Selena Forever

The Selena Trial

The Houston Chronicles Files

Jury gets Selena murder case

By MICHAEL GRACZYK Associated Press Writer Copyright 1995 Houston Chronicle

12:50 PM 10/23/1995

Slain Tejano singer Selena was the victim of a tragic accident and not a murder, defense attorneys said today in closing arguments as the murder case against Yolanda Saldivar went to a jury. "There's no question Yolanda Saldivar acknowledged the tragedy, the tragic loss of Selena, and all of us share in that community of grief," defense lawyer Fred Hagans said. "Time and time again, consistently unrehearsed, ... she said, `This was an accident, I didn't intend to hurt her.'" 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? "Selena left her mark on the world," he continued. "The defendant left her mark on Selena with a bullet hole in the back." Hagans, showing the jury how easy it was to fire the pistol 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."

Judge Mike Westergren, who moved the case to Houston because of publicity in Corpus Christi, gave attorneys for the former Selena fan club president and Nueces County prosecutors up to 90 minutes each for their final remarks. The jury today was given a single murder charge to consider against Saldivar. Attorneys for both sides, in working with the judge on the charge, could have agreed to instructions that would have allowed conviction on something less than murder, like manslaughter or negligent homicide, and thus ensure a less severe sentence. Still, even with a conviction, Saldivar, who has no prior criminal record, could emerge from the case with as little as probation.

She also could get up to a life prison term. Before court started this morning, about 25 fans held signs and chanted in support of Selena in the most vocal demonstration since the trial began two weeks ago. "Guilty, guilty, guilty," one sign read. Another, with a reference to the recent Simpson trial in California, said: "O.J. got away, Saldivar won't." Saldivar, 35, who rose from Selena fan club founder to manager of the singer's boutiques, was charged with the March 31 fatal shooting of the 23-year-old Grammy-winning singer.

Defense attorneys said evidence presented over seven days of prosecution testimony doesn't prove the state's case that Saldivar deliberately shot Selena to death in Room 158 at the Corpus Christi Days Inn. The defense wound up its case quickly, calling just five witnesses whose testimony lasted all of three hours. The defense has claimed Saldivar shot Selena by accident but that the Corpus Christi police who questioned her left that out of her written confession, which Westergren allowed into evidence.

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 moaned. Prosecutors said Saldivar deliberately shot Selena in the culmination of an effort by the star to retrieve records that would have supported her family's suspicion that Saldivar had embezzled $30,000. There were no eyewitnesses to the shooting, although 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. "All the evidence is circumstantial with the exception of the tape on which she says she didn't intend to do it," Hagans said. "Either she did it intentionally or she didn't do it intentionally. And if she didn't do it intentionally, then she shouldn't go to jail."