Both sides rest, final arguments this afternoon
By MICHELLE KOIDIN Associated Press Writer Copyright 1995 Houston Chronicle
11:28 AM 10/25/1995
Prosecutors hoping to send the woman who killed Tejano star Selena to prison abruptly ended their punishment case today after calling just one brief witness.
Defense attorneys then called witnesses for Yolanda Saldivar who told of her good character before wrapping up their case.
That cleared the way for final arguments this afternoon before the jury can deliberate punishment.
Sentences range from probation to life in prison, which would mean at least 30 years behind bars.
The prosecution's unexpected lack of testimony at the punishment phase came after a five-hour hearing Tuesday outside the presence of the jury. At that session, Nueces County district attorneys called witnesses who alleged that Saldivar, convicted of Selena's murder earlier this week, embezzled money from the singer. Defense attorneys challenged prosecution witnesses, and state District Judge Mike Westergren heard all of the state's case before agreeing the jury could consider it.
Today, however, after a brief opening statement by defense attorney Douglas Tinker, prosecutors called Faustino Gomez, a San Antonio physician who employed Saldivar in the early 1980s. Gomez said he did not find Saldivar a law-abiding person but did not elaborate. Under cross examination, he acknowledged he had not seen her for the past 10 years. The state then rested. Jurors were not told he once employed Saldivar. The judge has limited testimony of her character to the past 10 years. On Tuesday, Gomez said he fired her in 1983 after he suspected her of stealing money. Tinker told the jury today he would ask them for probation and hoped to show through his witnesses that Saldivar was a "good, honest person ... with a good reputation."
The first witnesses were friends and family members of Saldivar. "I coach a Little League baseball team," her brother, Fernando Saldivar, said. "She's always helping us with what we need, whatever we need for the kids. She's a real big asset to the community. She can help the community. She's always done that." Witnesses testifying outside the jury's presence Tuesday told of irregularities involving thousands of dollars and unpaid bills for everything from nail files bearing Selena's name to radio advertising time. "These checks were cashed and the cash went somewhere," prosecutor Elissa Sterling said. Defense attorneys argued there was no way to positively link the irregularities to Saldivar, though her name was signed on checks. "We'd rather it wasn't admitted before the jury," defense attorney Douglas Tinker said. "We don't believe there's any evidence of theft."
Among those who took the stand Tuesday was Joel Castaneda, a white-collar crime investigator with the Corpus Christi Police Department. He listed more than a half dozen checks totalling several thousand dollars drawn from an account in the name of Selena Etc. Inc., the singer's boutique. Castaneda said the checks were cashed by Saldivar but were not used to pay bills as noted on the checks. Defense attorneys suggested money from the checks could have gone directly to Selena, who then could have used it for her own purposes. Elvia Hernandez, an accountant hired in April by Selena's father, Abraham Quintanilla Jr., said her search of financial records for Selena Etc. Inc., showed what she considered several suspicious checks.
Under cross examination, she said she was hired by Quintanilla specifically to look for irregularities in the financial records. Another witness who managed a beauty supply company said she was surprised to learn that a check from Selena Etc. -- carrying her company's invoice number and signed by Saldivar -- was cashed but she was not paid. On Monday, jurors convicted Saldivar of the March 31 fatal shooting of 23-year-old Selena Quintanilla Perez at a Days Inn motel in Corpus Christi. Prosecutors contended Saldivar, 35, deliberately shot Selena in a falling-out over business.
Saldivar managed the 23-year-old singer's boutiques, and Selena's family suspected the woman of embezzling $30,000. Defense attorneys argued that the shooting was a tragic accident and that the five-shot Brazilian-made .38-caliber revolver went off accidentally as Saldivar was waving it at Selena. Prosecutors pointed out that the woman in a suicidal hysteria held the gun at her own head and waved it around for 9� hours during a police standoff in the wake of the shooting but it never discharged.