Selena Forever

The Selena Trial

The Houston Chronicles Files

Selena's fans make feelings heard

By ALLAN TURNER Copyright 1995 Houston Chronicle

9:51 PM 10/9/1995

Richard Burke, who lives on the sidewalk, lovingly selected a partially smoked Marlboro from the array of stubs displayed on his upturned palm, leaned against the courthouse wall, lit up and said: "Selena? I only know a tiger named Selena. It was in the Circus Vargas. This other Selena -- I hear talk of this stuff when I'm eating dinner. But I don't know the facts of the case." Of all those gathered Monday at the Harris County Criminal Courthouse, Burke -- a former animal keeper -- may have been alone in failing to recognize Selena Quintanilla Perez as the slain Tejano singer from Corpus Christi.

For the dozens of others -- fans present for the first day of her accused killer's murder trial --the name was as familiar as their own. It was on their posters, their T-shirts and their lips. There was little inherent drama Monday -- just the tedious courtroom jousting to seat a jury. But on the sidewalk, the fans created their own excitement. "Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!" a group of women chanted behind unfurled posters of their heroine.

They instantly were surrounded by hordes of television cameramen eager for fodder for the evening news. More than 200 news reporters are on hand for Yolanda Saldivar's murder trial, which is expected to last two weeks. Not to be outdone, another group erupted in cries of "Justicia! Justicia!" Then the women stopped, falling into earnest discussion over whether the Spanish word for justice should be pronounced "justicia" or "husticia." The "h" faction won, and the chant began anew. One woman stood in the crowd kissing the visage of Selena on an oversized poster. "We want justice," said one of the fans, Norma Juarez. "She took away the life of a nice innocent girl." If Saldivar is acquitted of Selena's death, she said, "It would be just like how the Goldmans felt in the O.J. Simpson trial -- that there's no justice. It's that kind of feeling, but it's different. We know that Saldivar shot her -- and it's no accident when someone runs behind you shooting."

Selena was slain at a Corpus Christi motel in March as she met with Saldivar, 35, who oversaw the singer's boutique operations. The vocalist's father, Abraham Quintanilla, has claimed Saldivar embezzled as much as $30,000 from the business. As they waited for something --anything -- to happen, fans struggled to explain their feelings for the vastly popular singer, who, at the time of her death, was preparing to cross over into the English language market. "You see this brown skin?" said Lalo Sandoval, a middle-aged fan. "There's a brown soul, too." "I'm down here to show my support for Selena," he added. "She was a role model and a gift to the Hispanic people. She was a captain-navigator who turned the storm-ridden sea into a sea of peace and tranquillity. She was very saintly --almost like the pope. You touch her hem and cleanse yourself. "Her smile alone would make you feel good. Even if you had troubles. She would lift your burdens, at least for a while, and leave you with happy thoughts." "She was a symbol," said Shelly Lopez, 22. "She was a symbol for us." Mixed with the Selena fans Monday were those desiring to sell something to them -- goods or ideas.

Raul Alexandro moved his two El Taco Loco vans to the courthouse perimeter long before dawn, planning to do a land-rush business in coffee, tacos and cheeseburgers. In competition were Popsicle and snack vendors. Silent Jehovah's Witnesses members purveyed copies of the Watchtower. A representative of the San Francisco group Food Not Bombs distributed invitations to hear his group's co-founder speak concerning "government and corporate attacks on the homeless." David Lee O'Brien, attired in a blue T-shirt emblazoned "The Peace Maker," lobbied on behalf of U.S. soldiers missing in action from the Korean War, and women from the Liberty Revival Church, armed with posters of aborted fetuses, proselytized for the anti-abortion cause.

At one point, a man known colloquially as the "vegetable man"made his way through the crowd with a box of vegetables balanced atop his head. Courthouse regulars said the man buys produce at the Farmer's Market, then travels downtown by bus where he resells it to resident hotel dwellers. For the opening day of the trial, the street outside the courthouse was crowded with satellite television trucks, and mounted police were patrolling the area. In the late afternoon, a city bus struck a Houston police horse that stepped into its path, catapulting Officer B.J. Boudreaux about 10 feet.

The officer was taken to a local hospital with a leg injury. The horse, which was named Blue, was found a few blocks away and taken to police stables to be checked. He was reportedly doing OK Monday night. Above the hubbub came the cry: "Shine 'em up! Shine 'em up!" But few jamming the courthouse sidewalk were in the mood for a mirror shoeshine. "

I've never seen anything like this before," said Warren the Shine Guy, as he identified himself. "I think O.J. started it all up. There's a lot of people out here, but they can't try this case on the sidewalk. If you take it out of context, anything can happen. "All this is being blown out of proportion." Warren gestured at the passing crowd. "Business hasn't been that good. There's so much traffic on the sidewalk," he said. "So much rubbernecking. It's been sort of a dead day. Well, maybe tomorrow will be a better day. "I'm always looking for a better day."