over whether Cooley could actually identify Elizabeth Hernandez as the woman who came to her home.

Cooley admitted she had previously identified Hernandez in a written statement given to people who worked for Salinas’ legal team when they asked about how she voted for the lawsuit. But Cooley then testified on Monday that she didn’t really remember Hernandez’s face.

She said the 2018 runoff was the first time she had voted by mail and couldn’t, initially, recall submitting an application for an absentee ballot.

When Gilberto Hinojosa, the attorney representing O’Caña cross-examined her, she at first said she knew signing a ballot application was for the purpose of getting a ballot in the mail but then later said she did not know she was supposed to get a ballot in the mail and that she did not receive the ballot in the mail.

However, after seeing her address on the envelope, she changed her answer and said she must have received it in the mail.

Salinas pressed her about the written statement she signed in preparation for the lawsuit. He continually asked her if the statement accurately portrayed what she told the people who took it.

However, Cooley wouldn’t directly answer the question and kept testifying that all she told them was that she filled out the ballot and the women picked it up and mailed it for her.

The following witness was Maria Canales, 93, who said she typically voted in person but this year, a woman named Esmeralda Lara came to her house.

Canales testified that Lara and another woman, who she later identified as Hernandez, came to her home and told her to mark an “X” on a paper for Beto Salinas.

However, there was confusion about what Canales was trying to say because she kept responding to questions in English even though she requested the assistance of a Spanish interpreter.

Several times, the attorneys and the judge had to ask Canales to respond in Spanish and allow the interpreter to translate her testimony.

At one point, Canales appeared to say that she suspected Lara was working for the O’Caña campaign but it was unclear. Regardless of who she believed they worked for, Canales said she voted for Beto Salinas.

Just before she was excused from the witness stand, it appeared Hinojosa attempted to undermine Canales’ credibility by showing her a photograph of Hernandez and asked her if she recognized her as Lara. Canales said she did.

The next witness, Emma Guerra Alaniz, said she voted absentee and that someone else, who she later identified as Hernandez, filled out her ballot for her. Later Alaniz clarified that she dictated to Hernandez who she wanted to vote for and said she was sure she saw Hernandez mark her vote for Beto Salinas.

However, Hinojosa again attempted to undermine whether the witness could properly identify Hernandez by showing Alaniz a picture of Hernandez, different from the one that Salinas had shown her.

Alaniz had previously described Hernandez as chubby and Hinojosa, showing her a picture of Alaniz that was on a mobile phone, asked if she recognized Hernandez in the second photo.

After first appearing confused, Alaniz said she did not believe it was the same person.

The last witness, Guadalupe Perez, who said she was good friends with Alaniz, said she met Elizabeth Hernandez at Alaniz’s home.

Perez testified that she received a call from Hernandez who told her to call her when she received her ballot in the mail, which Perez said she did.

When she received the ballot, Perez said she filled it out herself and signed it though she did not stamp it or mail it out herself.

When shown a copy of her ballot application, Perez initially said she didn’t know how a box stating she was disabled came to be marked, but then later insisted she had marked it herself.

Perez also said she didn’t fill out a ballot application, but when asked if the signature on it was hers, she said it was.

After she was excused from the witness stand, Judge J. Bonner Dorsey recessed for the day.

Testimony is scheduled to resume Tuesday at 9 a.m.