The capital murder trial of three men is under way in 40th District Court, Judge Bob Carroll presiding.
Eric Lee Maldonado of Ennis, Ruben Hernandez of Garrett and Fernando Juarez of Palmer, who were ages 21, 18 and 17, respectively, at the time of the April 18, 2010, incident, face life in prison without parole if convicted in the shooting death of Ennis businessman Mohammad Hashemi.
Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty.
The disposition of a capital murder charge against a fourth defendant, Isaiah Gonzalez, 16, of Ennis, is pending his testimony as a witness for the state in this trial. As testified to in court Monday, Gonzalez has been offered a plea agreement that entails his pleading guilty to a lesser charge of murder and aggravated robbery with concurrent prison sentences of 45 years.
Gonzalez, who was 15 at the time, was initially charged as a juvenile but has since been certified as an adult.
It was on April 18, 2010, that Hashemi had left his business, the Exxon station located off at Interstate 45 at Farm-to-Market 879 in Garrett, at about 7:30 p.m. to make a night deposit at a Palmer bank.
His burned minivan was located that same night on a rural road south of Ennis; his body was recovered from a wooded area off of Old Highway 75 in Ennis two days later, with an autopsy showing he died from a single gunshot wound to the chest.
Monday afternoon, Gonzalez took the stand as the state’s third witness, detailing the incident under more than two hours of prosecutorial questioning.
Gonzalez said he had left his home and was a runaway when he moved in with Maldonado’s family April 9, 2010. He had met Maldonado about a week prior – and met him through Juarez, whom he had known for several weeks, he said, saying he did not know of Hernandez prior to the incident.
The day of April 18, he said Maldonado came home and told him, “Let’s go for a ride.”
Maldonado had a black ski mask rolled up on his head and Gonzalez said he figured they were robbing someone, adding that when he got into the vehicle there were two weapons: a MAC 11 and a .380 caliber, which the state has identified as the weapon used to fire a single shot into Hashemi.
Gonzalez testified he believed Maldonado and Juarez had planned the robbery for a “couple of months” and had another person involved who was unknown to him.
He and Maldonado picked up Juarez, who then took over driving, Gonzalez testified, saying Juarez had been receiving text messages when he sped up, saying, “He’s leaving.”
Getting ahead of Hashemi’s van as it left the store, but losing sight of it, Gonzalez said they turned back and then saw it on the service road. They moved to block the van at a stop sign, he testified, saying he and Maldonado exited their car.
Gonzalez said he ran to Hashemi’s vehicle and pulled open the driver-side door, moving to the inside of it and pointing the MAC 11 at the businessman, telling him he wouldn’t hurt him but to get out of his vehicle.
Hashemi told him there was an officer up the road and pointed, Gonzalez said, saying he turned to look.
“I heard a shot,” Gonzalez said, saying he turned back and saw Hashemi with a chest wound. Gonzalez said he also saw Maldonado and that he had come up behind him and fired the .380 from the other side of the driver-side door.
Gonzalez’ testimony included further details of the incident, including how Hashemi’s body was subsequently dumped in the woods behind Ennis Paint and how his van was taken to the southern end of Ensign Road and burned.
“Nobody really had an idea of what we were doing. We were panicking,” Gonzalez testified, saying that later, however, when they were talking about what had transpired, Maldonado “was laughing. It was like he didn’t mind somebody else dying.”
The trio also used cocaine afterwards, Gonzalez said, saying Maldonado and Juarez then went gambling at an Oklahoma casino. The next day all three went to Irving to visit an uncle to Maldonado and to look at buying a car. It was in Irving that they were arrested; Hernandez already was in custody.
Gonzalez faces cross-examination by the three defense attorneys beginning Tuesday morning.
Two of Hashemi’s nephews were the first witnesses called by the state, with both noting the loss of their family member, whose death left behind a wife, six daughters and a son.
“I just had a feeling there was something wrong,” Ghaseem Mazrooee said of when he was notified his uncle never arrived home the night of April 18. He said he drove from his Corsicana home to the store and then followed the route his uncle would have taken before getting to his Dallas residence. He was at his uncle’s home when sheriff’s deputies told him they had found his uncle’s burned van. He testified he and another uncle then drove back to the store, where employees were called in for interviews with authorities.
“It was the worst feeling in the world. There’s no way I can describe it,” he said of hearing the news the next morning that his uncle’s body had been recovered.
Mehdi Mazrooee said he and deputies checked the store’s videotape to see what had transpired prior to his uncle leaving and to ascertain what time he had left. In his testimony, Mazrooee said Hernandez could be seen texting on his cell phone as Hashemi prepared a bank deposit.
“I noticed Ruben Hernandez hiding his texting (from Hashemi),” he said.
Mazrooee said the family continued to search for Hashemi throughout the day after he disappeared.
“We still had hope that he was maybe just injured somewhere,” he said, describing himself as “devastated” when notified his uncle had been found dead.
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