Prosecutors say that if a 25-year-old Edinburg man is found guilty of murdering a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper, they will ask a jury to sentence him to death.
The Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office made the announcement Wednesday via a video-conferencing hearing as courts continue to grapple with challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Authorities accuse Victor Godinez of capital murder of a peace officer over accusations that he shot 49-year-old DPS Trooper Moises Sanchez on April 6, 2019. Sanchez died months later, on Aug. 24, 2019, after surgery in Houston.
A grand jury indicted Godinez on the capital murder of a peace officer charge on Sept. 19, 2019, less than a month after Sanchez died in Houston.
Nearly a year from that indictment, the DA’s office made the death penalty announcement, with prosecutor Joseph Orendain telling state District Judge Letty Lopez that a notice to seek the death penalty will be filed with the court later Wednesday afternoon or on Thursday morning.
Authorities have alleged that Godinez shot Sanchez after the trooper responded to a car crash on North 10th Street and Freddy Gonzalez in McAllen.
A manhunt ensued and police say Godinez also shot at two Edinburg police officers trying to apprehend him. Those officers were not injured.
Godinez faces two counts of attempted capital murder of a peace officer over those allegations.
Lopez, the judge, noted during the hearing how selecting a jury for a death penalty trial at the Hidalgo County Courthouse would be impossible because of social distancing measures put in place to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Juries are typically selected in the courthouse’s first-floor auditorium, which Lopez said can only hold up to 25 to 29 people with social distancing measures. The judge noted that her courtroom can only hold 14 people, including her staff, with social distancing measures.
“This is a whole different dynamic,” Lopez said.
While the coronavirus numbers are dropping in Hidalgo County, Lopez told Godinez, his attorney, O. Rene Flores, and Orendain, the prosecutor, that an alternative venue may have to be utilized for jury selection in a death penalty trial, where the number of potential jurors exceeds 100.
“I don’t have any ideas right now but I am thinking of convention centers at this point; maybe the Bert Ogden Arena, as crazy as that sounds,” Lopez said.
The judge also noted that she hopes it doesn’t come to that.
Godinez, who showed no reaction to the announcement, has pleaded not guilty.
He appeared from the county jail where he remains held on a total of $3 million in bonds on the charges.
His next court appearance is scheduled for Oct. 28 at 2 p.m.