Request for jurors in death penalty case nears 1,000

Victor Godinez appears during his arraignment on charges of capital murder of a peace officer in the death of Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Moises Sanchez in 389th state District Court in the Hidalgo County Courthouse on Monday, Oct, 7, 2019, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

The defense attorney representing a 25-year-old Edinburg man is asking the judge overseeing the case to summon at least 800 people to appear for jury duty in the case.

The request for the large number of potential jurors follows the Sept. 16 announcement by prosecutors that they will seek the death penalty if Victor Godinez is convicted of capital murder for the death of 49-year-old Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Moises Sanchez.

Authorities accuse Godinez of shooting Sanchez on April 6, 2019, after a car crash at the corner of North 10th Street and Freddy Gonzalez Drive in McAllen. Sanchez, who initially appeared to be recovering from his wounds, died on Aug. 24, 2019, after surgery in Houston.

The revelation of the request for the huge jury pool came in one of more than a dozen motions filed by defense attorney O. Rene Flores and the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office between last Thursday and Tuesday.

The newspaper reviewed several defense motions that were publicly available but many of the state’s motions, and possibly some defense motions, are not publicly available in online court records, saying access to the documents is restricted.

During his last hearing, state District Judge Letty Lopez noted that 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 coronavirus.

Typically, potential jurors show up to the courthouse’s first-floor auditorium, which Lopez said previously can only hold 25 to 29 people with social distancing measures. Lopez’s courtroom can only hold 14 people, including her staff, with those measures.

She told Flores, Godinez’s attorney, and Joseph Orendain, the prosecutor, that an alternative venue may have to be used for jury selection.

“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 previously.

The judge said she hopes it doesn’t come to that.

Jury trials are on hold until Dec. 1, having been canceled since March.

Godinez is also charged with two counts of attempted capital murder of a peace officer over allegations that he shot at two Edinburg police officers, who were not injured, during a manhunt.

He remains jailed on a total of $3 million in bonds and is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing next week.