Two narratives unfolded in the 430th state District Court on Tuesday, the first full day of testimony in the trial of a 37-year-old man accused of strangling his mother’s home healthcare provider to death in late October 2017.
In one, a picture emerged of a disturbed man high on crack cocaine who stabbed and strangled 61-year-old Maria Alisa Garza to death while waiting approximately one full day before reporting the death to police.
In another, painted during cross examination of McAllen Police Department detectives by defense attorney Jesus Villalobos, authorities failed to fully investigate Garza’s ex-boyfriend, who had been convicted of strangling the woman in April 2017, a man his client, Juan Manuel Hernandez, blamed from the beginning.
Eight witnesses took the stand Tuesday in the second day of the jury trial for Hernandez, who has pleaded not guilty to murder.
The investigation into Hernandez began when he called McAllen police looking for an officer named Carlos Salinas — the victim’s son-in-law — though he couldn’t recall the man’s name during the call.
“Ma’am, I have a dead body in my house,” Hernandez said in a recording.
During a video-taped interview taken at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance on Oct. 30, 2017, three days after Hernandez reported the death, the man tells MPD Detective Ismael Cruz that he promised Garza, who he said was afraid of her ex-boyfriend, that he would look for Salinas, her son-in-law, and her daughter, Andria Marie Salinas.
He told Cruz that his religion, which hasn’t been named in open court, required him to follow through on that promise instead of calling police.
“I should have called you guys, regardless that I had been doing drugs,” Hernandez said in the recording.
He also says it would be “common sense” for police to think someone who is “high as a kite” in Hernandez’s situation may have had something to do with Garza’s death.
That recording contained more information about Hernandez’s religion, but it was not shown to the jury or in open court.
At some point between Oct. 25 and 28, 2017, authorities say Hernandez moved Garza’s body from her car, which was parked outside his apartment at 609 N. Broadway Apt. 6, into his residence.
After making the initial call looking for Salinas, Hernandez drove Garza’s vehicle to the McAllen police station to look for Salinas, according to the video-taped interview.
That’s where he encountered MPD Patrol Officer Luis Villarreal, who thought it was rare for someone to look for a specific officer, and described Hernandez’s demeanor as disoriented.
“He looked like he was in another state,” Villarreal testified.
The officer also noticed what looked like self-inflicted wounds on Hernandez’s arms.
During that interview with Detective Cruz, Hernandez said he removed a blade that had been lodged in the victim’s side and used it to slash himself.
“I put it in my pocket and I cut myself too. That’s my thing,” Hernandez said, explaining to Cruz that when he is frustrated and angry he cuts himself.
Despite carrying the body in and moving it inside his house and covering it with a blanket so his cat wouldn’t “nibble” or “take a bite” of the body, Hernandez never admits to killing Garza and instead blames her ex-boyfriend, a Mercedes man.
Underneath the blanket, her body was also wrapped in bed sheets, curtains and plastic bound together with black and white strings.
MPD Detective Miguel Barajas testified he was tasked with searching Guillermo Gonzalez’s home and three cars.
Gonzalez is Garza’s ex-boyfriend and is serving three years community supervision on two convictions relating to an April 15, 2017, assault on Garza, which included impeding her breath.
Barajas testified he gained consent to search Gonzalez’s home and three vehicles at the man’s Mercedes residence at 7:55 p.m., but didn’t find anything of evidentiary value.
The detective described Gonzalez as calm and cooperative.
Barajas then transported the man to McAllen for further interviews and another investigator read Gonzalez a Miranda warning at 9:17 p.m.
Villalobos, the defense attorney, questioned how thorough of a search Barajas and another detective who accompanied him could have conducted, given the 30-minute drive back to McAllen.
Between gaining consent to search and reading Gonzalez the Miranda warning while factoring in the 30-minute drive from Mercedes to McAllen, Villalobos said Barajas would have spent just 20 to 25 minutes searching the man’s home and the three vehicles on the property.
The trial continues Wednesday.