Alamo man’s murder trial set to begin

EDINBURG — Did an Alamo man act in self-defense when he shot and killed another man during a drug deal?

That’s the question before jurors selected Monday afternoon as the trial of an Alamo man accused of shooting and killing another man in what authorities say was a drug deal gone bad is set to begin this week.

Peter Isiah Uvalle of Alamo is accused of shooting and killing 20-year-old Jonathan Joseph Alcala on Dec. 15, 2017.

The state, represented by seasoned Hidalgo County Assistant District Attorneys Vance W. Gonzales and Ben A. Abila, will present evidence arguing Uvalle shot an unarmed Alcala during a drug deal in December 2017.

Savannah A. Gonzalez and Lucia “Lucy” Regalado, Uvalle’s defense attorneys, will argue that Uvalle was in fact acting in self defense when he shot Alcala that December morning.

The state made no secret during voir dire that the Castle Doctrine, and “Stand your ground” laws would be at issue during the trial.

The Castle Doctrine in Texas designates someone’s home or vehicle as a place where someone is legally allowed to use deadly force against another person or persons in order to defend themselves against harm, without fear of prosecution for doing so.

Additionally, in Texas, you cannot claim self defense if you’re committing a felony at the time of the incident.

During Monday’s jury selection process, the defense posed questions of potential jurors related to law enforcement; the subject of procedures and protocols; a nod to potential issues with the Pharr Police Department’s handling of the investigation of the December 2017 shooting.

One potential juror, asked if they would believe everything a police officer said on the stand, said no; simply stating, “They lie.”

Issues related to the police’s investigation were brought up during hearings prior to the trial’s commencement.

In January, The Monitor reported that during one of the final hearings leading up to Monday’s jury selection, Savannah Gonzalez told the court that she still hadn’t reviewed a Pharr Police Department Internal Affairs file about one of the investigators who pursued the criminal case against Uvalle after his arrest.

Apparently, the investigator had inappropriate contact with a witness in the case and was fired.

State District Judge Roberto “Bobby” Flores told Gonzalez that he has the documentation and is reviewing it, and if there was anything material to the case he would release it to her the following week.

No one, but Flores, the Pharr Police Department, the fired investigator and the witness know what that inappropriate contact is.

Alcala, a native of Pharr, was found by police officers in the 800 block of West Coyote Trail. Lying on his back, the man was found suffering from at least one gunshot wound.

He later died of his injuries.

Police believe Uvalle shot and killed Alcala after an argument over Xanax pills erupted in the early morning hours of Dec. 15 in Pharr.

Uvalle, who was officially arraigned Dec. 28 after being released from the hospital due to a gunshot wound, was the last of three people arrested and charged with murder and other offenses in connection with the shooting death of Alcala

When police arrived that December morning to the scene, they found Santiago Alonso Aguirre standing over Alcala, according to the criminal complaint, which went on to state that Aguirre told investigators he had been hanging out with Uvalle in front of his parent’s home that night.

A maroon 2006 GMC truck pulled up at about 1:30 a.m. Friday, Dec. 15. Alcala approached the truck after someone called out to him.

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, identified as Uvalle’s cousin, Omar Perez Garcia, who suffered abrasions to his face as a result, the complaint stated.

“Omar stated that his cousin (Uvalle) shot Jonathan with a grey and black handgun and that Santiago shot at them with a shotgun,” the complaint stated. “Omar stated he was shot in the face and that (Uvalle) was shot in the chest.”

Garcia, 26, of San Juan, who was formally arraigned Dec. 18, was charged with murder, engaging in organized criminal activity, and possession of a controlled substance.

Alcala’s friend, Aguirre, 20, of Pharr — despite not firing a single shot at Alcala and attempting to provide first aid — was formally arraigned Dec. 18 and faces a murder charge, along with two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, engaging in organized criminal activity, and tamper fabrication of physical evidence. He remains in custody on a nearly $3 million bond, according to jail records.

Officers recovered more than 75 grams of Xanax pills from Alcala’s bedroom and pickup truck, according to the complaint.

The shotgun was later recovered near the residence.

Uvalle, who was 18 years old at the time of the shooting, is now 20 years old.

If convicted of murder, jurors would be the ones to determine Uvalle’s punishment, which ranges between five years and life in prison.

During the round of questions Monday, Vance Gonzales posed to potential jurors whether they could consider the range of punishment for murder. One potential juror, who identified as an attorney, said she’d have a hard time considering a lifetime punishment range based on how young Uvalle looks.

Outside the courtroom, Alcala’s relatives wore buttons on their shirts in commemoration of Alcala.

Prior to potential jurors being led into the courtroom, Savannah Gonzalez could be seen prepping Uvalle.

Wearing a maroon button down and blue jeans, the baby-faced defendant intently listened to the more than two-hour process, as attorneys for each side made their respective choices for the jurors who will listen to the trial’s testimony.

The state is expected to call numerous witnesses — more than 120 are listed on the state’s list — in its prosecution of Uvalle, records show.

Expected to take the stand are relatives of both the defendant and Alcala, witnesses to the shooting, and officers who responded to the scene of the shooting in the early morning hours of Dec. 15, 2017, court records show.

Abila advised the court that they will likely not call all 120 witnesses on the list.

Opening statements are set for Tuesday morning, with the trial expected to last at least a week.