More than a dozen witnesses have testified so far in the capital murder trial of three men accused in the April 18, 2010, shooting death of Ennis businessman Mohammad Hashemi.
Hashemi had left his Exxon convenience store, located off of Interstate 45 in Garrett at about 7:30 p.m. to make a bank deposit at a Palmer bank. His burned minivan was located that same night on Ensign Road south of Ennis; his body was recovered from a wooded area off of Old Highway 75 in Ennis two days later.
The witnesses have included a fourth defendant, 16-year-old Isaiah Gonzalez of Ennis, who is expected to enter into a plea agreement in return for his testimony. That agreement is for 45-year sentences on charges of murder and aggravated robbery and a 20-year sentence on an arson charge, with all sentences to run concurrently.
If convicted on the capital murder charge, the three defendants on trial – Eric Lee Maldonado of Ennis, Ruben Hernandez of Garrett and Fernando Juarez of Palmer, ages 21, 18 and 17 at the time of the incident – face life in prison without parole.
The trial, which is being heard in 40th District Court, Judge Bob Carroll presiding, is expected to go into next week with the number of witnesses slated to take the stand on the state’s behalf.
On Wednesday, the witness list included medical examiner Dr. Jill Urvan, who testified Hashemi died from a single gunshot wound to the chest. The bullet, which was recovered from his body, struck his left lung, his heart and went through several ribs, she said.
Also testifying was Ariel Armas of Irving, who is currently incarcerated in a Substance Abuse Felony
Punishment program. According to trial testimony, Maldonado, Juarez and Gonzalez visited Maldonado’s uncle and Armas at their Irving apartments the day after the incident.
The trio had gone to Irving expressing an interest in buying a car, with Armas saying he tried to help them find one, testifying also that Juarez had about $4,000 in cash on him while Gonzalez had about $1,000.
The car purchase didn’t materialize, Armas said, saying he and the three co-defendants did drugs at the uncle’s apartment before going to his apartment, where they continued to do so. It was at his apartment the three co-defendants began to talk about the incident, he said, testifying it was his understanding from the conversations there had been a robbery “gone wrong” and somebody died.
Armas testified he was high on marijuana at the time but that he was able to recall the conversations, which included Juarez speaking of a fourth, unnamed person who worked at the gas station and was involved.
“They were thinking about it, but, at the same time, it was like they were bragging about it,” he said of Maldonado and Juarez’s demeanor specifically, saying Gonzalez mostly watched television.
He testified the trio talked about taking the batteries out of their cell phones before departing in the uncle’s car to return to Ennis for the purpose of disposing of the body and other evidence.
It was shortly after they left that law enforcement arrived at his apartment, Armas said, saying he told the officers about the conversations and provided a description of the vehicle the trio was traveling in. He said he gave a written statement to investigators that day and another, more detailed, written statement to the district attorney’s office several months later.
In his cross-examination, Maldonado’s defense attorney, Dan Cox, accused Armas of being involved himself in the incident due to his knowledge of the details, with Armas’ response, “I wasn’t part of no robbery.”
Under questioning from Hernandez’ defense attorney, Vance Hinds, Armas said he didn’t know Hernandez and he wasn’t with the other three in Irving. Armas also said it was his understanding from the trio’s conversations there was never any intention to shoot anyone.
“They were shaken up because it went bad?” Hinds asked.
“Yeah,” Armas said.
It was after the trio left Armas’ apartment they were stopped by Irving police in a felony traffic stop and turned over to Ellis County authorities, according to trial testimony.
On Wednesday, sheriff’s investigators Joe Fitzgerald and Sgt. Alvin Sims provided additional details as to how the case was solved.
Both told jurors they were suspicious of Hernandez’s involvement after watching him on store video from the night of the incident and each spoke to him after all employees were called in the next morning.
Fitzgerald said he took a written statement from Hernandez early on in which he didn’t indicate any involvement.
Several hours later, Sims said he told Hernandez he “needed to throw the lies out the window and tell me the truth,” telling him that if Hashemi was somewhere injured he needed to be helped.
At that point, Hernandez admitted he had assisted in a robbery, Sims said, saying he gave a Miranda warning to Hernandez, who said he would talk and provide a second written statement.
In the second statement, Hernandez told how he had sent and received text messages, which he said he later erased after receiving a phone call at the store at about 10 p.m. from Hashemi’s daughter, who said her father had never arrived home.
As read in court, both statements note that Hernandez wrapped up his shift and went home, where he patted his pregnant girlfriend’s stomach before going to sleep, with the second statement adding, “I did all this because I was threatened, me and my loved ones.”
There was no corroborating evidence to support Hernandez’s statement he was threatened, Sims said, saying, “They were all pointing fingers at each other as participants.”
Sims testified he personally didn’t investigate Hernandez’s allegation but said the threats “could actually be real.”
Hernandez was arrested after giving his second statement, Sims said, saying the store clerk cooperated by giving authorities Juarez’s name and helping to identify Maldonado. He also gave directions to Juarez’s parents’ home and Maldonado’s relatives’ home, Sims said.
Defense objections, motions
Cox, Hinds and Juarez’s defense attorney, Jim Jenkins, have running objections on several points of contention with the trial. Most of the objections are in concert; however, Cox and Jenkins have been in opposition to Hinds on several issues, including his stance that his client acted under duress.
Each defense attorney has, at some point in the proceedings, moved that the cases be severed and also asked for a mistrial.
Carroll has denied those requests so far, ruling that the trial can continue with the three co-defendants together.
Handling the prosecution are chief felony prosecutor Don Maxfield and assistant district attorneys Christin Barnes, Amy Nguyen and Lindy Tober.
Contact JoAnn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 469-517-1452.