Selena Forever

The Selena Trial

The Houston Chronicles Files

Ranger aids suspect in Selena hearing


Copyright 1995 Houston Chronicle

CORPUS CHRISTI -- Police who took a midnight confession from Yolanda Saldivar in which she admitted shooting Tejano superstar Selena in the back left out her claims that the pistol discharged by accident, a Texas Ranger testified Tuesday.

District Attorney Carlos Valdez worked hard to repair the damage during cross-examination, but acknowledged the omissions could hurt his case at trial.

"You never know what a jury is going to do, (but) anytime you have inconsistencies in testimony it hurts the case. It weakens the case," Valdez said after a third day of pre-trial hearings.

Saldivar's statement was ruled admissible for her upcoming trial. But the Ranger's testimony capped a day of other defense victories, including state District Judge Mike Westergren's ruling to move the highly publicized case from Selena's hometown of Corpus Christi after finding that Saldivar could not get a fair trial there. "It needs to go," the judge said.

Saldivar's mother and other family members hugged and wept with joy after the ruling. Westergren is expected to announce today where the scheduled Oct. 9 trial will be held.

"It's going to be wherever Doug wants it," complained prosecutor Valdez, referring to court-appointed defense attorney Douglas Tinker.

Saldivar, a 34-year-old San Antonio nurse, is charged with murdering the 23-year-old music star at a local motel. Members of the singer's family say Saldivar -- founder of Selena's fan club -- had been fired the day before the March 31 shooting from her position as manager of two Selena's Etc. boutiques. They accused her of embezzling money from the club and the stores.

The two veteran Corpus Christi police detectives who took Saldivar's statement after the shooting repeatedly denied that their suspect claimed the shooting was accidental. They said the Texas Ranger could not have heard her interview outside the soundproof interview room at police headquarters.

And while prosecutors were successful in convincing the judge that Saldivar's confession was not forced and could be used at trial, testimony by Texas Ranger Robert Garza raised questions about what was left out.

In the statement, Saldivar said Selena's father had accused her of being a lesbian and stealing from the singer's fashion company, and that she had decided to quit. After an argument in her room at the Day's Inn motel, Saldivar said in the statement, she shot Selena.

"I took the gun from my purse and Selena started walking towards the door which was open," Saldivar's confession reads. "I pulled the hammer back and I shot at her as she was walking towards the door which was opened. Selena took off running and I don't know where she went. I got scared and I got in my truck and drove around the parking lot looking for her."

Saldivar was arrested around 9:30 p.m. on the evening of the shooting, after a 10-hour standoff in the motel parking lot in which she repeatedly held the pistol to her head.

Ranger Garza, stationed in Corpus Christi, testified he was at police headquarters after receiving a call for assistance from detective Sgt. Paul Rivera. There, he said, he overheard Saldivar give a voluntary statement to Rivera and another senior homicide detective on the night of the killing.

Saldivar told Selena she wanted to quit her job, the two argued, and Saldivar took a pistol from her purse and held it to her own head, Garza testified. The gun frightened Selena, she turned to run to the door and Saldivar ordered the young singer to close the door, pointing at it with the gun, the Ranger testified.

"The gun went off and she shot Selena," Garza testified.

When Saldivar reviewed the typewritten original of her confession before signing it 15 minutes before midnight, Garza said, he heard the suspect object that detectives left out her claims the shooting was accidental.

Garza said he noticed the omission from the confession a few weeks later as he was preparing his official report, and contacted Rivera and asked why it was left out.

"I think what he said was she was trying to change (the statement) and twist it, after she admitted it to him," Garza testified.

However, defense attorney Tinker could not get Garza to say the veteran police officer admitted leaving out Saldivar's statements. Tinker noted the Ranger's official report of the incident, prepared last month, quoted detective Rivera as saying he left them out because he had decided Saldivar was a "cold-blooded killer."

Asked by Tinker if he would have left Saldivar's claims out of a confession he prepared, the Ranger replied, "I would have not handled it in that way, no sir."

Under questioning by prosecutor Valdez, the Ranger said it was possible he misunderstood Saldivar's words as he watched the interrogation through a two-way mirror. Garza said he did not listen to the entire statement, and agreed with Valdez that he could not hear much of what was said in the room.

Rivera, a 24-year veteran of the force, said he did not allow the Ranger in the interview room during Saldivar's interrogation because he did not want to intimidate her with a large number of officers. He also said the Texas Ranger called him to ask if he could lend any assistance in the investigation.

The last witness of the day was San Antonio lawyer Richard L. Garza, who said he was hired by Saldivar on March 11 or 12 -- more than two weeks before the shooting -- to write a letter of resignation to Selena. Garza acknowledged that he had represented Saldivar in a case in which she was accused of stealing money, but the judge did not allow prosecutors to question him further.

Richard Garza said that, at the request of the Saldivar family, he contacted Corpus Christi police and said he wanted to talk to the woman. He said police returned his call before the standoff ended, but he was not allowed to talk to Saldivar before she talked to police.

Under questioning by Tinker, the attorney said if he had been allowed to speak to Saldivar he would have advised her to surrender but not give a statement to police.