Pharr man sentenced to 86 years for strangulation killing

EDINBURG — Family members of the late Maria Alise Garza told a judge Thursday how the actions of the 37-year-old Pharr resident convicted of killing the woman also led to the death of her daughter.

“On Jan. 4, 2019, our dear Andrea could not bear the pain of losing her mother and decided to take her own life,” McAllen police officer Carlos Salinas told Juan Manuel Hernandez.

Andrea was Salinas’ wife and Maria Alise Garza’s only daughter.

Hernandez, who displayed no emotion, listened as Salinas read a letter he said he struggled to write after state District Judge Israel Ramon Jr. sentenced the Pharr resident to 86 years in prison.

On Oct. 28, 2017, a disoriented Hernandez turned up at the McAllen Police Department looking for Salinas to fulfill what he claimed was a promise he made to the victim to tell the man or his wife, Andrea, if anything ever happened to her.

At the Thursday sentencing hearing, Salinas and Hector Garza, Maria Alise Garza’s ex-husband, told the court how Hernandez’s drug-fueled killing has devastated the family.

“Maria was here one day and gone the next, with no warning,” Salinas said.

The killing had a snowball effect on his wife, Andrea, who entered into a major depression where she spent nights crying while Salinas did the best he could to comfort the woman.

Since her death, Salinas told the court how their two young children, ages 4 and 5, don’t understand where their mother went and continue to struggle with her absence from their lives.

“How could I not save the life of my wife and as a police officer, I save others,” an emotional Salinas said. “I do what I was trained to do and keep pushing through.”

Hector Garza told the court how he and Maria Alise Garza remained friends after their 12-year marriage ended.

“We suffer and continue to suffer a great deal,” Hector Garza said.

He also lamented the loss of his daughter, Andrea.

“I will never feel the same from the loss of my firstborn, my baby Andrea,” he said.

Even Hernandez’s 86-year sentence is not enough to quench his thirst for justice.

“I will never be satisfied every day he is walking the face of this earth,” Hector Garza told the court.

STILL NO MOTIVE

After Hernandez walked into the McAllen Police Department that day in October 2017, investigators immediately questioned him after learning he was there to report a body.

As that investigation evolved, authorities later learned that Hernandez did not report Maria Alise Garza’s lifeless body until at least two days after the killing.

They also learned that the man, who had been smoking crack cocaine for several days, blamed his victim’s ex-boyfriend, who had been convicted of abusing the woman.

Hernandez accused the man of wrapping the woman’s body up like a “cocoon” and leaving it inside her vehicle at his apartment. He discovered his victim, who he said was his friend, inside her vehicle when he returned to his apartment after using crack cocaine at 11 p.m. on Oct. 27, 2017.

He told police he moved the body inside of the apartment.

Evidence against Hernandez included DNA evidence, phone records, video surveillance at pawnshops showing him arriving in the woman’s car to pawn some of her belongings, and similarities in knots used to bind the body in a blanket with knots used to tie pillow cases in Hernandez’s bedroom.

The trial also offered bizarre details, such as how Hernandez removed a knife used to stab Garza, who died from strangulation, and repeatedly slashed himself with it, even carving words like “hate,” “evil” and “love” into his stomach.

The jury learned that he even bought $100 worth of crack cocaine while Garza’s body was inside his apartment.

On Thursday, Hernandez took the stand to testify and apologized for his actions, though he now says he doesn’t remember killing the woman.

“I’m sorry once again to the family. She was a great beautiful woman,” Hernandez said.

During his trial, Hernandez denied blacking out. But on Thursday, he changed his tune, telling the court he is now taking his correct medications and is starting to remember bits and pieces of the killing.

“I’ll die in prison if I have to,” Hernandez said.

But one piece of the case has been missing since day one: motive.

And on Thursday, the day of reckoning, that piece of the case was still missing.

Hernandez still didn’t offer any motive for the killing, other than to blame drugs.

“Why would you do this to this lady,” Ramon, the judge, said before sentencing Hernandez to 86 years in prison.

That’s a question only Hernandez can answer.

On Thursday, it was a question he either couldn’t, or wouldn’t, answer.