Jury returns Monday in fatal motorcycle-pedestrian crash

Jury deliberations will continue Monday in the punishment trial of Ronnie Huerta, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to a manslaughter charge.

The jury deliberated more than an hour on Friday before deciding to return Monday to continue deliberations. The trial is being heard before 138th state District Court Judge Arturo Cisneros Nelson.

Huerta pleaded guilty May 13 to manslaughter in a pedestrian-motorcycle crash that caused the death of a well-known woman from Port Isabel. He faces a sentence of two to 20 years in prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000, according to the Texas Penal Code.

Things got emotional Friday when Huerta’s sister, Sabrina Cantu, 15, testified in front of the jury. Cantu talked about the time her brother spent in the hospital and how he is not the same person anymore. She added Huerta did not want to live when he woke up from the coma.

“He didn’t want to live anymore … He told me and my mom to disconnect the plug,” Cantu testified with tears falling down her face. “He doesn’t even remember the accident.”

Still in tears, Cantu added that there have been nights when Huerta can’t sleep because the guilt is too strong and he wants to take Sweeten’s place.

“He can’t even sleep because he wants to take her place,” Cantu testified. “He wouldn’t do that to a person.”

Huerta, wearing a black long-sleeve shirt, cried for the first time during the trial when his sister was testifying. At the same time, his mother and girlfriend were sitting across the room crying, too.

“He has suffered a lot, look at him; he’s not going to be the same man anymore,” Cantu said pointing at Huerta.

Martha McClain, one of Sweeten’s closest friends, also testified Friday. In tears and with a Kleenex in her hand, McClain said she met Sweeten more than 40 years ago when they were both in elementary school. Since they were in their 20s, they formed a club called “The 20s Club” that later turned into the “The 30s Club” when Sweeten and her friends turned 30. However, when they turned 50 years old, they decided to just call it “The Ladies Club.”

“(She was) Intelligent, compassionate, caring, dependable, trust-worthy, wonderful,” McClain testified. “We had a little group, ‘the ladies club’ and we get together after work every couple of weeks and we would share what’s been going on with our lives. We talked about things that were personal and sensitive; we shared our feelings, thoughts, and everything. (Elizabeth) was a very close friend.”

During closing arguments, defense attorney Victor Ramirez told the jury they are seeking probation as a sentence for Huerta because he is already in jail by being bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Sarah Pemelton, assistant district attorney for the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office, said they are seeking a 15-year sentence because that is what the evidence shows would be fair justice.

Jury deliberations will continue at 9 a.m.