Both sides in Selena case finish
Closing arguments planned for Monday
By PATTY REINERT Copyright 1995 Houston Chronicle
9:00 PM 10/20/1995
Lawyers for accused murderer Yolanda Saldivar called five witnesses to testify Friday, went to lunch and then abruptly announced they were finished.
Throughout the two-week trial, defense attorneys had hinted they might call the father and manager of slain Tejano star Selena to the witness stand. But they concluded their case without calling Abraham Quintanilla Jr. or the defendant. Closing arguments are set for Monday, after which jurors will begin deciding the case.
Saldivar, 35, founded the Selena Fan Club and later worked closely with the singer in her two boutiques.
She admits shooting Selena Quintanilla Perez in the back at a Corpus Christi motel March 31, but said it happened accidentally while she was trying to commit suicide. After the state wrapped up its case Friday morning, defense attorney Doug Tinker began calling witnesses, starting with the first person to dial 911 when a mortally wounded Selena stumbled into the lobby of the Days Inn, begging for help and naming her killer before collapsing. Barbara Schultz, who manages the motel, contradicted earlier testimony by former front desk clerk Shawna Vela, who told jurors last week that Selena had screamed for someone to lock the doors and call police.
Vela, who never went back to work after the day Selena was shot, cried on the stand as she quoted the singer as saying, "Lock the doors because she'll shoot me again." But Schultz, who was not questioned by police until months after the shooting and was never called as a prosecution witness, testified Friday that she believed Vela had lied on the witness stand. "From the time (Selena) entered the door until the time she fell down on the floor, the only thing I heard her say was, `Help me. Help me. I've been shot,'" Schultz said. "The only thing I heard Selena say when she was on the floor wasn't really a word. It was a moan." Told of Vela's testimony, Schultz said, "In my opinion she would not be telling the truth." She did not elaborate and lawyers did not press her.
After Schultz testified she did not hear Selena say anything about locking the doors or calling police, Nueces County District Attorney Carlos Valdez asked sarcastically, "Did you hear her say, `Help me. Help me. I've been involved in an accident?' " Ruben DeLeon, the motel's sales director, also was called to repeat earlier testimony. DeLeon, who knelt beside Selena as both Schultz and Vela were calling 911, agreed that the singer never asked them to lock the doors or call police. Tinker also recalled Detective Paul Rivera, who took Saldivar's confession at police headquarters after she ended a 91/2-hour standoff in a pickup in the motel parking lot. During the standoff, Saldivar held a gun to her temple and repeatedly threatened to kill herself, saying over and over that she never meant to hurt Selena.
At the police station later that night, Saldivar contends -- and a Texas Ranger agrees -- she told Rivera and another policeman that the shooting was accidental. Before signing the confession, Saldivar complained it was incomplete, telling Rivera he left out the word "accidentally." Ranger Robert Garza testified earlier that he was at first uncomfortable with the omissions and that he later expressed his concerns to Rivera, who told him Saldivar was a "cold-blooded" murderer trying to twist her story after admitting intentionally killing Selena. Garza said he was satisfied with that because murder suspects often offer several excuses before police get them to admit their crimes.
Confronted with Garza's testimony on Friday, Rivera denied he made those comments to the Ranger. He insisted Saldivar never told him the shooting was an accident. "I never heard her say that," he said. The only time she talked about threatening suicide or gestured that she had the gun to her own head was when she told him about her standoff, he said. He conceded he knew police negotiators had taped their conversations as they tried to get Saldivar to give herself up, but said he never asked for the tapes during his investigation. "I don't have access to them," he said. "It's confidential information. They keep them and don't let anybody see them." The tapes, which were played in court, contain six hours of conversations between Saldivar and police negotiators.
Throughout, Saldivar is threatening to commit suicide and occasionally wails that she was trying to kill herself when the gun went off and hit Selena. The defense attorney also tried to discredit Rivera by asking him about his associations with the Quintanilla family and why he hung a poster of the slain singer -- a gift from her family -- in his cubicle at the police station. Rivera strongly denied knowing Selena or her family before he was assigned to the case and insisted he never worked as a security guard at her concerts. "I never met Selena in person," he said. "The only time I ever saw her in person was when she was at the morgue." After calling his last witness, and with the jury gone for the day, Tinker had one more surprise. He told prosecutors and state
District Judge Mike Westergren he wants jurors to consider only the murder charge, rather than allowing them to contemplate less-serious charges. That would mean jurors would have to acquit Saldivar if they believe the shooting was an accident, rather than convict her of manslaughter or some other reduced charge.
A murder conviction carries up to a life prison sentence. Defense lawyer Fred Hagans, who is assisting Tinker, explained later that he feels the defense had discredited several prosecution witnesses. "If you don't believe those witnesses," he said, "why should she spend any time in jail?" A final decision on what charges the jury will consider is expected from the judge Monday morning.