Selena Forever

The Selena Trial

The Houston Chronicles Files

October 11, 1995: Selena murder trial opening statements

Editor's note: This transcript begins with the opening statements of the defense and prosecution. A pre-trial hearing held before the statements is not included here.

Witnesses for the prosecution entered at 9:40 a.m. Jury brought in at 9:45 a.m.

Judge: Good morning.

Jury: Good morning.

Judge: Please be seated. Wherever you are seated now you will be seated throughout the trial. I have a few additional instructions for you - the question has already come up about note taking. Note taking is legal in Texas. Many people find that taking notes is helpful with the memory - you will be told about specific (that is the official rule about note taking). I am going to give you further instructions as to your conduct, the possibility, etc., of a mistrial. Do not discuss anything about this case to anyone, including your spouse, until you are discharged as jurors. Anyone discovered discussing this case will be dismissed. Do not even discuss this case among yourselves until you have all the evidence and attorney's arguments. Do not make any investigations about this case. Occasionally we have investigations made outside the jurisdiction of the court. All evidence must be submitted in court. Our purpose is to try this case in the courtroom. All rules apply to the jury as well as the media. You have taken an oath that you will render a verdict under my rules. Do not tell the other jurors your personal experience or experiences or any information you may have regarding jury duty or experiences relating to this type of proceeding. Do not seek information (dictionary, reference books, etc.) which is not submitted as evidence. You are the, or will be, judge of the facts. I told you yesterday that we would be on a better schedule today than we were yesterday. We will try to take good care of you and make it as pleasurable as possible for you. We will try to break at 11:30 for lunch and resume at 1 p.m. I now call Texas against Yolanda Saldivar

Mr. Valdez: The State of Texas is ready.

Mr. Tinker: The defendant's attorneys are present.

Charges are read by the Bailiff: Yolanda Saldivar, on or about March 31, 1995, did cause the death of Selena Quintanilla, Nueces County, Texas, and performed a serious bodily act against Selena Quintanilla, an act against the people and the State of Texas. How does the defendant plead?

Yolanda Saldivar: Not guilty.

District Attorney Carlos Valdez's opening statement: We are ready to embark on a journey together to seek justice. We are looking for justice in this case, which is a very serious undertaking. We are not looking to elected officials, such as myself or any certain person, but individuals such as yourselves. What we are doing now is called an "Opening Argument." I am going to try and tell you where we are going and what we will prove. Nothing I say is evidence or anything Mr. Tinker has to say - we were not there. On March 31 of this year evidence will show that Selena Quintanilla was killed in a senseless and brutal act of violence in a Corpus Christi, Texas, motel and the person who performed this senseless tragedy is sitting in this courtroom today. That lady (pointing to Yolanda Saldivar) shot her in the back, severing an artery and causing Selena to bleed to death. What we are going to show is that this act did not just "occur," but we will show you exactly what happened and tell you of some of the acts that led up to the killing by calling several witnesses who will verify this act. We do intend to call several witnesses to lead up to the final act. We are going to call members of the family, the father of the victim, the husband and they will tell you what happened. We are also going to call the sister of the victim and she will tell you what happened two weeks before the killing. We are also going to call friends and relatives who were with the victim the day before. We will also call witnesses who were at the Days Inn. There are no actual witnesses to the shooting itself, but there are witnesses that were at the scene immediately after the killing. We are going to bring the witnesses just as they are - also police who were at the scene immediately after the killing and police who were there after the investigation - so many people were involved. We will also have expert witnesses. After we finish presenting these witnesses we are going to ask the one thing we do not know - why? Motive? We cannot get into someone else's mind, but please listen to these witnesses very carefully and you will be able to find out why and those reasons will become evident. As I have told you, this is not a very complicated case. It may seem complicated but it is not. It will be proved that it is really a simple case of guilt. Listen to what Mr. Tinker has to say about the issues in this case. I may discuss --

Mr. Tinker: Objection.

Judge: Overruled.

Mr. Valdez: You will need to listen very carefully and keep your eyes and ears open at all times. Did Yolanda Saldivar intentionally kill Selena? I believe you will decide that Yolanda Saldivar did indeed commit this terrible crime.

Thank you very much.

