The capital murder trial of three men continues in 40th District Court, with Monday’s proceedings seeing the introduction of forensic evidence gathered by the Ellis County Sheriffs’ Office during its investigation into the April 18, 2010, shooting death of Ennis businessman Mohammad Hashemi.
Ruben Hernandez, 19, Fernando Juarez, 18, and Eric Maldonado, 22, are each charged in the case. If convicted of capital murder, they would receive an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole.
Several Department of Public Safety crime lab analysts testified about the testing done on various pieces of evidence, including articles of clothing and several guns that were recovered.
Their findings included positive presumptive tests for human blood on most of the clothing items and DNA findings that indicated Hashemi could not be excluded as the source of that blood. Additional testimony indicated no DNA match was made relating to Juarez; however, the analysts testified that Maldonado and a fourth defendant, who is not on trial, could not be excluded as a source of DNA on several of the items.
The sheriff’s office had obtained DNA search warrants against Juarez, Maldonado and the fourth defendant, 16-year-old Isaiah Gonzalez. Trial testimony indicated a judge declined to sign off on such a warrant for Hernandez.
Earlier in the trial, Gonzalez testified for the state and is expected to receive a 45-year prison sentence on a charge of murder. He also will plead guilty to charges of aggravated robbery and arson and 45- and 20-year sentences. All three sentences will run concurrently.
Some of the clothing was found along the side of South Ensign Road, near where Hashemi’s minivan was found burned, with a pair of shoes and shorts found at a home where Gonzalez had been living. Three guns, including a .380 caliber identified in court as the murder weapon, also were found at that residence.
It was at about 7:30 p.m. April 18, 2010, that Hashemi had left his business, the Exxon station located off of Interstate 45 at Farm-to-Market 879 in Garrett to make a night deposit at a Palmer bank.
His burned minivan was located several hours later with the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office launching an investigation after Hashemi’s family reported him missing. Court testimony has detailed how authorities connected Hernandez, a clerk at the store, with Juarez and Maldonado. Hernandez was taken into custody the next morning, with Juarez and Maldonado arrested the next evening in Irving, Texas, along with Gonzalez, who was with them.
Sheriff’s investigators have told jurors it was Hernandez who identified Juarez and Maldonado to them and that Maldonado led them to Hashemi’s body.
A medical examiner testified last week that Hashemi died from a single gunshot wound to the chest.
A statement given by Maldonado after his arrest and introduced at trial indicates he said a “Francisco Soto” was responsible for the shooting. Under cross-examination Friday, sheriff’s investigator Rick White said he looked into that allegation but was not able to identify any such person.
“I concluded there was no Francisco Soto,” said White, who also testified he looked into Hernandez’ allegation he had been threatened by Juarez.
“I confronted Fernando Juarez and he denied (threatening Hernandez),” White said. “There were no other witnesses that had any knowledge of that statement. At that point, there was nothing else to move forward on.”
Ruben Espino, 18, of Ennis testified Friday that he knew the three men on trial, recalling an October 2009 conversation between Hernandez and Juarez after the two came by his house. The three of them were sitting outside in a vehicle and Hernandez was talking about the store, Espino said.
“He was saying he knew where he could get a lot of money, about $20,000,” Espino testified. “He said something about deposits and I went inside. … I didn’t want to talk about that. I didn’t know if he was serious about (a robbery) but I didn’t want to talk about it.”
Under cross-examination by defense attorneys, Espino acknowledged he only came forward with his information several weeks ago after being told by probation officers that the district attorney’s office would be speaking with him. Asked why he hadn’t given a statement sooner, he said, “It ain’t my problem.”
Espino also acknowledged under cross-examination that Hernandez had owed him money and he had been in contact with him for payment.
Asked if he had any involvement in the case, Espino said he had none, testifying, “I had nothing to do with it.”
The state’s case is being handled by chief felony prosecutor Don Maxfield with assistant district attorneys Christin Barnes, Amy Nguyen and Lindy Tober.
The state is expected to rest today, with the defense attorneys to then begin presenting their cases to the jury panel.
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