The six-male, six-female jury went home Thursday night after a little more than four hours in deliberations in the capital murder trial of three men in 40th District Court.
They were slated to renew their discussion at 9 a.m. Friday in the cases against Ruben Hernandez, 19, Fernando Juarez, 18, and Eric Lee Maldonado, 22, whose charges stem from the April 18, 2010, shooting death of Ennis businessman Mohammad Hashemi.
The charge given to the jury by presiding Judge Bob Carroll offered the panel five choices for each of the three defendants: capital murder, murder, aggravated robbery, robbery or not guilty. A capital murder conviction carries an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole.
A fourth defendant, 16-year-old Isaiah Gonzalez, has already accepted concurrent prison sentences of 45, 45 and 20 years on charges of murder, aggravated robbery and arson. This was in return for his testimony during the trial, which saw eight days of testimony from about 40 witnesses and the introduction of more than 170 pieces of evidence, including photographs, defendant statements, recovered guns and forensic analysis.
Closing arguments took about three hours to complete as the state and each of the three defense attorneys wrapped up their cases before the jury.
Chief felony prosecutor Don Maxfield reviewed the charge with jurors, in particular, going over the law of parties and what constitutes conspiracy.
“That law is what makes all three of these defendants guilty of capital murder,” he said. “I submit to you the evidence is overwhelming.”
When Hashemi left his store that night to make a bank deposit on his way home, he was also taking several bags of M&M candies for his twin girls, Maxfield told jurors.
“The twins are two of (Hashemi’s) seven children,” Maxfield said. “On the way to the bank, he was stopped. He was hijacked. He was wantonly murdered.”
During his closing argument, Maxfield went over different witnesses’ testimony, including that of Gonzalez, who had provided prosecutors with a detailed statement of what happened. He also touched on the state’s evidence against each of the three defendants.
In particular, it was Hernandez’s role in the incident that caused Hashemi’s death, Maxfield said of the former employee.
“But for Ruben Hernandez, Mohammad Hashemi would be alive today. But for Ruben Hernandez, Fernando Juarez could not have known where to go and when. But for Ruben Hernandez, Eric Lee Maldonado would not have been there with a weapon to shoot and kill Mohammad Hashemi,” Maxfield said.
None of the defendants deserved sympathy for their actions, he said, saying, “I submit to you that you shouldn’t care one whit about what happens to these defendants after today because they didn’t care one whit about what happened to Mohammad Hashemi.”
Juarez’s attorney, Jim Jenkins, described the case as the equivalent of three separate trials being heard at one time. Asking jurors for a true verdict based upon the law and the evidence, he argued, “Your verdicts don’t have to match (between the three defendants). Consider each person’s involvement separately.”
The offense was “senseless and, quite frankly, dumb and everybody in this room knows that,” Jenkins said. “But do the facts require you to send Fernando Juarez for the rest of his life to prison without the possibility of parole?”
A true verdict in the case would be to convict Juarez of aggravated robbery, he said, arguing there was no evidence Juarez possessed a gun nor did he shoot anybody.
“I’m not going to insult your intelligence,” Jenkins told jurors. “He admitted to aggravated robbery (in his statements). That’s what he did. There’s no evidence he knew there was going to be a shooting. …
“Is a true verdict sending Fernando Juarez to prison for the rest of his life without getting out? I say it’s not,” Jenkins said.
Maldonado’s attorney, Dan Cox, also noted a tragedy had occurred with the offense.
“A good man went down,” he said of Hashemi’s death, but said his client wasn’t guilty of that shooting. Maldonado had admitted in his statement to burning Hashemi’s van, Cox argued, saying, “He’s guilty of arson, but that charge is not on your (verdict) sheet. That’s another jury, another trial.”
Cox bashed the testimony given by Gonzalez and another witness, who he referred to as a “heroin addict … the guy who’s locked up now.”
“You are allowed to judge the credibility of the witnesses,” he said, referring to Gonzalez by his street name, Lucky.
“Lucky. Lucky he’s a juvenile,” Cox said of the now 16-year-old, arguing that it was Gonzalez who had shot Hashemi but sought to blame Maldonado. “Lucky is your shooter. Lucky is your killer, ladies and gentlemen. You need to think real hard about Lucky. …
“The fact that a tragedy occurred and Lucky wriggled away is not a reason to convict Eric Maldonado of capital murder,” Cox said.
Hernandez’s attorney, Vance Hinds, argued his client wasn’t present at any of the events after Hashemi left the store – and that it was his cooperation the next day that led authorities to the other three.
“If my client hadn’t cooperated, there’s no way they would have caught these guys within 24-48 hours,” Hinds said, noting there was no forensic evidence linking Hernandez to the shooting, the dumping of his body nor the burning of his minivan.
While there were text messages between Hernandez and Juarez before the incident, Hinds said Juarez had threatened his client and forced him into participating.
“Are these text messages enough to convict a man of capital murder and put him in prison for the rest of his life?” Hinds argued.
In wrapping up the state’s portion of the closing argument, assistant district attorney Lindy Tober reminded jurors of testimony stemming to October 2009 of when Hernandez and Juarez visited another person and discussed a robbery of the store where Hernandez was working.
“The seed was planted,” she said, noting the conspiracy grew to include the four defendants.
Noting the brevity of the text message series between Hernandez and Juarez shortly before the offense occurred, Tober said those were brief for a reason.
“There wasn’t a lot of questioning, there wasn’t any of that because there already was a plan and agreement to do this robbery,” she said. “It was very simple because it was already planned.”
The defendants’ statements verify their participation in a conspiracy, Tober said, saying they were equally responsible for what happened and noting their actions after the incident: how Juarez and Maldonado went to an Oklahoma casino and then traveled with Gonzalez to Irving, Texas, where they did drugs and told someone what had happened. Hernandez went home after his shift, where he was fed cake and milk by his wife and “had a good night’s sleep,” she said.
Of Hernandez’s cooperation, she argued to jurors he waited six hours after being called to the store with other employees the morning after Hashemi went missing.
It wasn’t until he was confronted by sheriff’s investigators he said anything of what had happened and that he’d been threatened.
“He did it to save himself and to take (others) down with him. The jig was up,” she said.
Each of the three had a choice to make April 18, 2010, and if any of them had made a different one, Hashemi wouldn’t have lost his life, Tober said, telling jurors, “You have a choice whether to let these defendants get away with murder. …
“Honor your oath and find each of them guilty of capital murder. There is no ‘not guilty.’ That’s beyond all reason, logic and common sense,” she said.
Also assisting with the state’s case at trial have been assistant district attorneys Christin Barnes and Amy Nguyen.
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