EDINBURG — The possibility of a mistrial now looms over the Peter Uvalle murder case.
That, after state prosecutors advised the court Wednesday that it was made aware of a document that Pharr police had in its possession but that was never given to the state, or defense.
The discovery was made by Vance W. Gonzales during one of the court breaks during the second half of the day’s testimony in Uvalle’s murder trial.
Uvalle is accused of shooting and killing 20-year-old Joseph Jonathan Alcala over what prosecutors argue was a drug deal dispute.
When the court returned from its lunch recess, the state called Jose A. Villarreal, a crime scene investigator with the Pharr Police Department.
He testified for about an hour before the court went to break.
During that break, Gonzales and Villarreal were going through the boxes of evidence and removing pieces in preparation for more testimony that was set to get underway after the break.
That’s when Villarreal handed Gonzales a document he was using to refer to during his testimony, moments earlier. Gonzales realized he did not have a copy of this particular document, and advised defense counsel, represented by Savannah Gonzalez, and Lucia “Lucy” Regalado.
When the court returned to the bench, the state and defense advised the court of the discovery. After another short break, the court called a recess so that the defense may weigh the option of requesting a mistrial.
This was not the only bit of drama that occurred in court Wednesday. Earlier in the day, before testimony began Wednesday morning, and before jurors were let in to begin listening to continuing testimony from the state’s witnesses, Uvalle’s defense attorneys asked to take up an issue of prosecutorial misconduct on the part of Hidalgo County Assistant District Attorneys Vance W. Gonzales and Ben A. Abila.
The defense claimed they had a witness, Uvalle’s mother Nereyda Uvalle, who said she saw the prosecutors share testimony with state’s witnesses under subpoena late Tuesday afternoon during a break in the trial.
Nereyda Uvalle testified she overheard both prosecutors share testimony of a jailer who claimed Uvalle threatened him in jail.
This would be a violation of the order that prohibits state’s witnesses from being privy to trial testimony in an effort to not taint their own testimony.
Both attorneys denied the accusation, and after the court denied the defense’s motion for a mistrial, the jurors were let in for the beginning of testimony on day two.
Surprisingly, it would turn out that before the end of the day, it would be the court who threatened to declare a mistrial after the fiasco with the new court document.
Both sides continued presenting evidence, and making arguments supporting their theories. For Uvalle, attorneys Savannah Gonzalez and Lucia Regalado, during cross examination, continued to challenge the procedures and protocols used by Pharr police officers who arrived at the scene of the shooting.
Through two days of testimony, the state has called nearly 10 current or former police officers or dispatchers who were involved in either taking the call for the shooting or arrived at the scene of the shooting on Dec. 15, 2017.
On that date, at around 1:30 a.m., Pharr police officers were called out to the 800 block of Coyote Trail for reports of gunfire. When officers arrived, Jonathan Joseph Alcala was suffering from no fewer than five gunshot wounds.
Alcala’s friend and neighbor, Santiago Aguirre, who claims to have witnessed the shooting, shot at the driver and passenger of a 2000s model GMC, later identified as Omar Garcia, the driver, and the alleged shooter: Peter Uvalle.
Much of the pushback from Uvalle’s attorneys is tied to how police handled the moments following the shooting, and the subsequent investigation of the shooting; and for two days of testimony Savannah Gonzalez has questioned witnesses about sealing off the crime scene, and who had access to the scene.
One alarming piece of testimony came early Wednesday when one of the police officers testified that he found a shotgun under Alcala’s residence. The officer made a note in his report about how it appeared the shotgun was thrown under the home as a means to conceal it from police.
It remains unclear whether the 20-year-old Alcala, who was a known street-level drug dealer, was armed when Uvalle allegedly returned to Alcala’s residence.
During opening statements, Abila told jurors Uvalle, realizing he was shorted the drugs purchased earlier that evening, was driven back to Alcala’s residence and then called out for him.
Aguirre’s statement to police is that Uvalle, after calling out for Alcala, shot Alcala as many as five times; prompting Aguirre to shoot at Garcia and Uvalle.
To combat the defense’s argument of police incompetence, the state has called dispatchers, officers who arrived at the scene, and crime scene investigators; to name a few.
But the defense has pounced on each of the state’s witnesses, underscoring that protocols were ignored, at least by a few of the officers that arrived on the scene of the shooting.
Aguirre, who was brought into the courtroom just before the lunch break, ultimately did not take the stand as his attorney, Orlando “O.J.” Jimenez, was unable to be present to represent Aguirre.
Aguirre faces four charges in connection with Alcala’s shooting death — tampering with evidence, two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and one count of possession of a controlled substance, court records show.
During day one of testimony, jurors heard a 9-1-1 recording of Aguirre’s call to police moments after the shooting.
On the recording, Aguirre is asked by a dispatcher about Alcala’s status, Aguirre sounds panicked.
“He’s not breathing, sir,” an emotional Aguirre can be heard saying.
Aguirre is expected to testify Thursday during the third day of testimony.
Both sides are expected before the court early Thursday morning, during which time the defense will advise the court whether or not it will decide on a mistrial, unraveling years of work to get to this point.
The case, which opened on Dec. 15, 2017, when the shooting took place, would be going into its third year at the end of 2020.
If the trial continues, and he’s found guilty of murder, Uvalle faces between five and 15 years in prison, and up to life in prison.