A court set a January trial date for an Alamo man accused of murder.
During what was expected to be the final pre-trial hearing in Peter Isiah Uvalle’s murder case before it was set to begin for trial Oct. 7, Uvalle’s attorneys, Savannah Gonzalez and Lucia Regalado, argued they needed more time as they were still going over several pieces of evidence and video recordings that they had recently received from the state.
“…This Saturday, on the eve of trial, we get a co-defendant’s statement, that has over an hour and 15 minutes, that we never otherwise received. That’s huge, judge,” Gonzalez said. “This is potentially two dealers, two buyers, one of the buyers, who we never ever received his statement. All of a sudden we get a statement that’s completely different from the written summary that was in the report, for the first time ever, we get that on Saturday.
“That’s huge because that totally changes what he’s saying — that’s impeachment evidence.”
The hearing, which lasted all of 20 minutes, was contentious at times, with Gonzalez and the state’s prosecutors going back and forth about discovery issues.
“I need that stuff to prepare, and (the state has) a duty, an ongoing duty, under (The Michael) Morton (Act), to turn over all that evidence — we continue to receive evidence in this case judge, and it’s a huge problem for the defense,” Gonzalez added.
Hidalgo County Assistant District Attorney Ben Abila, representing the state in the case, along with ADA Vance Gonzales, who sat in on the hearing Thursday, didn’t deny that as of that weekend, the state handed over a video recording of an eyewitness to the incident at the heart of this case.
The state’s prosecutors advised the court that all evidence they had was in the case file and made available to Uvalle’s attorneys, advising the court that the evidence in two related cases have been on file for the defense to see.
“…The co-defendant, it’s the same file judge, it’s the same case, they’re all duplicates, they had that evidence your honor,” Abila said.
Gonzalez’s main argument during the Thursday morning hearing before 139th state District Judge Roberto “Bobby” Flores, was that it was incumbent on the state to produce all materials related to the case as outlined in the criminal code, and had failed to do so in the now nearly two years that the case has been pending.
The state reiterated that their witnesses are ready, and that the state was ready to proceed with trial for the Oct. 7 date.
Ultimately, the court granted Uvalle’s defense more time; setting a deadline for all discovery from the state to be turned over to his attorneys by Nov. 4.
Additionally, the defense asked for the court to rule on a pending motion to suppress evidence that was filed in late September.
Filed Sept. 26, the defense argues that the court should disallow the state to enter into evidence a statement taken by a Pharr police investigator from Uvalle shortly after doctors performed surgery on him to treat two gunshot wounds.
Uvalle, the defense argues in the motion, was improperly interrogated shortly after surgery, while he was recovering in a post-operation room at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg, and, while still heavily medicated.
Uvalle’s attorneys argued in that filing that Uvalle, who was 18 years old at the time of the shooting, and was guarded by at least two police officers when he awoke from surgery, was “heavily” medicated and was “coerced” by law enforcement into giving a voluntary statement of what happened the morning of the shooting.
The defense argues that the statement from Uvalle obtained from the investigator was the “product of a custodial interrogation,” that any waiving of the Miranda Warning was not done so “freely, knowingly and voluntarily,” and that Uvalle’s statement was obtained as a result of law enforcement’s “improper actions,” the motion stated.
“Prior to his arrival at DHR, (the investigator) spoke to a nurse (whose name is both unrecalled and undocumented) at the hospital and was advised that (Uvalle’s) status was ‘stable,’ — which (the investigator) understood to mean, ‘not sedated,’” the filing stated.
During this time, Pharr police was designated as the agent for Uvalle, and prohibited any communication between Uvalle and his family.
The defense argues that Uvalle didn’t fully understand the Miranda waiver that was read by the investigator, who also did not record the interview, and that due to Uvalle’s lack of understanding of the waiver, did not fully waive that right.
The court did not rule on the motion to suppress and said it would rule at a later time.
The case centers around Uvalle, accused of shooting and killing 20-year-old Jonathan Joseph Alcala during what is believed to be a drug deal gone wrong.
Police believe Uvalle shot and killed Alcala in the early morning hours of Dec. 15, 2017, over an argument related to Xanax pills.
When authorities responded to a call of shots fired in the 800 block of West Coyote Trail, they found Alcala, face down, suffering from a gunshot wound.
Moments earlier a maroon 2006 GMC truck pulled up and called out for Alcala, who approached the truck.
Alcala’s friend, Santiago Alonso Aguirre, who lives on the same block as Alcala and had been hanging out with him in front of his parent’s home that night, was subsequently arrested.
Gonzalez said the video recording handed to them Sept. 28, is of Aguirre, a witness to the shooting nearly two years ago.
Aguirre, who was standing in front of Alcala’s residence, told police Alcala and the truck’s passenger, later identified as Uvalle, got into an argument and moments later he heard gunshots, and watched as Alcala tried to run away from the truck.
At the same time, Aguirre fired a few rounds from a shotgun in the direction of the truck — subsequently striking both Uvalle, who suffered an upper-body gunshot wound, and the driver of the truck and Uvalle’s cousin, Omar Perez Garcia, who suffered abrasions to his face as a result, the complaint stated.
“Omar stated that his cousin Pedro Uvalle shot Jonathan with a grey and black handgun and that Santiago shot at them with a shotgun,” the complaint states. “Omar stated he was shot in the face and that Pedro was shot in the chest.”
Aguirre and Garcia were subsequently arrested and charged in connection with the incident.
Aguirre, who is facing four charges related to his friend’s shooting, two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for shooting at Uvalle and Garcia, one count of tampering with evidence, and one count of manufacture and delivery of a controlled substance, is due before the 92nd state District Court on Oct. 24, court records show.
Garcia, who was driving his cousin to Alcala’s residence the night of the shooting, was also charged with murder.
Garcia is due back in court Oct. 28, before the 370th state District Court, for a pre-trial hearing, records show.
Uvalle, 20, will now prepare for a trial set for Jan. 6, after Flores, who expressed frustration over the back and forth on the discovery issues, said that the case needed to be tried as soon as possible.
“… Justice delayed is justice denied,” Flores said. “… Quit playing games, let’s get this thing done.”