EDINBURG — Nearly three years after Hector Garcia Jr, 41, and his son, Julian Garcia, 3, were brutally gunned down in their truck at an intersection in Starr County, a jury convicted a man of capital murder in their deaths on Thursday.
Only silence and tears followed the jury’s judgment against Jesus Angel Rebollar, 20, who was found guilty on two counts of capital murder, each carrying a life sentence.
The announcement of Rebollar’s fate came after six days of testimony and approximately three hours of deliberation over whether Rebollar played a role in the deaths of the father and son on Nov. 6, 2016.
The pair was killed in Garcia’s blue, Chevy truck near the intersection of La Sagunada and Woods Brothers Road in Rio Grande City. Garcia was found slouched protectively over his son who was still alive when Starr County sheriff’s deputies arrived on the scene.
The child was later pronounced dead at Starr County Memorial Hospital.
Rebollar’s defense attorney, O. Rene Flores, said he obviously didn’t agree with the verdict but that it was part of the justice system.
“We have to respect it,” he said.
Flores said Rebollar would be filing an appeal but added that he would not be handling the case.
“I look forward to helping the appellate lawyer,” Flores said.
Shortly after the verdict, visiting State Judge Jose Longoria sentenced Rebollar to a life sentence for each of the two capital murder charges. Capital murder carries either sentence of life in prison or death. However, because Rebollar was a minor at the time of the incident, the death penalty was not an option.
Testimony during the weeklong trial — for which the victims’ family attended every day — was, at times, difficult to hear as images of the scene and the autopsies were displayed.
As part of their case, the state called an eyewitness who testified to seeing perpetrators riding in a blue, Ford pickup truck.
The eyewitness said he was able to get a clear view of one of the shooters who he described in an interview with investigators as a young man with light skin, clean hair cut, and a small amount of facial hair. He also described the man as wearing a blue and white, plaid shirt which matched the shirt that Rebollar’s then-girlfriend said he was wearing at the time.
In a follow up interview with the investigators from the Texas Rangers, the eyewitness identified Rebollar as the shooter from two photos taken from social media — one being a group photo and, the other, an image of his Facebook profile.
On the last day of testimony, however, the defense called on an expert witness who specialized in legal psychology who expressed serious doubts on the reliability of the eyewitness’ testimony.
In support of that conclusion, the expert witness said investigators didn’t follow best practices when it came to photo lineups, noting that Rebollar was the only individual in the group photo who matched the description that the eyewitness had previously given.
Despite the expert’s doubts, jurors appeared to believe enough in the eyewitness, who appeared confident in his testimony last week, to convict Rebollar of the murders nearly three years after they occurred.
After the sentencing, the victims’ family was given the opportunity to address Rebollar.
Garcia’s sister was the first to speak, expressing the pain and loss her family was going through.
“You robbed my nephews, nieces, my sister-in-law of my brother’s love and of her son’s love,” she said through tears. “You took mine and my brother’s best friend; he was my father figure.”
“I want to forgive you because I am a big believer in God, and I know he wants me to forgive you, but now is not the time,” she said.
Garcia’s brother also spoke.
“I’m not going to sit here and pretend he was an angel or that we were angels; nobody’s perfect,” he said. “But no one deserves to die like that.”
As Garcia’s family began to exit the courtroom, a member of Rebollar’s family asked to address Garcia’s father.
“(I hope) that all problems end here,” he said in Spanish. “We’re from the same county, we know each other, we’ve visited the homes of each other’s family. May God be with you all.”
Garcia’s father assured they had nothing to worry about.
“You all can sleep soundly,” he replied. “There’s nothing between us, we’re friends and may God bless you and may God bless him also.”