Prosecutors dropped a bombshell Wednesday during the trial of a former Palmview Police Department dispatcher, suggesting an investigator attempted to sabotage the case.
The trial of former police Dispatcher Jacobo Daniel Rivera, 24, of Palmview started last week.
Prosecutors say Rivera sped away from a state trooper at more than 100 mph, which caused the fatal crash. He pleaded not guilty to felony murder, which is punishable by life in prison.
When police Det. Ezequiel Jurado took the witness stand Wednesday afternoon, Assistant District Attorney Vance Gonzales asked whether or not he contacted key witness: former police Det. Jose Lopez, who investigated the crash.
“Did you ever tell Lopez to tank this case?” Vance Gonzales said.
Attorney O. Rene Flores, who represents Rivera, objected. Vance Gonzales asked again. And Flores objected again.
State District Judge Noe Gonzalez sustained the objection, which prevented Jurado from answering the question.
When the jury left the courtroom, Flores accused the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office of prosecutorial misconduct and requested a mistrial.
“We believe that the only purpose in asking that question was to inflame the minds of the jury in some fashion or another to suggest that there’s been some kind of coverup,” Flores said. “We believe that to be irrelevant. We certainly believe it to be misconduct on the part of the district attorney’s office.”
Vance Gonzales said he considered the question relevant.
The answer may shed light on how Palmview handled the case, which involved Rivera and Palmview police Officer Juan Martinez. Investigators claimed they couldn’t find Rivera’s personnel file and misplaced his girlfriend’s phone.
“These are very, very serious allegations against, at this point, third parties. But if you’re trying to impute the defendant, it’s even more egregious if you don’t have a full package to present to the court. Because the defendant’s not charged with any of that. He’s not charged with obstruction of justice. He’s not charged with tampering with evidence,” Judge Gonzales said. “He’s charged with felony murder.”
Without any charges related to a conspiracy or cover-up, Judge Gonzalez told prosecutors to focus on the felony murder charge.
“But if you’re alluding to the cover-up of evidence in this particular case that rises to the level of obstruction or some sort of conspiracy to obstruct or conspiracy to tamper, then bring it forward. Those are serious allegations and, I’ll tell you what, I’ll be the first person to turn over that transcript to either a grand jury or to the DA’s Office,” Judge Gonzalez said. “But not in this case, unless you tie it to this case.”
While he denied the request for a mistrial, Judge Gonzalez ordered prosecutors to approach the bench before asking any questions related to a conspiracy or cover-up.
What prompted the question about “tanking this case” remains unclear.
Jurado left the Hidalgo County Courthouse after testifying and couldn’t be reached for comment.
Judges usually prohibit witnesses from discussing their testimony during trial. Witnesses who break the rule may be held in contempt of court.
Before he joined the police department, Jurado spent 12 years with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Lupe Treviño fired Jurado in 2013, when he contacted the Edinburg Police Department on behalf of an acquaintance “engaging in criminal activity” and wasn’t truthful during the resulting internal affairs investigation, according to personnel records. Jurado denied the allegations.
Along with 14 coworkers, Jurado filed a federal lawsuit against Treviño, accusing the sheriff of retaliating against deputies who didn’t support him politically.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa dismissed the lawsuit two years later.
Jurado found a new job in Palmview, where he became a police detective. He worked closely with former Det. Jose Lopez, who handled the Rivera case.
“Have you spoken with Lopez in the last month?” asked Vance Gonzales, the assistant district attorney.
Jurado said he had.
Asked to characterize the conversation, Jurado responded with a single word: “Personal.”