DNA, cellphone records conflict with murder suspect’s story

EDINBURG — A former Texas Department of Public Safety analyst testified Thursday that she could not exclude a murder suspect from DNA found on a knot used to bind a strangulation victim in blankets or from an RCA cable found near the body.

Joanne Del Rio, who worked at the Weslaco Crime Lab in August 2018 when she tested evidence in the case, took that stand in the fourth day of 37-year-old Juan Manuel Hernandez’s murder trial over charges he killed his mother’s home healthcare provider, 61-year-old Maria Alisa Garza, in late October 2017.

The investigation began when a disoriented Hernandez walked into the lobby of the McAllen Police Department on Oct. 28, 2017, to tell police that he found the woman’s body at 11 p.m. on Oct. 27, 2017, in her car parked in front of his apartment.

Hernandez told detectives he moved the woman — who was wrapped up like a “cocoon” in blankets and plastic — into his apartment.

The man who was injured from cutting himself with a blade he pulled from the woman’s body told police he was sure the victim’s abusive ex-boyfriend, Guillermo Gonzalez III, had killed the woman, who he described as a sister.

Through the course of the investigation, police detained both men as persons of interest, but inconsistencies in Hernandez’s story and the fact that he was the last person to see the woman who was found in a state of decomposition inside his apartment alive, resulted in his arrest.

On Thursday, Del Rio’s testimony revealed that Hernandez’s DNA was found on several items at the crime scene while Gonzalez’s DNA was excluded.

Del Rio said that Hernandez’s DNA could not be excluded from three laces along the middle of the sheet used to wrap up Garza’s body. He also could not be excluded from stains on a knot, cloth and rope that were also used to wrap up the woman.

She also said he could not be excluded from the RCA cable or from tests of clips of fingernails taken from Garza’s right hand during her autopsy.

In addition, Del Rio said she couldn’t exclude Hernandez from a drop of blood found on a SIM card in the victim’s phone, which police recovered from a pawn shop.

Video played previously during the trial shows Hernandez pawning the phone on the afternoon of Oct. 27, 2017, hours before he told police he found the body.

Hernandez’s defense during the trial has consistently been that the ex-boyfriend, Gutierrez, wasn’t fully investigated and that he was the logical suspect as opposed to Hernandez, who admitted to being high on crack cocaine when he found the body.

He told police that Gutierrez called Garza on Oct. 25, 2017, a Wednesday, explaining to investigators that this was the last time he saw the victim.

Cellphone records, however, indicate that Oct. 23, 2017, a Monday, was the last time Gutierrez called Garza.

Hernandez, however, repeatedly called the victim in the week leading up to her death, and the two texted two to three times.

The last text Garza received from Hernandez was on Oct. 26, 2017, at 3:49 p.m.

Those records also showed that Hernandez called Garza at 4:57 a.m. on Oct. 28, 2017, hours after he later told police that he had found the woman’s body.

There was another interesting note from his phone records.

His number one contact was Garza, followed by his crack cocaine dealer.

The trial continues Friday.