San Benito man gets 50 years in wife’s shooting death

BROWNSVILLE — Alvaro Mata Jr. took the witness stand Friday and claimed he shot his wife five times in front of two of their sons by accident.

But state District Judge Adolfo Cordova didn’t buy it.

Mata showed no emotion as Cordova sentenced him to five decades in prison, tantamount to a decade for each time Mata shot 36-year-old Jessica Cortina, and fined the man $10,000. The judge told Mata he read the 33 letters submitted on his behalf by friends and family who said he was a good coworker, friend, son, sibling, father and husband.

“I’ll be honest with you,” Cordova told Mata. “I disagree with all 33 of those opinions.”

Mata, of San Benito, shot and killed Cortina, a Harlingen area teacher, on Nov. 14, 2017, in front of their 17-year-old and 4-year-old sons. He pleaded guilty to murder on Jan. 22 after reaching a plea deal where prosecutors asked for 20 to 50 years in prison in order to spare Cortina and Mata’s four sons, who were all in the house at the time of the murder, from having to relive the ordeal.

In addressing Mata, Cordova revealed that Mata was under the influence of cocaine when he murdered his wife in front of their children and reminded him of the gripping 911 call made by his son that the court heard Thursday during testimony.

“That moment will be with him forever,” Cordova told Mata. “My guess is he will have problems for the rest of his life.”

He also reminded Mata how his mother took the stand, pleading with him for mercy so that he could have a chance to be released from prison and care for his four children, who now live with Cortina’s parents.

“I don’t see how that would ever be possible,” Cordova said.

In Cordova’s eyes, Mata has already received mercy.

“I think that the mercy has been shown to you in the family of your wife, Jessica, by agreeing to the range of 20 to 50 years,” Cordova said.

Without that plea deal, Mata faced up to 99 years in prison.

Cortina’s father, Epitacio Cortina, asked Mata, who did not look at him, during victim impact statements, whether he believed he deserved to get out of prison before serving the maximum 50 years in prison.

“It’s been over a year and three months and it’s still hard to accept she is gone,” Epitacio said.

He told his son-in-law that when someone loves another person, they do everything in their power to make sure that a loved one lives a long, happy life.

“And you did the opposite,” Epitacio said.

Mata, who took the stand Friday, testified that he became enraged and overwhelmed at his wife after claiming to see her taking a provocative photo of herself when he arrived at the home unannounced. He demanded to see her phone before the deadly shooting. She refused.

When Mata didn’t get what he want, he pulled out a .22 caliber rifle from the closet and said he pointed it at the bed and ordered her to unlock her phone so he could see who she was texting.

Again, Cortina refused, and Mata pulled the trigger, claiming he didn’t know he shot her.

Then she ran to her son’s room. Mata followed.

That’s when he asked his 17-year-old son: “Do you think your mom deserves to live?”

On Friday, Mata testified he didn’t remember saying that, but said he then shot her again and picked up her night gown, exposing his wife’s nude body, and saw the bullet wound.

Then he said he checked on the other children.

“At that point, I left because I got scared because I knew I was going to be arrested,” Mata said.

Mata claimed he just wanted to scare his wife.

“I did not mean to kill my wife,” Mata said. “I was trying to scare her to unlock her phone.”