Selena Forever

The Selena Trial

The Houston Chronicles Files

Selena spoke killer's name, witnesses say

Singer gave dying accusation

By PATTY REINERT and ALLAN TURNER Copyright 1995 Houston Chronicle

9:43 PM 10/13/1995

As her life's blood oozed away through a .38-caliber gunshot wound in her chest, Tejano singer Selena repeatedly told horrified workers in the lobby of a Corpus Christi Days Inn the name of her attacker: Yolanda Saldivar. Selena's dying accusation -- the subject of Friday morning testimony in Saldivar's murder trial here --came seconds after she stumbled into the motel's office clutching her chest and screaming for someone to lock the doors behind her. "She was screaming, `Help me! Help me! Call the police!' " said Shawna Vela, a former front desk clerk at the Days Inn where the singer was shot March 31. "She said, `Lock the doors because she'll shoot me again,' " Vela added, her voice breaking.

Vela's statement to police, taken shortly after the shooting, did not include her contention that Selena was afraid Saldivar was coming after her or that the singer said to lock the doors. She explained Friday that she was distraught when she talked to police and remembered more details later. She never went back to work. Her tearful testimony, as well as that of two other motel employees, was intended to help prosecutors prove Yolanda Saldivar intentionally shot and killed Selena Quintanilla Perez. Saldivar, 35, signed a confession in the case but now says she was trying to commit suicide when she accidentally shot Selena in the back.

Friday afternoon, Corpus Christi police Sgt. Bernardo Torres -- the first officer to confront the murder suspect at the Days Inn -- testified Saldivar denied any involvement in the shooting. Moments later, she raised a pistol to her head and threatened to pull the trigger. If convicted, Saldivar faces up to life in prison. Vela, who called 911 while other motel employees frantically tried to help the singer, testified that at first she didn't realize Selena had been shot. "She was screaming, `Help me!' and I looked at her and I said, `Help you what?'" Vela said. "She said, `I've been shot,' and she turned toward me and I saw enormous amounts of blood. I got sick." Vela said she and other employees asked Selena who had shot her, and she answered, "Yolanda --158." "As soon as I heard 158, I knew she was talking about a room number and I ran to get the files," Vela said.

She then called 911 again to give them information on the room's occupant. The motel's assistant manager, Rosalinda Gonzalez, and sales director Ruben DeLeon also testified Friday that Selena told them she had been shot by Saldivar and was running from her. DeLeon said he panicked when he saw Selena through his office window. He said the singer hit the front door as she tried to push, rather than pull, it open, and blood splattered on the glass. As the singer collapsed onto the lobby floor, DeLeon said he bent down to talk to her. "I started screaming, `Ma'am, who shot you?' and she said, `Yolanda Saldivar in Room 158,' " DeLeon testified. "Then I saw her fingers moving like this," he said, lightly drumming his fingers on the witness stand. "And then they just stopped."

The motel employees also testified that when police turned the room back over to them after their investigation, they discovered the safe in Room 158 was locked and the key was missing. Using a master key, they unlocked it and found a black purse. The purse, which contained, among other things, $1,900 in cash, had been overlooked by police. The employees testified that when they saw the purse, they immediately relocked the safe and called police, who came to collect the evidence. Friday's testimony came one day after three other motel employees told the jury they heard one shot, then saw Saldivar chasing the singer with a gun, cursing her as she fled.

Throughout Friday morning's emotional and graphic testimony, Selena's brother, sister-in-law and brother-in-law sat in the front row of the courtroom, occasionally wiping away tears and bending over with their heads in their hands. Selena's mother, Marcella Quintanilla -- who abruptly left the courtroom in tears Thursday afternoon -- did not return Friday. The singer's father, Abraham Quintanilla Jr., widower Chris Perez and sister Suzette Quintanilla Arriaga are witnesses in the case and are barred from the courtroom until the defense recalls them to testify. Before the jury came in Friday, defense lawyer Doug Tinker complained about Marcella Quintanilla's leaving the courtroom the day before, a move he called "calculated" and intended to gain sympathy from the jury. State District Judge Mike Westergren quickly silenced Tinker, saying Saldivar's mother, Juanita Saldivar, also left the courtroom overcome by emotion. The judge said the two women did the right thing by removing themselves.

He said he watched the jury and is convinced the panel did not notice. The jury of six women and six men also heard testimony Friday from a paramedic, Richard Fredrickson, who responded to the 911 call. He said when he and his partner arrived at the motel, Selena already had stopped bleeding from the chest, was not breathing and had no pulse. After covering the bullet hole with gauze, they decided to "load and go" to get the singer to the hospital faster. During the four-minute trip to Memorial Medical Center, Fredrickson said, he and his partner put the singer on a cardiac monitor but she showed only weak electrical activity in the heart. He tried several times to start an IV in her arms but could not get a vein, he said. "When you lose a lot of blood, the body sucks up all the blood from the legs and arms and keeps it in the upper part of the body to keep the brain and heart and kidneys alive.

She had no blood in her arms or legs and her veins were flat," he said. He then tried her neck. "It was a last-ditch attempt. It did not work," he said. "The monitor was straight-line, no electrical activity at all." Asked by prosecutor Mark Skurka to clarify his testimony for the jury, the paramedic said, "It means she was dead." Fredrickson also identified a pair of blood-stained green sweat pants and other clothing Selena was wearing when she was taken to the hospital, as well as a bloody ring the paramedic had wrapped in gauze and turned over to police. He said the ring fell out of Selena's clenched fist in the ambulance as he pulled her arm over to try to start an IV. Corpus Christi police Sgt. John Betz testified that he and his friend, plainclothes officer Sgt. Bernardo Torres, were eating lunch about two blocks from the Days Inn when they learned of the shooting.

The officers responded to the call in separate vehicles, with Betz briefly giving chase to a red truck he erroneously thought had been involved in the crime. Torres continued to the motel, where he was given a better description of the vehicle. As he walked through the parking lot, he spotted the truck slowly driving toward him, then parking. Torres said he sought cover behind a nearby vehicle, then kicked the tailgate of Saldivar's truck to attract her attention. "She looked back at me," he said. "I showed her my badge and told her to roll down the window. She rolled it halfway down. I asked her to present her hands, and she reached up and stuck one hand out the window. The other hand stayed down." Torres then asked Saldivar if she was involved in the reported shooting. "She said, `No, I'm not. I have to call San Antonio.' " A second time, Torres ordered Saldivar -- who he said seemed calm and lucid -- to display both hands. "Then she reaches down and brings this gun to her temple," he said. "That was the first time I saw the gun. I pointed my weapon at her and told her to drop the gun. At that point, she said she wanted to kill herself. She was yelling it."

Betz, who had returned from his unproductive chase, said he approached Saldivar's truck from the rear seconds before she put the pistol to her head. He said he and Saldivar made eye contact in the truck's side mirror. "We were eyeball to eyeball and just seven feet away from each other when she pulled out the revolver and stuck it to her temple,"he said. "I backed up and sought cover. Both Officer Torres and I were trying to convince her to put the weapon down."

The suicide attempt not withstanding, Betz testified that Saldivar seemed "in control of the situation," growing excited only when officers attempted to approach her truck. The initial confrontation with police grew into a standoff that lasted 91/2 hours.