Selena Forever

The Selena Trial

The Houston Chronicles Files

Few rise early to witness Selena trial

Some had never heard of singer

By ALLAN TURNER Copyright 1995 Houston Chronicle

8:21 PM 10/11/1995

The night owls were just calling it a day when Maria Medina -- a Pasadena video store clerk and Selena fan -- crawled out of bed Wednesday and hit the road to Houston. It was early -- just 3:30 a.m. -- but Medina, 18, wasn't about to miss her shot at being among the lucky 25 spectators during the first day of testimony in the murder trial of the Tejano vocalist's accused killer, Yolanda Saldivar.

By 4:30 a.m., Medina and her friend, Elda Castillo, were standing in front of the Harris County Family Law Center, first in line for the 7:30 a.m. lottery that would determine who would get in to view the proceedings. "We're standing behind Selena," said Medina, who was among the chosen 25. "I'm not doing this to be popular with my friends. It's for Selena. She was a good person, a role model." Although court officials were prepared for hundreds of fans hoping for a courtroom seat, only 48 showed up. An elaborate system of rope mazes to control the crowd stood largely empty. Court officials warned fans that truancy laws would be enforced, and school-aged spectators would not be admitted.

But not a teen was to be seen. Medina said she took the day off to attend the trial. "I have an interview for a new job set up for 10 a.m.," she said before the drawing, "but if I get in, I'll definitely call and reschedule it." Although anyone arriving at the lottery site before the drawing could get a ticket, Medina and Castillo, who apparently didn't win a seat, arrived early out of sheer enthusiasm. "Our friends all thought we were crazy," Medina said. "They never thought we would get a seat. They said we'd be last in line." Lile Qurino, who showed up at 6 a.m., said she wasn't surprised that turnout was relatively light. "All of Selena's fans are in school, and that's where they should be.

That's where she would want them to be," she said. "I think things have really calmed down here since the jury was picked." During the days before Tuesday's seating of the jury, large groups gathered at the courthouse to express their sympathy for the slain singer's family. Qurino, a Houston florist, admitted she wasn't an avid Selena fan until her March 31 death. "I now see more of how she was," she said. "Rather than see her just as an entertainer, I see her as a person who was contributing to her community. "As a chicana, I don't believe we have been portrayed fairly. We haven't been given credit for all our achievements in politics and the arts or whatever. I think Selena is going to become another Frida Kahlo."

Surrounded by television cameramen, ticketholders were somber as the winning tickets were drawn. Rosie Cisneroz fretfully squeezed the hand of her niece, Adela Bales, as they awaited the lottery's outcome. Both were admitted to court. Occasionally, a shriek could be heard as a number was called. At the conclusion of the lottery, the winners, accompanied by officers of the court, were marched to the courtroom. After hearing opening arguments, one of the spectators, Gloria Lozano of Corpus Christi, was skeptical about defense attorney Doug Tinker's argument that the shooting was accidental. "I just don't think it was an accident," Lozano said. "Justice should be done. If Yolanda did wrong, she should be punished." And of Tinker's suggestion that Selena's father, Abraham Quintanilla, was an overbearing patriarch who lived vicariously through the vocalist's fame, Lozano said: "It's not Mr. Quintanilla's trial. It's Yolanda Saldviar's."

Lozano said the murder of her nephew in Corpus Christi four years ago motivated her to come to the trial. Another Corpus Christi woman among the spectators, Connie Gutierrez, also was unimpressed with the defense presentation.

If Saldivar and Selena had business differences, said Gutierrez, who has attended all the case's pretrial hearing, the women should have resolved them by talking. "Nobody has the right to take a life," she said. "Only the man upstairs can tell you when to go or not to go."