Punishment redo denied for San Juan man convicted of ‘17 murder

EDINBURG — A San Juan man’s bid to get a new trial punishment hearing in a murder case was denied.

During a hearing Wednesday afternoon, Johnny Gomez Hernandez, represented by Edinburg attorney Hector Hernandez Jr., argued a new trial punishment was due as the court had not considered all mitigating evidence in the pre-sentencing investigation report turned over to the court prior to the sentencing hearing.

The court handed down a 33-year prison sentence for Johnny Hernandez in June after he opted to plead true to the murder of Marcelino Tijerina Jr., 53.

The 25-year-old man, who was 23 at the time, was the driver of a vehicle that crashed into Tijerina on April 4, 2017.

According to the criminal complaint from the San Juan Police Department, and its officers, Johnny Hernandez “willingly admitted he had struck (Tijerina)” with his vehicle after a confrontation with two men.

The crash, which took place around roughly 1:15 a.m. April 4, 2017, left Tijerina lying in the roadway of the 1400 block of Lila Street in San Juan.

Police officers spoke to at least two witnesses who were present when Johnny Hernandez ran over Tijerina.

One witness, a 23-year-old man, told police he witnessed a red Volkswagen Jetta strike (Tijerina) and then flee the scene.

Another witness to the incident took photos of Johnny Hernandez’s vehicle.

Even Johnny Hernandez’s common law wife, who was present, told police she witnessed Johnny Hernandez strike the McAllen man and leave the scene.

Tijerina, of McAllen, died less than two days later at a hospital in San Antonio as a result of the injuries suffered from being hit by Johnny Hernandez’s vehicle.

Specifically, Hector Hernandez Jr. asked the court to consider a new trial punishment due to the possibility that the court did not have all mitigating evidence within the PSI report; and possibly failed to take into consideration letters submitted by Johnny Hernandez’s family.

The PSI report, in addition to the defendant’s version of events in April 2017, included letters to the court from Johnny Hernandez’s family.

“My client plead guilty to murder; the PSI was done. As part of that PSI, I requested of the family, including the children, that they draft letters, only for mitigation purposes to be provided along with the PSI,” Hector Hernandez Jr. said.

He said on the day of Johnny Hernandez’s sentencing, the letters were not in the PSI report — the main reason for the motion for new trial punishment.

Johnny Hernandez, according to the state, was on probation in connection with a state drug charge at the time of the fatal crash.

Because of this, Johnny Hernandez — who was facing a minimum 20 years and the possibility that he could receive even more years if he had gone to a jury trial — opted to plead guilty to the murder charge.

At the sentencing hearing in June, the court additionally dismissed the second charge against him, accident involving death, court records show.

The state, represented by Hidalgo County Assistant District Attorneys Monica Auger and Carisa Rivera Casarez, argued the defense’s argument for a new trial punishment, based “in the interest of justice,” is no legal basis at all.

“When I actually look at the motion on its face; the Defense does not actually state a legal basis for relief in this case, he simply asks for the Court to reconsider a motion for a new trial based in the interest of justice,” Rivera Casarez said.

She also underscored that Johnny Hernandez, when he pleaded guilty in June, knew he could receive a punishment between five and 99 years to life, and additionally he waived several rights, including the ability to appeal the conviction.

Before denying the motion, state District Judge Mario E. Ramirez Jr. stated the court had in fact taken all information into account, including the letters from Johnny Hernandez’s family.

“As you know the court has great discretion in considering motions for new trial,” Ramirez said.

“And I want you to know for the record; in every case, particularly in a murder case; I, as well as I’m sure all the other judges in this county, take careful notice of everything that has been filed with the court, including mitigation evidence, and I certainly did that in this case, I certainly considered mitigation.”

Ramirez also said the sentence that was handed down, 33 years, was “well below the maximum sentence” that could’ve been handed down in this case, which was between five and 99 years to life.

Johnny Hernandez will continue to serve the sentence he began in June.