The district attorney’s office out of Starr County will not have to prosecute a nearly 10-year-old case after a judge on Thursday allowed it to be handed over to the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
The attorney general’s office will now be prosecuting the murder trial of Gerardo Echavarria Jr., who was granted a new trial in August 2018 after a juror in the first trial failed to disclose he had a family member that was a victim of a violent crime.
That jury in 2010 convicted Echavarria, who was 24 at the time, of the February 2009 murder of Juan Raul Requenez, 22.
Requenez had been found dead in his pickup truck. According to testimony relayed in court documents, Echavarria admitted to shooting Requenez, but claimed self-defense. Echavarria was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
His appeals to overturn the conviction were initially denied by the Fourth Court of Appeals and the Court of Criminal Appeals in 2012. He later argued, however, that his appellate attorney rendered ineffective assistance by not raising a claim regarding the juror in question.
“We agree,” the Court of Criminal Appeals stated in its opinion. This paved the way for Echavarria to again file a motion for a new trial, which visiting judge Federico Hinojosa granted in August.
In November, 229th District Attorney Omar Escobar filed a motion in to recuse himself from the case, citing a complaint filed against him by one of the victim’s family members.
Escobar stated that the complaint, filed to the Texas State Bar, “focused on an alleged intention of this office to engage in plea bargain negotiations with defendant and his attorney, if necessary,” according to his motion.
“That is largely unheard of,” Escobar said Thursday of the family member’s attempt to prevent any plea negotiations. “That just doesn’t happen; there’s not a DA’s office in Texas that allows a victim’s family to dictate all of the aspects of the trial.”
The state bar dismissed the complaint, but Escobar believed “the interests of justice” were better served by his recusal, according to his motion.
“Given that scenario, we just thought it was in the best interest of the case and of everybody involved just to go ahead and allow the AG’s office to take over this particular prosecution,” Escobar said.
In his motion, Escobar had also suggested that another district attorney be appointed to handle the case but said Hinojosa, the judge, was concerned that the family member could file a similar complaint against them.
The final pre-trial conference scheduled for Thursday was postponed, according to Escobar, until the AG’s office has had time to review the case.