Four of homicide victim Mohammad Hashemi’s daughters spoke out in 40th District Court on Friday about the impact of their father’s murder after guilty verdicts were returned against the three men accused in the April 18, 2010, shooting death of the Ennis businessman.
During their poignant testimony, Hashemi’s 8-year-old was asked her thoughts about co-defendant Ruben Hernandez, 19, a former employee at the family business, the Exxon convenience store off of Interstate 45 in Garrett.
“Do you like Ruben now?” assistant district attorney Amy Nguyen asked the child, who answered, “No.”
“Why not?” Ngyen asked, with the child’s simply-stated reply, “Because he killed my dad.”
Asked how her father’s death has made her feel, the child answered, “It makes me feel bad. I’m hurt because I don’t have a dad.”
Also testifying during the trial’s punishment phase relating to Hernandez were Hashemi’s 16- and 15-year-old daughters, with his 11-year joining the 8-year-old and 16-year-old in speaking during victim impact statements after the trial’s conclusion. Each spoke to their family’s loss and sadness, with their testimony including how their mother continues to cry as she mourns the loss of her husband and how the three youngest of his seven children – two little girls and a boy who did not testify – continue to ask when their father is coming home.
It took an Ellis County jury about six hours of total deliberations to find co-defendants Eric Maldonado, 22, and Fernando Juarez, 18, guilty of capital murder, with each receiving automatic sentences of life in prison without parole.
Hernandez, whose defense had been he was threatened into participating in the offense, was found guilty of a lesser-included charge of murder, however, and that resulted in a separate punishment phase for jurors to consider a sentencing range of from five to 99 years or life on the first-degree felony.
After hearing additional testimony offered by the defense and the state, the six-male, six-female panel took about an hour to decide on a 50-year sentence and $10,000 fine for Hernandez, who must serve at least half before he is eligible for parole.
“The district attorney’s office is pleased with the verdict of the jury in all respects,” chief felony prosecutor Don Maxfield, whose prosecutorial team included assistant district attorneys Nguyen, Christin Barnes and Lindy Tober, told the Daily Light after the trial’s conclusion. “It has been a very long and strenuous trial and all of the evidence was presented that the jury needed to make their decision.
“This was a team effort all the way and our team worked long, hard hours leading up to the trial. That team effort very much included the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office, which did a good job of investigating this case, getting the subjects into custody in a timely and efficient manner and providing us with the evidence that helped us prosecute,” Maxfield said. “The district attorney’s office thanks not only the sheriff’s office, but also the Ennis Police Department, the state Fire Marshal’s Office, the Irving Police Department and the other agencies that provided great assistance throughout the search for Mr. Hashemi, the location and arrest of the subjects and their subsequent prosecution.”
In her closing argument during the punishment phase on Hernandez’s sentencing, Tober argued for life in prison rather than the lenient term requested by the defense. Describing the former store clerk as the domino that caused all of the others to fall that fateful day, Tober reminded jurors that it was Hernandez who was working that evening and relayed the information to the others about what time Hashemi left and how much money he was carrying.
“This is the murderer Ruben Hernandez … because of Ruben Hernandez, Mr. Hashemi is dead,” she argued to jurors. “Ten, 15 years for a murder? Are you kidding me?
“He’s given a life sentence to that family there,” she said of Hashemi’s family members present in the courtroom. “He doesn’t deserve one day less – he took the life of a good man, a good father.”
Jurors shouldn’t let the defense request sway their minds toward leniency, she said.
“You’ve already shown your mercy to him (by convicting on murder rather than capital murder). He’s deserving of no more,” she said, remarking also on the potential impact from their decision.
“Your verdict in this case will send a huge message,” she told jurors. “(Will your verdict say) you can rob, shoot, kill and dump a man’s body in the woods and you can get 10 years for that? That’s what you’re going to tell the citizens of Ennis?”
Of the dozen witnesses brought to the stand during the punishment phase to testify to Hernandez’s character, Tober noted they all spoke to “he’s a great guy.”
“Everybody knows somebody that will say something good about them,” she said. “That just shows what a wolf in sheep’s clothing he is. You saw the side that was greedy, that needs money. … If he’s willing to set up a man who treated him like a son, what would he do with a random citizen in the streets?”
Including jury selection from a pool of 500 people, the trial took three weeks, with about 40 witnesses testifying during the guilt/innocence phase and more than 170 pieces of evidence admitted.
Hernandez will be credited with 404 days served as he, along with Maldonado, Juarez and a fourth co-defendant charged in the case, have all been in custody since April 19, 2010.
The fourth defendant, 16-year-old Isaiah Gonzalez, had already agreed to a 45-year sentence on a murder charge in a plea deal reached with prosecutors in return for his testimony during the trial. Gonzalez also accepted concurrent sentences of 45 and 20 years on charges of aggravated robbery and arson relating to the case.
The trial was heard in 40th District Court, Judge Bob Carroll presiding.
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