Judge sets deadline for death penalty in murder case

A state district judge on Wednesday set a deadline for the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office to inform two people accused of capital murder whether the state would pursue the death penalty.

State District Judge Israel Ramon Jr. ordered the state to make a decision on capital punishment by Dec. 12 in the case of 28-year-old Mission resident Edna Rivera and 26-year-old Peñitas resident Julio Cesar De Leon, who nearly had an altercation Wednesday with another inmate waiting for a hearing.

The pair is charged along with 20-year-old Mission resident Alfredo Huerta over accusations they kidnapped and murdered 22-year-old Fernando Garza Jr. on July 24.

During the hearing, which was over De Leon’s attorney’s efforts to get the state’s current witness list, the suspect interrupted the proceedings to say that he wanted a bond hearing, claiming that he had been denied a chance at having a bond hearing.

Court records in his case do not indicate a bond reduction motion has been filed and a search of civil cases for a habeas corpus filing did not return any results for his current case.

The near-altercation occurred after the hearing, when Ramon allowed De Leon a brief moment with his mother, who was in the court gallery.

The two embraced near another inmate who repeatedly cursed and laughed to himself throughout court proceedings.

When he cursed near De Leon, De Leon turned around and loudly told the man not to disrespect his mother.

Deputies intervened and calmed the situation.

As for Rivera, her attorney, Jaime Aleman, successfully argued for a reduction on her $580,000 in bonds on multiple charges in the case.

Her bond now stands at $158,000, but it’s unclear whether she would be free if she bailed out because she has an immigration detainer.

Ramon also allowed Rivera a brief moment with her family.

The victim’s family, who has been attending the hearings, was also in the courtroom.

In a statement, Garza’s mother, Yadira Herrera, said grief is a difficult process and vowed the family would remain a voice for their loved one, who can no longer speak for himself.

“Fernando was 22 years young when those cowards chose to end his life and every time we step into that courtroom is a reminder of how cruel and violent they were towards him,” the statement read. “Each day that goes by his absence weighs heavier in all of our hearts because we are aware that at the end of all of this Fernando will still not walk through the front door nor will I ever hear an I love you again.

“We seek justice and in order to accomplish that we are uniting as his voice because Fernando’s is six feet underground.”

Huerta, the third suspect, is scheduled to appear in court in early December.