Selena Forever

The Selena Trial

The Houston Chronicles Files

Saldivar's dad cries for mercy

Jurors recess in punishment phase

By PATTY REINERT Copyright 1995 Houston Chronicle

9:32 PM 10/25/1995

After hearing the father of murderer Yolanda Saldivar tearfully plead for their mercy, jurors deliberated for five hours Wednesday but went to a hotel for the night without deciding how to punish the woman who shot Tejano star Selena in the back. The jury of six men and six women will resume their deliberations this morning to decide the sentence for Saldivar, 35.

Because she has no prior criminal record, they may consider anything from probation to life in prison. Jurors were obviously moved, and a couple of them cried, Wednesday morning when Frank Saldivar took the stand, telling them it was his 69th birthday. Asked about his relationship with his daughter, he burst into tears and told the jury, "That's our baby girl." "You love your daughter very much, don't you?" defense attorney Doug Tinker asked. "That's the only heart I have," he said, as his wife and several of their other six children sobbed in the front row of the courtroom.

When Frank Saldivar dried his eyes and regained his composure, he asked jurors for a show of hands if they believed in God. Before prosecutors could object, more than half of the jurors had shot up their hands. "I hope some of you have sons and daughters and that you believe in God," Frank Saldivar continued. Selena's parents, Marcella and Abraham Quintanilla Jr., nodded and wiped away tears. "I want you to remember that we are all brothers and sisters as long as we believe in God," Saldivar told the jury. "We have lost two lives." Yolanda Saldivar, Selena's former fan club president, was convicted Monday after two weeks of testimony in the March 31 shooting death of the singer at a Corpus Christi motel.

Prosecutors had planned to present a half-day of testimony Wednesday in an attempt to show that Saldivar had been stealing money from Selena's two beauty salons and boutiques, which she helped manage. But after haggling over the evidence away from the jury on Tuesday, they decided to call only one witness Wednesday. That witness, a San Antonio dermatologist who fired Saldivar more than 10 years ago after accusing her of stealing money, was allowed to testify only that he knew Saldivar and did not consider her to be a law-abiding citizen.

Prosecutors hinted later that the embezzlement accusations --which are still being investigated --would be difficult to prove at this point. Rather than present weak evidence and risk losing a potential appeal in the murder case, they scrapped their plans. They intend to take the embezzlement case to a Nueces County grand jury when they return to Corpus Christi. On Wednesday, the defense called seven other witnesses to the stand to help bolster their plea for probation for Saldivar. Saldivar's brother and two nieces, as well as friends and former co-workers, characterized the defendant as a loving, caring, religious person who often took her nieces and nephews to church, helped them raise money for Little League and encouraged them to get ahead by getting an education.

Saldivar, who is a registered nurse, also was portrayed as a hard-working, loyal employee who took time to show compassion for her patients and their families. During closing arguments, Saldivar's lawyer, Doug Tinker, asked for probation for his client, saying she had already been severely punished for her conduct. But prosecutor Mark Skurka quickly grabbed the jury's attention when it was his turn to speak. He pulled out Saldivar's .38-caliber revolver and reminded jurors how she shot Selena in the back, then ran after her, yelling "bitch" and pointing the gun at her. "We're not here to reward Yolanda Saldivar for what she did. We're here to punish her," he said.

Skurka acknowledged Saldivar's father's tearful testimony, but told the jury, "You're not here to think about their pain." Saying both families have suffered, he added, "There is a big difference in these two families." Pointing a finger at the Saldivars, he said, "They can see their daughter. They can look at her. They know she's alive." Pointing to the Quintanillas and Selena's widower, Chris Perez, on the opposite side of the courtroom, he added, "This family doesn't have that." Nueces County District Attorney Carlos Valdez also challenged the jury to send a message about how justice is carried out in Houston. "Sitting at that table are several excellent lawyers and one murderer," he said, pointing to the defense table. "What do you do with murderers in Houston?" Asking jurors for a life sentence, which he said was "the only appropriate punishment," he said, "I am asking you on behalf of that beautiful voice, that golden voice that brought joy to millions of people.

That voice was silenced on March 31. What are you gonna do about it?" Jurors began deliberating at 1:15 p.m., and within half an hour asked to see a medical report filed by the cardiac surgeon who operated on Selena at Memorial Medical Center. The doctor testified during the trial that the singer was clearly dead on arrival at the hospital and his efforts to save her were futile. By 4 p.m., jurors sent out a note asking if they could "go home and sleep on it." After huddling with lawyers, state District Judge Mike Westergren announced he would send back a note telling jurors they could not go home, but could go to a hotel whenever they were through deliberating for the night.

(Chronicle reporter Jo Ann Zu?ga contributed to this story.)