Police, victim among witnesses called to testify in Pharr shooting case

EDINBURG — Angel Hernandez leapt to his feet after hearing multiple gunshots ring out in front of his family’s home.

The oldest brother of Jonathan Joseph Alcala, Hernandez testified Tuesday afternoon about the moments shortly following a barrage of gunfire that erupted just outside the residence he and his family shared with his parents and siblings. Alcala died as a result of the injuries he suffered.

Hernandez was one of several witnesses to testify Tuesday during the first day of the murder trial of Peter Isiah Uvalle.

Hernandez’s testimony went into his actions shortly after he said he heard loud gunshots just outside his home in the early hours of Dec. 15, 2017.

Hernandez testified that upon realizing he was hearing gunshots; he made his way over to his phone in an attempt to call police.

Uvalle, 20, is accused of shooting and killing Alcala in the early morning hours of Dec. 15, 2017, over what police believe was a dispute over drugs.

Testimony from Hernandez painted a picture of chaos following the shooting that left his 20-year-old brother dead.

The state, represented by Hidalgo County Assistant District Attorney Vance W. Gonzales and Ben A. Abila, and Uvalle’s attorneys, Savannah Gonzalez and Lucia “Lucy” Regalado, made their respective opening statements.

The state walked jurors through some of the events of the morning of Dec. 15, 2017, with Abila telling jurors Uvalle shot at Alcala five times; not missing once before fleeing the scene with his cousin, Omar Garcia, driving the getaway car.

Abila, said this was a clear-cut case of murder. Uvalle, Abila explained, believing he was shorted the drugs he purchased from Alcala, came back and called out for Alcala, who then walked toward Uvalle who then shot at him — striking him five times.

For the defense, Regalado told jurors that the state wants them to “rubber-stamp” their case against Uvalle, but that unlike the police investigation into the shooting, Regalado challenged jurors to “be the ones to do your job.”

Regalado and the defense appear ready to show that Pharr police did a sloppy job during the course of the investigation, with protocols and procedures going unfollowed by several officials at the scene of the shooting. In addition to a lack of faith in law enforcement as a defense, Uvalle is also claiming he acted in self-defense when he shot at Alcala.

During about eight hours of testimony, the state called several witnesses — two sheriff’s office employees, employees with Pharr police, to include dispatchers who took the emergency calls following the shooting, and relatives of both the defendant and the victim.

Saul and Nereyda Uvalle, Peter’s parents, testified about seeing a bruise on Peter’s face in the hours before the shooting.

The state asked the Uvalles if they had seen Peter with his cellphone the night before the shooting, to which they each said he did have it that night as they tried to call him after he didn’t come back home that night.

Yolanda Alcala, Jonathan’s mother, also testified toward the end of the first day of testimony.

She testified about hearing loud bangs by her bedroom wall; and then several more, realizing then that it was gunshots.

The defense attempted to establish their case that police were at best negligent, and at most reckless, as they processed the scene of the shooting.

Asked how many police officers were in front of her home, Yolanda Alcala said it was more than five officers, but testified that she didn’t know for sure how many congregated outside her home after they arrived at the scene.

Asked why she initially denied police entrance to the home, Yolanda testified she didn’t know why she did that. The defense also asked Yolanda Alcala if her son was a gang member, and whether or not she knew he sold drugs.

Ultimately, police obtained a search warrant and seized drugs from Jonathan’s bedroom.

Prior to the start of the trial and opening statements, the state made the court aware that overnight, one of the recently chosen jurors realized she was related to an investigator that was on the state’s witness list and who was going to testify first.

The court promptly thanked the juror for her service, and released her from duty. One of the two alternate jurors was put in her place.

Testimony is set to continue Wednesday with the state expected to call more employees with Pharr police and people who showed up to the scene of the shooting in Pharr on Dec. 15, 2017.