Selena Forever

The Selena Trial

The Houston Chronicles Files

Devoted fans of Selena arrive before trial starts

By ALLAN TURNER Copyright 1995 Houston Chronicle

10:02 PM 10/8/1995

There wasn't much to see Sunday at the Harris County Criminal Courthouse -- just two private duty cops, a crowd of television satellite trucks and a couple of blackbirds pecking at a handful of seeds on the sidewalk. But the fans of slain Tejano superstar Selena came anyway.

By midafternoon -- long hours before jury selection was to begin in the trial of Yolanda Saldivar, Selena's accused killer -- the shady concrete wall across from the courthouse was crowded with the loyal, the curious and those aching to further their own show business careers.

Although the stretch of San Jacinto Street passing through the courthouse complex normally is all but deserted Sunday afternoons, a steady stream of cars crawled by, their occupants craning for a glimpse of the county building. "We're very nosy people," said Carmen Leon, who came to the courthouse with her husband, Javier. "We walked around the building,"he said. "We'll probably be here every day." Jury selection in the case is set to begin today, with testimony beginning at midweek.

Courtwatchers believe the trial could last two weeks. But only a few fans, selected by lottery, will be allowed in the courtroom each day. "We've been fans ever since she became a big star," Leon continued. "We listened to her on the radio; we've been going to her concerts. It's hard to explain what we feel for her. She was like the girl next door. "She was part of our lives even if we didn't talk to her. When we heard she was dead, we couldn't believe it. It was just like one of your closet friends had just died."

Rose Perez and her husband, Raymond, were here from Baytown. "I work at a bank," Rose Perez said. "Thank God it's closed Monday. I would have had to call in sick." Perez described herself as an avid Selena fan. "Every magazine that comes out about Selena, we have," she said. "We knew the TV stations would be setting up. We knew we wouldn't see anyone, but this is ... exciting!" After religiously watching the O.J. Simpson trial on television for months, she said, she is ready for more courtroom action.

Like many others Sunday, she had a ready opinion concerning murder defendant Saldivar -- the singer's business associate and one-time president of her fan club. "I think she loved her to death," Perez said. If Saldivar, 35, is convicted of murder in the case, she could be sentenced to life in prison. In that case, she would have to serve at least 30 years before being eligible for parole. Saldivar allegedly killed the singer, whose full name was Selena Quintanilla Perez, March 31 at a Corpus Christi motel.

The singer's father and manager, Abraham Quintanilla, has said Saldivar had embezzled approximately $30,000 from the Selena boutique business. The trial was moved to Houston from Corpus Christi on a change of venue. "To me," Raymond Perez of Baytown said, "moving the trial here was a big mistake. She has already convicted herself. This is a much bigger city than Corpus Christi and the people here loved Selena. "People are talking. Saldivar already is convicted."

Among the fans at the courthouse Sunday were show business hustlers, hoping to profit from the media attention accorded the trial. One claim to fame appeared to have been appearing across the street from the site of a Selena performance in the Rio Grande Valley. This singer, who claimed to have promotional ties to blues singer B.B. King, fingered a small camera during his pitch and said he was shooting footage at the Saldivar trial.

But interest in the Saldivar trial wasn't limited to those who appeared at the courthouse. "Everybody talks a lot about it," said Ruben Ambriz, manager of the Gutierrez Tires on 11th Street, "but I don't think it's quite as big as O.J." "I think it's the biggest case in Houston," Salomon Hernandez, 23, observed as he washed his car at the nearby 50-cent Wash and Vac. "Everyone is following it -- white, black, Hispanic. "I think it's like if you had an idol or hero and one day he was taken away. It's sad. Like Mickey Mantle. Everyone who likes baseball -- all races -- were saddened by his death. It was the same with Selena. It was a big loss to everyone." Hernandez said he was late in recognizing the singer's talent. "If I heard her on the radio, I used to change the station," he admitted. "Now I have all of her CDs."

At the Future Video at 2124 North Main, store clerk Jamie Villarreal, herself a Selena fan, said it has virtually been impossible to keep the soundtrack of the film Don Juan de Marco, which features Selena songs, in stock. At least 15 people have inquired about the movie since it became available on tape about a week ago, she said. Villarreal said she would like to join this week's crowd of fans at the courthouse, "but I don't have time. I have to work and go to school." Yet another fan, Artur Carpres, said he, too, would be unable to travel downtown for the trial. But, he added, he would closely monitor it on television. "I just don't believe she's dead," he said of Selena. "She may be dead. But her music lives for everybody."