Defendant accused in Chayse Olivarez murder pleads not guilty to new charges

EDINBURG — The lead defendant accused in the 2017 murder of a Rio Grande City teen pleaded not guilty to the upgraded charge of capital murder Thursday morning.

Jose Luis Garcia Jr. previously pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and tampering with evidence related to the July 2017 death of Chayse Olivarez, a 17-year-old from Rio Grande City.

Garcia was released on a $700,000 bond in November 2018, according to court records. However, the 229th District Attorney’s Office of Starr County announced last week that new evidence prompted a grand jury to reconsider the charges against Garcia and two other defendants in the case.

Garcia, 18, along with Sebastian Torres, 17, and Phillip Selvera, 18, were charged with capital murder and tampering with evidence in the superseding indictment. All three were ordered held without bond.

Garcia is accused of hiring Selvera and Torres to murder Olivarez and helping to dispose of the body.

Olivarez was first reported missing in late July 2017 and his remains were later discovered on a Roma ranch in August.

Capital murder carries an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole or the death penalty if convicted. However, Ricardo “Rick” Salinas, the attorney for Garcia, said the prosecutors could not seek the death penalty given his client’s age at the time of the alleged murder in July 2017.

Two cases were opened against Garcia related to the alleged murder: one that charged him with murder and tampering with evidence — which is now superseded by the new indictment — and one charging him with tampering with physical evidence, namely a human corpse. Valdez agreed to consolidate both cases for trial.

During Garcia’s arraignment Thursday morning — in the 398th District Court in Hidalgo County — Salinas also requested the previous bond be reinstated.

In support of that request, Salinas called on Garcia’s probation officer to the witness stand where the officer testified there were no issues with Garcia meeting his bond conditions which include reporting to the probation officer on a weekly basis, submitting to weekly drug tests and remaining under house arrest under the surveillance of a GPS tracking device.

However, the office testified that he was unable to make home visits to Garcia’s home because he was prohibited from leaving the jurisdiction of Hidalgo County and Garcia currently resides with parents in Starr County.

Though the alleged offense occurred in Starr County, the case was transferred to Hidalgo County in October 2017 for security reasons and to ensure a fair trial.

Salinas and the state prosecutors offered possible solutions such as enlisting a probation officer from Starr County to make the home visits or transferring probation authority back to Starr County.

But whether either of those changes will be necessary will depend on the decision visiting Judge Rogelio Valdez makes regarding Garcia’s bond.

Valdez was newly assigned to the case in March following the DWI arrest of the previous judge assigned to the case, Robert Garza, in December 2018.

Valdez said he would review the transcripts from the previous bond hearings, as well as consider the testimony from the probation officer, before making a decision.

Torres and Selvera, meanwhile, are scheduled to be arraigned in Starr County on May 6.