Selena Forever

The Selena Trial

The Houston Chronicles Files

Saldivar sobbed, begged forgiveness, officers say

By PATTY REINERT Copyright 1995 Houston Chronicle

9:40 PM 10/16/1995

After fatally shooting Tejano singer Selena, Yolanda Saldivar sobbed, begged God and her family for forgiveness and repeatedly threatened to kill herself. Then, when she realized she didn't have the courage, she asked police to do the job for her, officers testified Monday. "Look at what I did to my best friend," Saldivar wailed during a tape-recorded conversation with police negotiator Larry Young shortly after the slaying. "I should kill myself. I did something wrong. I'll never be forgiven my entire life. ... I should know better -- and I did know better." Portions of the tapes were played for two hours Monday as the second week of Saldivar's murder trial got under way.

The tapes were recorded by police as they negotiated with her for 9 1/2 hours on March 31 while she was holed up in a pickup outside the Corpus Christi Days Inn where Selena Quintanilla Perez was shot in the back. On the recordings from a two-way line linking Saldivar in the pickup and Young in the motel, Saldivar also says Selena's father and manager, Abraham Quintanilla Jr., had attacked her at her apartment. She says she is terrified he might come to the motel to kill her. "He raped me. He stuck a stick in my vagina," she says. "He said, `If you tell anybody, I will kill your parents. I will kill your family.' " "He pushed me to this, Larry," she continues. "He wanted to kill me. ... He threatened me every single day because he doesn't want me with his daughter."

Quintanilla has never been investigated for the alleged assault and no charges have been filed against him, prosecutors said Monday. Nueces County District Attorney Carlos Valdez tried to pre-empt the taped statements last week, asking Quintanilla whether he had raped Saldivar, threatened her or her family, hurt her or paid anyone else to do so. Quintanilla strongly denied all of the accusations. Saldivar also says on the tapes that she had gone to her lawyer to discuss the alleged threats by Quintanilla, but he advised her there was little she could do. "I said, `What do I have to do? Wait till he kills me or what?' " she says. Monday morning, two policemen who were among the first to make contact with Saldivar following the shooting testified that Saldivar blamed Quintanilla for the shooting, repeatedly telling them, "Her father is responsible for this. He made me shoot her."

Sgt. John Houston testified that about 1 1/2 hours into the negotiations, Saldivar began uncocking the gun, making it more difficult to shoot, then cocking it again. He said that would have been difficult unless Saldivar was familiar with firearms. But Sgt. Joe Claire, who was closer to Saldivar during the standoff, said the gun was always cocked and ready to fire. At one point on the tape-recorded conversation between Saldivar and Young, she says, "I want to pull the trigger and I don't know how." It was unclear if she was talking literally or whether she was trying to get up the nerve to take her own life.

All three officers agreed Saldivar never told them the shooting was accidental, as she now claims. "She never said `accident,' sir," Claire said. On the tapes, another three hours of which are expected to be presented to the jury today, Saldivar repeatedly asks to speak to her mother and says she is ashamed of herself, that she has disgraced her family and that she cannot live with herself. "I don't want to live in torture. ... I'll never forgive myself," she sobs. "I'm ashamed of what I've done. ... I don't deserve to live at all." At one point on the tape, a radio broadcaster can be heard clearly talking about Selena's death, and Saldivar becomes extremely agitated. "I just heard on the radio that I killed her," she tells Young. "They just said she died. I want to kill myself. ... I'm ready to pull the trigger right now."

Young, trying to calm her throughout the conversation, asks about her beliefs in God and in the Virgin of Guadalupe. At his prompting, she recites the Sixth Commandment, "Thou shalt not kill," and agrees with him that suicide would be against God's will. She later asks Young to pray with her, and he asks God to help Saldivar give herself up. "Today has not been an easy day for Yolanda," he says. Later, Saldivar asks Young in a frightened voice, "Will I get to go to heaven, Larry?" As the taped negotiations wear on, a radio can occasionally be heard in the background; at one point, the theme song from M*A*S*H -- Suicide is Painless -- is blaring.

Saldivar insists Young is transmitting the radio through the telephone line, and he keeps asking her if the truck radio is on. Saldivar's attorneys said at the end of the day that they believe the transmission was picked up by accident, via the phone cord. As the tapes were being played, Saldivar sat at the defense table and cried, often wiping her eyes with a tissue. Her mother and other family members also cried silently in the front row of the courtroom. Selena's mother, Marcella Quintanilla, has not returned to the courtroom since leaving in tears Thursday afternoon.

Over the weekend, she was hospitalized briefly at Houston's St. Joseph Hospital, complaining of chest pains. She was held overnight and released Saturday after doctors said she was suffering from high blood pressure brought on by stress. If convicted of murder, Saldivar faces up to life in prison.