Selena Forever

The Selena Trial

The Houston Chronicles Files

Ranger says police ignored suicide story

Saldivar said she was trying to kill herself, not Selena

By PATTY REINERT Copyright 1995 Houston Chronicle

11:07 PM 10/18/1995

Police ignored Yolanda Saldivar's contention that she accidentally shot Tejano singer Selena while trying to commit suicide -- even though she complained the confession she was about to sign was incomplete, a Texas Ranger testified in Saldivar's murder trial Wednesday. "She said she pulled the gun out of her purse and held it to her own head and pulled the hammer back,"Ranger Robert Garza told jurors. "She said that in a gesture to Selena, she told her to close the door and the gun went off."

Garza, who watched through a mirrored window and listened as two Corpus Christi police officers questioned Saldivar after her surrender last March 31, said that as Saldivar was telling her story she gestured with her right hand to show them how she put the gun to her own temple. When Saldivar was presented with a typed version of her statement to police, she questioned it, telling Detective Paul Rivera that he had left out part of it, Garza said. "The thing that made me uncomfortable was that she hesitated to sign the statement. She said, `You left out a word here,' " Garza said. " `It does not say I put the gun to my own head and it does not say accident or accidentally,' " he said, quoting Saldivar. In the end, she did sign the statement, he added.

Garza, called in to help local police investigate the shooting death of Selena Quintanilla Perez at a Corpus Christi Days Inn, testified that he monitored the interrogation by Rivera and Sgt. Ray Rivera and heard Saldivar's original statement. He said he was in and out of the observation room after that. Garza later used Saldivar's signed confession -- which includes no reference to an accidental shooting -- as the basis for his report on the case. But he was concerned enough about the discrepancy to discuss it with another Ranger, and later to ask Paul Rivera about it. "He told me she was trying to change things around and twist it after admitting it," Garza said. "After Detective Rivera explained it to me, I didn't think it was an issue."

Asked later whether murder suspects tend to minimize their involvement in the crime and later end up confessing, he replied, "That happens a lot." Both Riveras, who are not related, testified Wednesday that Saldivar had several opportunities to correct her statement and in four places on the typed confession she scratched out words and made insertions, initialing each one. The final three-page statement says: "I took the gun from my purse and Selena started walking towards the door which was opened. I pulled the hammer back and I shot at her as she was walking towards the door which was open."

If convicted of murder, Saldivar, Selena's former fan club president, faces up to life in prison. If she can convince the jury the shooting was accidental, she could win an acquittal or a lighter sentence. Defense attorney Doug Tinker tried earlier Wednesday to get Saldivar's confession thrown out, saying she was denied a lawyer even though she asked to speak to one during the standoff outside the motel. State District Judge Mike Westergren agreed with prosecutors that even though police negotiators had promised Saldivar she could call her lawyer during their attempt to get her to surrender, she waived her right to an attorney once she arrived at police headquarters and voluntarily talked to investigators.

Tinker questioned Ray Rivera, who said he never heard Saldivar say the shooting was an accident until she challenged the typed statement. Ray Rivera also testified that he collected evidence from the motel the day after the killing, and was called back to the motel on April 5 after motel employees found a purse in a safe in Room 158, the site of the shooting. The purse, overlooked by investigators earlier, belonged to Saldivar and contained, among other things, five hollow-point bullets, a $25 check and $1,810 in cash, Ray Rivera testified. On cross-examination, Ray Rivera was asked to read from a letter that was found in the purse. The letter, dated March 13, was a resignation letter that Saldivar's San Antonio attorney, Richard L. Garza, had written to Selena. "It is with great regret and reservation that Ms. Yolanda Saldivar submits her employment resignation from your company, Selena Etc., Inc.," the letter says. "The day to day dealings with certain members of your family (have) made it impossible for Ms. Saldivar to work for you or Selena Etc., Inc."

The letter contradicts testimony by Selena's widower, Chris Perez, who told jurors last week that Saldivar had been fired by Selena, but was kept around so they could collect missing business records from her. The letter was written four days after Selena, her father and manager Abraham Quintanilla Jr. and sister Suzette Quintanilla Arriaga confronted Saldivar at the family recording studio, Q Productions, asking her about money they believed was missing from the singer's business.

It also was written the same day Saldivar picked up a .38 revolver from a San Antonio gun shop. The state plans to wrap up its case today. Nueces County District Attorney Carlos Valdez, who is prosecuting Saldivar, said Wednesday afternoon that he had received a note from the Colorado State Penitentiary, telling him of a threat against him and his family. Valdez said threats are rather routine in his line of work. Tinker also received a threat on Tuesday via a postcard sent to the courthouse and signed "The Mexican Mafia."