Selena Forever

The Selena Trial

The Houston Chronicles Files

Security in Selena case `extraordinary'

Accused killer in Harris County Jail


Copyright 1995 Houston Chronicle

Virtually unprecedented security measures are being taken at the Harris County Jail to protect Tejano superstar Selena's accused killer, whose trial is set to begin Monday.

Yolanda Saldivar, who arrived at the jail Tuesday from Corpus Christi, is being held in a single-occupancy cell in the jail's highest security area.

"I guess we would be hard pressed to think of a prisoner we've held who has been as notorious as Miss Saldivar," said Sheriff's Capt. Don McWilliams. "I guess Charles Harrelson's stay was the last time we've had this level of security."

Harrelson, a professional hitman convicted in the 1979 murder-for-hire of U.S. District Judge John Wood in San Antonio, was held in the Harris County Jail about 20 years ago.

McWilliams described Saldivar's incarceration as "a fairly unremarkable stay."

"She's not been disruptive in any way," he said. "I am not aware of any threats against her, but over time, we've learned it's best to err on the side of caution. This is extraordinary security."

Saldivar, 35, oversaw the Selena fan club and managed her boutiques. She is charged with the singer's March 31 shooting death at a Corpus Christi motel. The trial was moved to Houston because of publicity in the singer's hometown.

McWilliams said Saldivar is being held in an administrative segregation unit, an area normally reserved for disruptive, violent or endangered prisoners.

"She can still participate in all activities," he said, "but she will not have contact with other inmates."

Saldivar will be allowed to exercise three hours a week and attend private religious services, if she chooses. She will eat in her cell.

The officer said the unit in which Saldivar is being housed is subject to greater direct supervision, with frequent checks by jail personnel. Although security is tight, McWilliams said all that is being done for Saldivar is within standard jail procedures.

"We don't know how much this will all cost," he said, "but it certainly will be more than the standard $40 a day."

Nueces County, which holds jurisdiction in the case, will pay all expenses associated with Saldivar's incarceration.

McWilliams said security during the trial also will be tight. Saldivar will be taken from the jail to the courtroom via a tunnel. That procedure is routine in most trials, he said.

Security will be provided by sheriff's personnel, county constables and Houston police officers, some of them on bicycle or horseback.

"Theoretically, we have people on call who will never be used,"McWilliams said. "We have a huge contingent of officers. It just depends on how things go."

McWilliams said it is easy for those unacquainted with Hispanic pop culture to "underestimate the enormous cultural impact of Selena's death."

He said the slaying of the singer, whose full name was Selena Quintanilla Perez, has affected Mexican-Americans to the extent that Elvis Presley's death touched Anglos.

"That being the case,"McWilliams said, "it is prudent to prepare. People can react very emotionally at times like this, and there was a tremendous emotional investment in Selena on the part of the Hispanic community.

"Courtrooms are emotional places in the best of circumstances. Thus, it's best to be prepared to deal with anything in that regard."

Also on Wednesday, 200 potential jurors were called to the Harris County courthouse to fill out questionnaires that will help lawyers decide who will serve on the jury. The seven-page questionnaire contains 49 questions -- most of them typical for murder trials.

Questions specific to the Selena case ask whether potential jurors are members of the Selena Fan Club and whether they attended any memorial service for the singer following her death. The form also asks whether jurors have an opinion on Saldivar's guilt or innocence, and whether they could put that opinion aside if asked to serve on the jury.

Lawyers are expected to spend the next few days reviewing the completed questionnaires in preparation for jury selection, which is scheduled to begin Monday morning.

Before the potential jurors report to the courtroom, however, state District Judge Mike Westergren has agreed to hold a short pretrial hearing at the request of the defense team. Saldivar's lawyer, Doug Tinker, filed two motions this week asking the judge to decide before trial whether to allow in statements Saldivar made to a police officer the night of her arrest. Westergren also is expected to rule on Tinker's demand that prosecutors bring to court all physical evidence gathered during their investigation.