State avoids mistrial in Starr Co. murder case

EDINBURG — During the fourth day in the capital murder trial of Jesus Angel Rebollar, state prosecutors navigated around a possible mistrial following warnings from the judge.

As the state questioned one of the investigators in the case — Lt. Rolando Villarreal with the Texas Rangers — 229th Assistant District Attorney Gilberto Hernandez-Solana limited his questions about his interview with Rebollar.

Rebollar is charged in the shooting deaths of Hector Garcia, 41, and his son Julian, 3. The two were killed in their truck on the evening of Nov. 6, 2016 at the intersection of La Sagunada and Woods Brothers Road in Rio Grande City.

Although, investigators believe several individuals in a blue, Ford pickup were involved, only Rebollar has been charged in the killings. The investigation, however, remains ongoing.

Defense attorney O. Rene Flores objected to questioning Lt. Villarreal about the interview which could have possibly touched on the fact that Rebollar was already in custody because of a drug charge and possible gang affiliation.

Flores cited Rule 404 of the Texas Rules of Evidence which prohibits the use of evidence of a crime or other act in order to prove a person’s character to show that on a particular occasion, the person acted in accordance with that character.

Visiting state District Judge Jose Longoria warned Hernandez-Solano that touching on those issues could violate Rebollar’s rights and doing so would jeopardize the state’s case, causing a mistrial.

As such, when the jury was back in the courtroom, Hernandez-Solano asked Villarreal about meeting with Rebollar on Nov. 8, 2016, but not about the interview.

At one point, Flores did motion for a mistrial, though it was regarding testimony on cellphone data.

Jose Mirino, a computer forensics agent with Homeland Security Investigations, testified of downloads or “extractions” from a cellphone. However, Hernandez-Solano avoided asking Mirino about ownership of the cell phone and about its contents.

Flores motioned for a mistrial when Hernandez-Solano requested to enter into evidence duplicates of the cellphone contents, stating the court had already ruled the contents were inadmissible.

Judge Longoria denied the mistrial and instructed the evidence only be admitted for the limited purpose that Mirino identified it as containing the duplicates of the cellphone contents.

The rest of the day’s testimony focused on law enforcement efforts in the early days of the investigation.

The jury heard from Robert Garcia, an investigator with the Texas Rangers, who attended the autopsies for both victims, conducted about four or five interviews in the case, and processed the blue, Chevy truck that Hector and Julian Garcia were in when they were killed.

As images of the truck were shown to the jury on a screen, investigator Garcia went over the bullet holes on the car and how he worked to determine the direction they came.

Villarreal, with the Texas Rangers, was also again questioned about the two times he interviewed the eyewitness — the night of the incident and then again two days later.

It was during that second interview, on Nov. 8, 2016, that Villarreal showed the eyewitness three photos for identification purposes as the witness had said he was able to get a clear view of one of the suspects.

One photo was a group photo that included Rebollar, the second was of Rebollar’s Facebook profile, and the third was of a different individual holding a firearm.

The witness dismissed the third photo and identified Rebollar in the photos as one of the shooters.

However, Villarreal — upon questioning from Flores — acknowledged that Rebollar was the only individual in the group photo that matched the description the witness had already provided.

Flores also questioned Villarreal over why he hadn’t produced a photo array, to which Villarreal said he would have needed more information, such as a name and date of birth. That information would have been sent to an analyst in Austin who would have searched for a driver’s license photo and used that to compile a photo array of individuals similar in appearance.

Monday’s testimony immediately wrapped up following Villarreal’s dismissal from the witness stand.

The trial is scheduled to continue Tuesday morning.