Douglas Tinker's opening statement: I am going into more detail than Mr. Valdez. Evidence will be revealed to you. It is good to see you. I say that because we had two days to sort out members to the jury and choose you who are here today. I say that it is good to see you and I am excited about this jury - I get excited about any case a jury is called on. There is a story line here about Selena and her short life. How she grew up, about her father Abraham Quintanilla. When Selena was old enough, how she participated in their musical endeavors. By the time Selena came along and she was discovered to be very talented and how Abraham Quintanilla saw the opportunity and felt it to be so important that he took her out of school in the 8th grade. The evidence will show that Abraham lived his life through her and ended up reaping tremendous financial rewards. She was a very young lady and evidence will show that Abraham Quintanilla was a very controlling parent, not only to Selena, but with other members of the family. Her sister, Suzette, and other members of the family lived in a "compound" in Corpus Christi. These things are important because we find that Yolanda Saldivar was almost a sister to Selena. Yolanda Saldivar did not really know Selena until 1991. She grew up in San Antonio. Some of her family members are in here, some are not. Some will be witnesses. We will tell you about Yolanda Saldivar's life. In any event, Yolanda Saldivar grew up in San Antonio, was a good student and always worked very hard, graduated from high school, licensed as a dental assistant. She went to night school and became a nurse. She became involved with Selena and in 1991 Yolanda Saldivar became interested in Selena's music and asked if she could organize a fan club. They became close friends and the fan club became a money making avenue for Abraham Quintanilla. In 1994 Selena branched out from the music business. She had a salon (hair and makeup) and in 1994 they were like sisters and she got Yolanda to start up these businesses as an assistant to Selena. Abraham did not approve of these businesses and in 1994 Yolanda Saldivar was helping in the business. Evidence will show that Abraham tried to show Yolanda Saldivar as an opportunist, even telling Selena that she was a lesbian, which is certainly not true and caused Selena to believe that Yolanda Saldivar was taking money from Selena. The evidence will show that in January (I forget the exact date) there came a time when Abraham started threatening Yolanda Saldivar. As a matter of fact, abused Yolanda Saldivar physically and she purchased a gun for fear of Abraham. Selena did not want Yolanda to quit the businesses and Abraham did not want Selena to have anything to do with Yolanda Saldivar, therefore they met on the day of March 31 at a Days Inn motel. Yolanda Saldivar had purchased a gun after one of the threats made by Abraham and evidence will show that Yolanda had purchased a gun after a confrontation with Abraham. Evidence will show that on a trip, with Selena's permission, to Monterrey, a strange car followed them and that incident scared Yolanda Saldivar again. Yolanda explains that she had been injured in Monterrey and was taken to the hospital the day of Selena's death. Emotional and distraught, she did not want to work with Yolanda anymore after the accusations made by Abraham, that she was taking money, etc.

Valdez: Objection.

Judge: Sustained.

Tinker: Evidence will show that this incident occurred around noon at Days Inn. The door was open. Yolanda Saldivar is trying to get records to Selena - she was distraught about the accusations and she had records and tries to give them to Selena. Yolanda wouldn't close the door and Selena runs outside and does not know where she is going. Yolanda gets in her pickup truck and tries to find her. She is in the pickup for nine hours. This is called "Hostage Negotiation." The great hero in this incident is a man named Larry Young who was talking to Yolanda Saldivar. She kept saying, over and over, "I didn't mean to do it - I didn't mean to do it," repeatedly. She did not know that Selena was dead and she became hysterical. Larry Young kept talking to her and evidence will show that, repeatedly during the time Yolanda Saldivar was being talked into coming out (of the truck), he told her she could see her attorneys, she could see her mom, sister. They kept making these promises. They told her "as soon as you get out your lawyers will be here." She kept saying "it was an accident - it was an accident - it was an accident - I didn't mean to do it - it was an accident." In a statement prepared by Paul Revere there was not evidence of such statements (that it was an accident). Robert Garza heard Yolanda say "it was an accident," did not include it in the statement the part about "accident". There is camaraderie among law officers. Paul Rivera will be a witness in this case. You heard me tell you that there were some tapes regarding the hysteria that morning. We filed motions for discovery on certain tapes but nothing was ever done about it. Once it was discussed, all of a sudden these tapes show up. I suggest to you that after all the evidence you will find my client innocent.

Ten-minute recess.