Judge orders statements suppressed in murder trial

MGN Online

EDINBURG — Statements made by one of the defendants in a Starr County murder case will not be admissible during the trial, a judge ruled Thursday morning.

Visiting Judge Rogelio Valdez determined the state did not comply with state law when law enforcement took statements from Sebastian Torres in August 2017 regarding the death of Rio Grande City teen Chayse Olivarez. “This court rules that the state did not comply with Sec. 51.095 of the Texas Family Code when it took the two statements in question from Sebastian Torres,” Valdez said.

Torres, 18, is charged with capital murder and tampering with physical evidence in Olivarez’s death in 2017.

Olivarez, who was 17 at the time, went missing from his Rio Grande City home in July 2017 but his dismembered remains were later discovered on a Roma ranch in August 2017.

The lead defendant in the case, Jose Luis Garcia Jr., was acquitted on a count of murder and a count of tampering with physical evidence, a human corpse, at the conclusion of his trial in November. Garcia was, however, convicted on one count of tampering with physical evidence for which he was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Torres was 16 — a juvenile — when he was picked up by law enforcement in August 2017 and taken to the Starr County Sheriff’s Office in connection with the alleged crime. In accordance with the Texas Family Code, a justice of the peace read Torres his rights after which the teen was then asked if he wanted to

make a statement.

Torres initially declined but, hours later, then-Justice of the Peace Jesus Barrera Jr., was called back and told Torres had decided to cooperate.

Barrera read him his rights again and then Torres signed a document stating he would make a statement. In a video recording of the statement, which was played during a hearing in November, Barrera is heard saying that he would request that law enforcement bring Torres to him after questioning so that Barrera could determine whether the statements were made voluntarily. However, Barrera didn’t meet with Torres afterward.

Barrera testified during the November hearing that the video of the interrogation was supposed to be made available to him but it never was.

Torres’ defense attorney, Abner Burnett of the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid Public Defender’s Office, argued that a subsection of Sec. 51.095 of the Texas Family Code stated that the person who magistrated Torres — in this case being Barrera — shall determine, in writing, whether the statements were voluntary.

“That was not done here,” Burnett said. The state, represented by 229th Assistant District Attorney Melisandra Mendoza, argued that section only required that Barrera make a written determination if he had 1) requested that Torres and the video of the statement be returned to him and 2) if he had viewed the recording with Torres or had Torres view the recording to enable Barrera to make that determination.