Statements to officers at issue in Starr murder

EDINBURG — With just a few days before trial is scheduled to begin, Jose Luis Garcia Jr., the lead defendant charged with capital murder in the 2017 death of Chayse Olivarez, appeared in court Friday as attorneys continued their arguments over whether Garcia’s previous statement to law enforcement could be used during trial.

After some objections from Garcia’s defense attorneys, visiting state District Judge Rogelio Valdez allowed the state prosecutors to present more witnesses during a hearing Friday over whether statements Garcia made to law enforcement were admissible.

Garcia is charged with capital murder in the 2017 death of Chayse Olivarez, a Rio Grande City teenager whose dismembered remains were discovered at a Roma ranch.

In a motion to suppress filed in November 2017, Garcia’s defense attorneys argued that his statements were involuntary, that he was deprived of his right to counsel and that his statements “were tainted by the illegal and unlawful detention and arrest,” the motion states.

During Friday’s hearing, however, state prosecutors, led by 229th Assistant District Attorney Gilberto Hernandez Solano, called on two witnesses who testified that at the time Garcia made those statements, he was not under arrest.

The first witness, Brian Rosa, is a former police officer with the Rio Grande City Police Department who now works for the Mission Police Department. He testified that he conducted a traffic stop of Garcia on Aug. 11, 2017, for speeding after receiving a text message from his supervisor to be on the lookout for the vehicle that Garcia was driving that day.

The traffic stop was captured on Rosa’s body camera, the footage of which was shown through two videos on Friday.

The first video showed Rosa walking up to Garcia’s car, explaining the reason for the traffic stop, and asking Garcia to exit the vehicle.

In the second video, Garcia is seen being placed in handcuffs so he could be transported to the sheriff’s office.

Rosa testified that placing an individual in handcuffs was standard practice for anyone being transported, regardless of whether that individual was arrested or not.

He also testified that Garcia had voluntarily agreed to be transported to the sheriff’s office but that was not captured on the body camera. When questioned by Ricardo “Rick” Salinas, one of Garcia’s defense attorneys, Rosa said that if Garcia had asked to leave, the officers would have let him go as he was not under arrest and they did not have an arrest warrant for him.

The second witness, Gumaro Treviño Jr. — a Starr County sheriff’s deputy — agreed that if Garcia had asked to be released, the officers would have let him go and that the sheriff’s office, too, had a policy of restraining anyone they transport in their units for safety purposes.

In video footage capturing the interior of Treviño’s unit, he is seen calling for a wrecker to take Garcia’s vehicle to a car lot belonging to the sheriff’s office.

During cross-examination, Salinas questioned why they needed a wrecker, suggesting law enforcement knew ahead of time they would be detaining Garcia.

“So it’s fair to say that, in your mind, you knew he wasn’t going to get released and come back to pick up the vehicle, right?” Salinas said.

“He wasn’t under arrest,” Treviño replied.

But Salinas pressed on asking why they would need a wrecker unless they intended to hold and not release Garcia.

“That was all I was advised, sir,” Treviño said.

Salinas asked if he was instructed to find probable cause to detain Garcial, to which Treviño said he was.

“The goal that day at that briefing was to stop him; find probable cause, correct? To stop him?” Salinas said.

“Yes, sir,” Treviño said.

On re-direct, Hernandez Solano asked Treviño if they were asked to create probable cause.

“Were you asked to find probable cause or to make probable cause?” Hernandez Solano asked.

“Find probable cause,” Treviño replied.

The hearing on the motion to suppress is expected to continue after jury selection on Monday, after which the judge will likely rule on whether to allow those statements to be presented during trial.

The trial itself is expected to begin on Tuesday.