Judge ponders punishment in sentencing trial for man who killed wife in front of son

Alvaro Mata is seen in court during his murder trial. (The Brownsville Herald)

BROWNSVILLE — A packed courtroom heard the gut-wrenching 9-1-1 call from the teenaged son of 36-year-old Jessica Cortina reporting that his mother had been shot in the stomach by his father.

The gripping audio was played during the sentencing trial for Alvaro Mata, who shot and killed Cortina in front of the 17-year-old and his 4-year-old brother on Nov. 14, 2017.

Mata pleaded guilty to murder on Jan. 22 after reaching a plea deal where prosecutors will ask state District Judge Adolfo Cordova to sentence the man to 20 to 50 years in prison in order to spare Cortina and Mata’s four sons, who were in the house at the time of the murder, from having to relive the ordeal.

The sentencing trial began late Thursday morning and ended at 4 p.m. before being rescheduled for 11:15 this morning as witness testimony had not yet concluded.

The first piece of evidence in the case was the 9-1-1 call, which brought tears to Cortina’s family members in the courtroom. As the tape played, Mata hung his head low, wiping tears with handcuffed wrists.

When the then 17-year-old calls 9-1-1, Cortina was still breathing. All throughout the call, the boy sobs in grief, not knowing what to do as the emergency operator directs him to find a dry cloth to put pressure on the wound.

“No, no, no,” the boy sobs repeatedly.

The emergency operator then instructs the teenager on CPR.

As the tape played, Mata hung his head low as he listened to the night his son told police who arrived on the scene who shot his mother.

“My dad shot her. I think he took off,” the boy tells an officer, before providing his father’s name. “Alvaro Mata Jr.”

He then tells the officer that he saw the shooting.

Cameron County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Paul Sanchez, who arrived on the scene 30 to 40 minutes after the killing, testified that the attack began in the master bedroom of Cortina’s home and then spread through the living room until Mata killed Cortina in front of his 4-year-old son and teenage son inside his bedroom.

Sanchez said Mata shot Cortina five times and that there was a large amount of blood, which Epitacio Cortina, Cortina’s father, testified he cleaned up.

A video-taped interview with Cortina’s 17-year-old son revealed that the boy told investigators Mata argued with his mother a week-and-a-half prior to the killing because he thought she was texting someone. The boy said his mother told him to call police, but Mata told him not to, so he didn’t.

The night of the murder, Mata demanded Cortina let him see her phone, which she refused, In the video-taped interview, Cortina’s son told investigators that when Mata burst into his room before shooting his mother, the man asked him: “Do you think your mom deserves to live?”

Testimony during the sentencing hearing revealed that at the time of the murder Mata and Cortina were separated.

Multiple witnesses, including Cortina’s family’s members, testified that in the days prior to the murder, Cortina told them of multiple instances of abuse at the hands of Mata, including a 2011 incident where he tried to set a fire in the house. Approximately 10 days before she was killed, Epitacio Cortina, the father, testified his daughter told him that Mata tried to suffocate her.

He also testified that his wife told him how the youngest boy in the family had told her how Mata was abusing Cortina.

“I never believed her,” Epitacio Cortina testified.

Orlando Jiminez, Mata’s defense attorney, presented one witness who testified that he had an affair with Cortina in 2011, around the time of the fire, and called another witness to ask if the man had an affair with Cortina around the time of the murder, which he denied.

Jiminez also brought four of Mata’s sisters to the stand to ask whether they knew about the affairs and whether the fire was as serious as the prosecution made it out to be. He also asked them about what kind of person their brother was, to which they said kind, and always there for them.