McAllen PD: Murder suspect pawned victim’s phone before reporting death

EDINBURG — A man who didn’t immediately report the death of a woman he’s accused of strangling told investigators he went to the McAllen Police Department to tell them about the body in his house before his mother came home from a trip to California.

Juan Manuel Hernandez, 37, made the statement to McAllen PD Detective Peter Boyko inside an interview room at the police department on Oct. 28, 2017, after he arrived at the station looking for the slain woman’s son-in-law, who is a patrol officer.

Hernandez is in the third day of a murder trial in the 430th state District Court on accusations he strangled 61-year-old Maria Alisa Garza while waiting approximately a full day before driving the victim’s car to the MPD where he pointed the finger at Garza’s abusive ex-boyfriend.

Hernandez has pleaded not guilty.

Defense attorney Jesus Villalobos has questioned whether authorities fully investigated the ex-boyfriend, 64-year-old Guillermo Gonzalez.

Boyko, the detective, testified Wednesday that police were concerned about Gonzalez, who has a conviction for strangling Garza and holding her against her will.

So much so, police listed Gonzalez as a person of interest and detained him for investigative purposes the night of Oct. 28, 2017, after detectives searched his Mercedes home and three vehicles on the property.

Villalobos has challenged that search in court, arguing based on the timeline of consent of search in Mercedes at 7:55 p.m. to the signing of the Miranda warning in McAllen at 9:18 p.m., investigators could have only spent 20 to 25 minutes on their search.

Boyko testified that Gonzalez was calm and cooperative and didn’t really understand why police were talking to him. The detective testified investigators didn’t tell him Garza was dead. Gonzalez’s body also didn’t show any recent wounds.

At the time, Oct. 28, 2017, like Gonzalez, Hernandez was also only a person of interest and held for investigative purposes. He wouldn’t be arrested until Oct. 30, 2017.

However, the investigation into Hernandez began revealing troubling details of drug use and self mutilation via a blade plucked from Garza’s body.

The investigation also showed that Hernandez drove the victim’s vehicle, without Garza joining him, on Oct. 27, 2017, in the early afternoon to two pawnshops where he pawned the victim’s phone, a medallion and a “Dirt Devil” vacuum cleaner — hours before he told police he found Garza wrapped up like a “cocoon” in her vehicle that was parked in front of his apartment.

Hernandez told investigators that he had spent the afternoon smoking crack and returned home between 11:30 p.m. and midnight when he discovered Garza’s body, which was wrapped in blankets and plastic, and moved it inside his apartment.

“I heard a hissing when I opened it and there was a horrible smell … it was like bog water,” Hernandez said during an hours-long interview with investigators on Oct. 28, 2017.

Boyko also testified about two checks discovered inside the victim’s vehicle.

One of those checks was in the victim’s name. It had a red stamp indicating it had been rejected for insufficient funds, testimony has shown.

The other check had been torn into pieces. That check was dated Oct. 27, 2017, and was for $70.

The handwriting on that check, however, was different than the first.

That handwriting matched the handwriting on the Miranda warning signed by Hernandez on Oct. 28, 2017, Boyko testified.

The trial continues Thursday.