The state rested its case Tuesday against the three men on trial for capital murder relating to the April 18, 2010, shooting death of Ennis businessman Mohammad Hashemi.
One of the last pieces of evidence presented to jurors was an audio recording of sheriff’s Lt. Jason Westmoreland’s interview with defendant Eric Maldonado after he was taken into custody the day after the incident. During that recording, the then 21-year-old talked about having watched a television crime show, saying he had used his shirt to wipe down the inside of Hashemi’s minivan and clean the blood from its seats before setting the vehicle on fire.
“(Why) wipe it if you’re fixing to light it on fire? I mean, there ain’t gonna be nothing left anyway, you know what I’m saying?” Westmoreland is heard asking on the audiotape.
“I think I seen it on … something like that on (the television crime show) ‘CSI,’ ” Maldonado replied during the exchange.
“Oh, you saw it on ‘CSI,’” Westmoreland said.
Maldonado repeated he’d seen “something like that on ‘CSI’ ” that “even if you burn stuff it’ll stay there.”
“So I tried it,” he said.
Westmoreland then queried Maldonado as to why, if he was burning a vehicle and evidence, would he throw his blood-covered shirt out on the side of the road?
“I didn’t think you would look for it,” Maldonado said of the shirt, which was among several clothing items recovered by the sheriff’s office and introduced as evidence during the trial.
“No, man, we walk all over the place,” Westmoreland said. “That’s the first place we look.”
During the taped interview, Maldonado said he burned Hashemi’s minivan after being paid $500 to do so by someone he knew as “Francisco Soto.” He acknowledged owning a gun but said he knew nothing about what had happened to Hashemi or where his body was.
As the questioning progressed, Westmoreland continued to ask Maldonado about details of the incident, telling him he needed to tell the truth and informing him the sheriff’s office had located a witness who said Juarez, Maldonado and a fourth co-defendant not on trial had told him what happened – and that Maldonado was the shooter.
“CSI stuff” was “gonna get” him, Westmoreland told Maldonado, who said he felt “stuck like Chuck” as the oral statement drew to its end.
“You could unstick yourself by telling the truth,” Westmoreland said.
“I can’t unstick myself,” Maldonado answered.
Last Thursday, Westmoreland told jurors Maldonado turned off the tape recorder before saying he would go ahead and tell him what he wanted to know. Maldonado then gave a written statement, Westmoreland testified, saying the written statement continued to blame “Francisco Soto” for the shooting but also provided information as to where authorities could find Hashemi’s body.
Prosecutors concluded their case with the introduction of telephone records detailing communications between cell phones used by the three co-defendants on trial – Maldonado, Ruben Hernandez, 19 and Fernando Juarez, 18 – during the time frame of April 17-20. The records also included calls from a cell phone belonging to the fourth co-defendant, 16-year-old Isaiah Gonzalez, who is not on trial but is expected to enter into a plea agreement with prosecutors.
As testified to in court, one of the text messages from Juarez to Hernandez instructed him to “erase everything.”
If convicted on the capital murder charge, Hernandez, Juarez and Maldonado would automatically be sentenced to life in prison without parole. The case is being heard in 40th District Court, Judge Bob Carroll presiding.
Under his plea agreement, Gonzalez will receive concurrent sentences of 45 years on a murder charge, 45 years on an aggravated robbery charge and 20 years on an arson charge.
Each of the three co-defendants on trial has separate legal counsel, with Juarez’s attorney, Jim Jenkins, and Maldonado’s attorney, Dan Cox, resting their cases Tuesday afternoon.
Hernandez’s attorney, Vance Hinds, is expected to begin the presentation of his defense after a hearing Wednesday morning in front of Carroll, who will hear several case-related matters outside of the jury’s presence.
The state is represented in the case by chief felony prosecutor Don Maxfield, with assistant district attorneys Christin Barnes, Amy Nguyen and Lindy Tober.
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