State, defense ask for continuance in RGC murder case

There won’t be back-to-back trials for the defendants accused of killing 17-year-old Rio Grande City resident Chayse Olivarez more than two years ago.

Sebastian Torres, 18, was scheduled for trial Tuesday on charges of capital murder and tampering with physical evidence, but the parties agreed to postpone the trial.

The agreed continuance follows the two-week trial of 19-year-old Jose Luis Garcia, who was found not guilty of murder despite a video-taped confession and crime scene walk-through.

After 13 hours of deliberation, a jury of 10 women and two men found Garcia not guilty of murder at 1:30 a.m.

Visiting state District Judge Rogelio Valdez instructed the jurors to disregard a traffic stop conducted on Garcia the day he was arrested for murder if they found it lacked probable cause and to disregard the confession and crime scene walk-through taken during an interrogation by Texas Ranger Eric Lopez if they found it was coerced.

It’s not clear what factored into the jurors’ decision, but they did find Garcia guilty of one count of tampering with evidence to impair the murder investigation.

They sentenced him to eight years in prison.

In Torres’ case, the Starr County District Attorney’s Office is asking for the continuance because Lopez is not available to testify.

“The attorney for the State expects Ranger Eric Lopez to testify regarding his findings as lead investigator on the case giving rise to this cause,” the agreed motion stated. “The testimony will be offered as substantially probative of the Defendant’s guilt.”

During Garcia’s trial, Lopez was on the stand for more than two days of testimony as he answered questions about the video-taped confession and crime scene walk-through that ended with Garcia leading Lopez to the Rio Grande River about 5 miles east of where Olivarez’s body was found dismembered in three trash bags.

The jury viewed those videos.

Torres’ attorney, Abner Burnett, asked for the continuance because he has a family matter that needed urgent attention.

Prosecutors alleged Garcia paid Torres $2,000 to pick up shell casings at the abandoned property in Roma where Garcia told investigators the planned murder took place.

Investigators recovered one of those casings, and a ballistics expert with the Texas Department of Public Safety crime lab in Weslaco determined it was likely fired from the same weapon Garcia led authorities to in the Rio Grande, which he said he used in the killing.

Torres is also accused of being present during the killing.

Another co-defendant in the case, 18-year-old Phillip Selvera, is also accused of being present.

According to prosecutors, Garcia paid Selvera $10,000 to lure Olivarez to the abandoned property where Garcia ambushed and shot the teen.

Garcia’s defense attorneys, Ricardo “Rick” Salinas and O. Rene Flores, successfully convinced Valdez, the visiting judge, to toss the capital murder by remuneration charge before the jury began deliberations based on a lack of evidence.

Selvera’s next hearing is scheduled for Nov. 25.

mreagan@themonitor.com