Police officer testifies Saldivar familiar with weapon operation
By TERRI LANGFORD Associated Press Writer Copyright 1995 Houston Chronicle
11:33 AM 10/16/1995
A sometimes hysterical Yolanda Saldivar held a gun to her head, her finger on the trigger and the hammer cocked, but changed the weapon's firing position at least twice in a standoff after the slaying of Tejano singer Selena, a police officer testified today.
"There was a point, about the middle of the conversation, that the gun went from single action to double action," said John Houston, a Corpus Christi police sergeant who confronted Saldivar in the parking lot moments after the shooting March 31. He talked with her for some three hours, he said.
The testimony from Houston attempted to show that the 35-year-old Saldivar, who held police at bay during the first hours following the shooting, was familiar with the operation of her five-shot .38-caliber revolver.
Defense attorneys have contended the shooting in a room at the motel was an accident. "She never said that," Houston said. "She never stated it or implied it." Houston, who said he arrived at the scene just as the fatally wounded Selena was being removed by ambulance, said he found the distraught woman with a gun to her head, threatening to kill herself while seated in her red pickup truck in the Days Inn motel parking lot.
Asked by Nueces County Chief Prosecutor Mark Skurka if changing the hammer position of the gun was easy to do, Houston replied: "Depending on the skill of the person." In the single action position, it would be much easier for the weapon to discharge. Houston said Saldivar blamed the shooting on the singer's father, Abraham Quintanilla Jr., but also said she had problems with Selena as well. "She said, `He made me shoot, he made me shoot her,'" Houston said. "`Her father is responsible for this.' She talked about the father `coming between us.' "She told me `he tried to get between us,' referring to the victim's father. She said `we'd been together for so long.' She said `he wasn't or not going to come between us.' "Then she made a statement that, `She had a problem with her and I just got to end it,'" he said.
Houston was engaged in conversation with Saldivar for three hours immediately after the shooting. It was more than six hours after he was replaced by a hostage negotiator that Saldivar surrendered. In opening statements last week, attorneys said the shooting was an accident. They also contended the Grammy-winning singer was being manipulated by a domineering father intent on running his daughter's career and life. Quintanilla, the state's first witness last week, denied the defense claim.
More than halfway through their case, prosecutors have painted a portrait of Selena, 23, as a naive young artist whose trust was betrayed by Saldivar, a manipulative former fan club president who rose from a zealous fan to manager of Selena's two boutiques. If convicted of murder, Saldivar could be sentenced to life in prison. Prosecutors contend the slaying was deliberate and took place after Selena went to the motel to cut off her ties with Saldivar, the assistant suspected of embezzling $30,000 from the boutiques.
Last week, defense attorney Douglas Tinker scored the first points in the trial by forcing two prosecution witnesses -- employees at the gun store where Saldivar bought the murder weapon -- to admit that guns can fire accidentally. But the next two days seemed to belong to the prosecution, led by Nueces County District Attorney Carlos Valdez. Former motel employees gave dramatic testimony about Selena's final minutes, in which she named her killer. Another defense attorney, Fred Hagans, said the prosecution had yet to present a witness who could say the shooting was deliberate.