Selena Forever

The Selena Trial

The Houston Chronicles Files

Selena case to be tried here

Murder trial set to start in October


Copyright 1995 Houston Chronicle

CORPUS CHRISTI -- A Houston jury will decide the fate of the former fan club president accused of killing Tejano star Selena.

A state district judge in Corpus Christi ordered the Oct. 9 murder trial of Yolanda Saldivar moved to Harris County because of the intense publicity in Selena's hometown. He announced his decision Wednesday afternoon, a day after meeting with the case's prosecutor and defense lawyer to discuss where the trial should be held.

"It's just a great place," Judge Mike Westergren said of Houston, noting the large pool of potential jurors that lawyers could draw from. "It's a big city, and the closest big city that would be acceptable to everybody."

Westergren did not elaborate on other criteria used in the decision, but said state District Judge Ted Poe of Houston had called and offered his courtroom in the Harris County Courthouse downtown. Westergren still will preside over the trial.

Nueces County District Attorney Carlos Valdez had fought moving the trial, presenting witnesses who claimed the widespread publicity the shooting received would not stop lawyers from picking an impartial jury. On Tuesday, he accused defense attorney Douglas Tinker of playing racial politics.

"He wants to move it away from the Hispanic community," Valdez argued to the judge. He accused Tinker of implying that, "Hispanics do not have the sophistication to set their emotions aside."

Nueces County has a Hispanic population of 52 percent, compared with 23 percent in Harris County.

"It's far from Nueces County, but it doesn't make any difference where we try the case -- the facts of the case won't change," Valdez said after Westergren's announcement Wednesday.

Court-appointed defense attorney Tinker, who had mentioned Beaumont, Longview and even Lubbock as possible choices, said, "I think Harris County is fine."

The decision came during the fourth day of pretrial hearings in the case.

Afterward, a pair of Corpus Christi police officers who were called to the Days Inn motel following the March 31 shooting testified that Saldivar sobbed hysterically as she held police at bay in the parking lot for some 10 hours. They said she pressed a revolver to her head and repeatedly admitted shooting Selena, but blamed the shooting on the singer's father.

One of the officers, Sgt. Joe Claire, had crouched next to the door of the red pickup where Saldivar sat during the standoff.

"She said, `Her father is responsible for this.' She also said, `He made me shoot her,' " Claire testified. "She also said, `Her father came between us,' and she also said, `Forgive me, God, for what I did.' "

The second officer quoted Saldivar as saying she was hated by the singer's father and that, "He made me shoot her, he made me shoot her."

The pair were among the first officers to respond to the noontime shooting of the singer, whose full name was Selena Quintanilla-Perez, 23. Family members say the young singer went to the hotel to retrieve business records from Saldivar, a 34-year-old registered nurse who founded the Selena fan club.

Assistant District Attorney Mark Skurka asked Claire if at any time during the three hours he was near Saldivar did he hear her say she shot Selena by accident.

"No, she never said it was an accident," Claire replied.

Prosecutors were countering the testimony of Texas Ranger Robert Garza, who said Tuesday that he was uncomfortable with Saldivar's confession because her claims the gun discharged accidentally were left out of the statement.

In the confession, which was admitted into evidence on Tuesday, Saldivar said Abraham Quintanilla Jr., the singer's father and longtime manager, had told his daughter Saldivar was a lesbian who was stealing from the singer's fashion boutiques and fan club.

Claire also testified that during the standoff, Saldivar discovered a cellular phone in the vehicle and called her parents in San Antonio.

"She told her family she had done something very bad. She told her family she was sorry and she was going to kill herself," Claire testified. He also quoted Saldivar as saying, "I love her and I didn't mean to hurt her."

"She said that a couple of times."

Under cross-examination, Claire would not agree with Tinker's contention that Saldivar meant the shooting was accidental by saying, "I didn't mean to hurt her."

"I have no idea what she meant, all I know is what she said," the officer replied.

Later, Tinker asked the judge to allow him to subpoena medical records of liposuction surgery he said Selena underwent in Monterrey, Mexico, two months before her death. Tinker said Saldivar was asked to accompany Selena to Mexico for the surgery and cared for her afterward.

Westergren denied the request. He also refused to give Tinker authority to take the deposition of the Mexican doctor, Ricardo Martinez.

Tinker said the surgery was part of the conflict between the singer and her father, and one of the things that led to Saldivar's shooting Selena, but he did not elaborate.

"There were several things going on -- and I'll not go into it right now -- ... that caused this conversation and caused this accidental shooting when it occurred ... and it included the surgery," Tinker said.