Selena Forever

The Selena Trial

The Houston Chronicles Files

Saldivar found guilty of killing Tejano singing star Selena

By MICHAEL GRACZYK Associated Press Writer Copyright 1995 Houston Chronicle

4:51 PM 10/23/1995

A jury deliberated Monday for slightly more than two hours before convicting Yolanda Saldivar of killing Tejano singing star Selena. Saldivar, 35, had little immediate reaction to the verdict as read by State District Judge Mike Westergren, then her shoulders shook and she began to cry. A brother and sister, seated directly behind her in the courtroom, also began crying. There was no visible reaction from the singer's family, who also sat in the courtroom. Defense attorneys had argued that the shooting March 31 at the Days Inn motel in Corpus Christi was unintentional and that the gun went off as Saldivar was waving it at the Grammy-winning singer. Jurors only had to decide if Saldivar, 35, who rose from founder of the Selena fan club to manager of her boutiques, should be convicted of murder.

The conviction could get Saldivar, who has no prior criminal record, a sentence ranging from probation to a life prison term. Westergren ordered the jury to return to court Tuesday afternoon to begin the punishment phase of the trial. As the jury went into deliberations, scores of fans outside the courthouse held signs and chanted in support of Selena in the most vocal demonstration since the trial started two weeks ago. With word of the verdict, a cheer went up from the crowd, which numbered several hundred. Car horns also blared from vehicles driving outside the courthouse.

Attorneys took three hours Monday, as the trial entered its third week, to deliver closing comments to the jury, with lawyers for Saldivar insisting Selena Quintanilla Perez, 23, was the victim of a tragic accident and not a murder. "Time and time again, consistently unrehearsed, ... she said, `This was an accident, I didn't intend to hurt her.'" defense attorney Fred Hagans said. Mark Skurka, the Nueces County assistant district attorney, said that Saldivar "...took the gun out, cocked the hammer, pulled the trigger and killed her. What could be a worse way to die than to be shot in the back in a cowardly manner?" He pointed to a picture of a smiling Selena then switched to an autopsy photograph. "The defendant reduced her to this, a picture of her on a cold slab," he said. Hagans, showing the jury how easy it was to fire the revolver used in the shooting and noting how Saldivar was inexperienced with guns, several times pulled the trigger as he spoke. "What Yolanda Saldivar learned was tragic," he said, describing the trigger action as requiring "virtually no pressure."

But Nueces County District Attorney Carlos Valdez, holding the gun and waving it around, questioned the defense theory. "How come in 9� hours when the defendant had the gun to her head, it did not go off accidentally?" he said. After the shooting, Saldivar held police at bay in a 9-hour standoff outside the motel, holding a gun to her head and wailing that she wanted to kill herself. "It just went off, I didn't mean to do it. I didn't mean to kill anybody," she cried numerous times in tape recordings of the standoff before finally surrendering. "As Selena was walking out the door, her livelihood was walking out with her," Skurka responded, saying that was the reason for the shooting.

Defense attorneys also attacked a Corpus Christi police detective who they said deliberately left out of Saldivar's written confession that she did not intend to hurt the singer. "She had the opportunity to change it," Valdez said of the confession, noting that she did make several revisions. Defense attorneys said evidence presented over seven days of prosecution testimony didn't prove the state's case that Saldivar deliberately shot Selena to death in Room 158 at the Corpus Christi Days Inn. The defense called just five witnesses who testified over three hours on Friday. Prosecutors said Selena's shooting capped an effort by the singer to retrieve records that would have supported her family's suspicion that Saldivar had embezzled $30,000 and should be fired. Saldivar, meanwhile, alleged Selena's father attacked and threatened her, prompting her to purchase the weapon.

No evidence was presented to prove the embezzlement claim and the singer's father, Abraham Quintanilla Jr., denied attacking Saldivar. Prosecutors called Saldivar a liar. There were no eyewitnesses to the shooting. Motel employees testified they saw a bleeding, screaming Selena run from a room to the lobby with a calm Saldivar in pursuit, gun in hand. After collapsing, Selena's final words were that she was shot by Saldivar, witnesses said. A firearms expert testified the .38-caliber, Brazilian-made, five-shot revolver Saldivar was carrying could not have gone off without someone pulling the trigger. Defense attorneys said there was no way the expert could determine intent.