San Juan man pleads guilty to girlfriend’s strangulation death

San Juan resident convicted of strangling his girlfriend to death pleaded guilty to murder Tuesday, court records show.

Mateo Fabian Gomez Garza, 42, was facing one count of murder related to the Aug. 15, 2018 strangulation death of Melinda Ann “Melly” Garza, 41, of Pharr.

Melinda Garza, who ran her own embroidery business, was found dead in a San Juan home Aug. 16 after Melinda’s daughter called police to conduct a welfare check on her mother, who family and friends hadn’t heard from in a day.

The preliminary autopsy report determined Melinda’s cause of death to be asphyxia, “with evidence of strangulation and blunt force head trauma,” according to a criminal complaint the San Juan Municipal Court released after Garza’s arrest, and after Garza confessed to the woman’s murder, according to the complaint.

According to the offense report tied to that assault, Garza grabbed the woman’s wrist, struck her chest and punched her on the back during an argument over her cellphone.

The third-degree felony carried a prison sentence of two to 10 years, and in exchange for his guilty plea, then-state District Judge Rodolfo “Rudy” Delgado sentenced Garza to 10 years in prison, which the judge suspended to 10 years probation. One of the conditions of probation was that Garza not break laws and “avoid injurious or vicious habits,” according to court documents.

In addition to the guilty plea to the murder charge, Garza also pleaded true Tuesday to the state’s motion to revoke his probation, which was filed shortly after Garza’s arrest and subsequent confession to authorities in August 2018.

At the time, the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office noted that Garza had failed to report to his community supervision officer on numerous occasions, most recently in May and July 2018.

District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez said his office pushed for him to serve time in prison during the 2016 sentencing hearing, underscoring why prosecutors did not enter into a plea agreement with Garza’s attorney at that time.

Garza’s lack of ability to stay out of trouble and commit more violent acts was among one of the reasons the DA’s office opted not to offer a plea deal at that time, citing a previous misdemeanor charge of assault causing bodily injury stemming from a December 2014 incident with a then-girlfriend.

In that incident, Garza was accused of punching the woman’s face, causing her to lose consciousness, when she tried to intervene during a verbal dispute between Garza and her cousin, according to the offense report.

In May 2015, Hidalgo County Court-at-Law Judge Arnoldo Cantu Jr. accepted Garza’s guilty plea for the 2014 assault and sentenced him to six months of probation as part of a plea agreement between prosecutors and Garza’s attorney.

Following Garza’s arrest for the July 2015 assault, his probation was revoked in September of that year and he served the remaining 81 days of the probated sentence in county jail.

After the sentencing hearing for the murder trial is completed, the DA’s office is expected to push for Garza to be sentenced to the maximum 10 years on the assault with a previous conviction charge.

Melinda Garza

At the time of Garza’s arraignment last August, San Juan Police Chief Juan Gonzalez said Melinda Garza was in a relationship with Mateo Garza at the time of her death.

Friends and family, who described Melinda as a “great” daughter, mother and grandmother,” alluded to domestic violence between the woman and Garza at the time of his arraignment.

Garza faces a maximum sentence of life in prison at his sentencing hearing, scheduled for mid-October, records show.