Nearly one year after Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Moises Sanchez died following surgery in Houston, prosecutors still haven’t announced in court whether they will pursue the death penalty should the 25-year-old man accused in the officer’s death be convicted.
Victor Godinez appeared in court via video-conferencing Friday afternoon from the Hidalgo County jail for a pre-trial hearing. He’s charged with capital murder of a peace officer for Sanchez’s death. Godinez is also charged with two counts of attempted capital murder of peace officers over allegations that he shot at two Edinburg police officers searching for him during a manhunt.
Police arrested Godinez east of Mon Mack Road and State Highway 107.
Godinez has pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Sanchez, 48, responded on April 6, 2019, to a car crash on North 10th Street and Freddy Gonzalez Drive in McAllen. When he arrived, prosecutors say Godinez shot Sanchez once in the arm and once in the head. Sanchez died after surgery in a Houston hospital on Aug. 24, 2019.
After Sanchez died, prosecutors upgraded a count of attempted capital murder of a peace officer to capital murder of a peace officer, a death penalty eligible offense.
State District Judge Letty Lopez first set a Feb. 6 deadline for the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office to tell Godinez, who was re-indicted on Sept. 19, 2019, whether prosecutors would pursue the death penalty if he is convicted.
During that hearing, both defense attorneys and prosecutors asked for an agreed continuance as they waited on medical records from a Houston hospital.
The parties appeared in court again on March 30. However, this time they appeared by video-conferencing.
In mid-March, the novel coronavirus reached the Rio Grande Valley and courts began to conduct business through video-conferencing in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community and in the county jail.
Since then, the hearing on March 30 and a May 27 hearing have been continued without an announcement as the parties grapple with restrictions and limited contact because of the pandemic.
Godinez had been scheduled for a hearing July 29, but that was canceled after Category 1 Hurricane Hanna barrelled through the Valley, leaving power outages and standing water.
On Friday afternoon, prosecutors Joseph Orendain and Orlando Esquivel asked for a short continuance, telling Lopez, the judge, they weren’t ready to make an announcement. Godinez’s defense attorneys didn’t object.
Prosecutors did not publicly disclose why they weren’t ready to make the announcement.
Lopez, who has made it clear since Feb. 6 that she wants to know whether the state is seeking the death penalty, set a Sept. 16 deadline.
“By then, I do want you to announce whether you are seeking the death penalty or not,” Lopez said. “I’ve been waiting long enough.”