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By G. Romero Wendorf

If you’re a justice of the peace running for re-election, the case of Melissa Patterson’s capital murder charge probably isn’t the sort of bond hearing you want to see fall into your lap. But such is the case for Precinct 2, Place 1 JP “Bobby” Contreras, who, last week, agreed to reduce the million-dollar bond he had initially placed on murder suspect Monica Melissa Patterson after her attorney, “Rick” Salinas, fileda motion for bond reduction. In place of the $1M, a new bond was set last week at $500,000.

On Valley social media news sites, blogs, critics of Patterson’s bond reduction were quick to pounce on the judge, in particular, and the county’s justice system, in general.

Comments touched upon Patterson’s family connections, the Valley’s justice system being corrupt, the unfairness of her bond being cut in half, and the need to move the murder trial (if indeed Patterson is indicted) out of Hidalgo County because the “fix is already in. 

Patterson, 48, was released from the county jail late last Wednesday and is reportedly staying at her parents’ home in San Juan.

Contreras’ order to reduce her bond from $1,000,000 to $500,000 included the following stipulations:

• She is required to submit to wearing a GPS personal monitoring system 24/7, which will be supervised by the Hidalgo County Adult Supervision and Corrections Department.

• She is required to remain in Hidalgo County.

• She is required to submit to home confinement (in San Juan). Patterson may only leave the house for medical appointments, legal appointments, and religious activities.

• Her passport shall remain in the possession of the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office

• Patterson shall provide the court with documentation of her release from employment from the Comfort House (the local hospice where she served as its executive director immediately prior to her arrest two weeks ago).

• She shall not have any direct or indirect contact with her co-defendant, Angel Mario Garza, who was also an employee of the Comfort House, or any witnesses in the case against her.

From the get-go, Contreras said the case had been a difficult one for him, given his ties to both the defendant and her family. He’s known her since she was a girl and has known her family on a personal level for most of his adult life. They include her father, “Tito” Palacios, who has served as both a county commissioner, San Juan city mayor and PSJA ISD board trustee; her mother, Berta, who worked for decades at PSJA ISD, starting her career as a teacher before moving up the ranks to one of the district’s top administrators, and who has an elementary school named after her; her brother, “Jay” Palacios, who is an Hidalgo County court-at-law judge; and her uncle, “Polo” Palacios, who is Pharr’s longtime former mayor and city commissioner.

According to Contreras, none of those personal ties played a part in his decision to reduce Patterson’s bond.

“The biggest factors are,” he said, “is she a flight risk, and does she have any sort of previous criminal record? I don’t consider her to be a fligh risk, and she has no criminal history. That’s why I agreed to reduce her bond, provided she met and continues to meet all the requirements as outlined in the bond-reduction order I signed (Sept. 2). Her attorney wanted it reduced to $100,000, but I wasn’t going to go along with that.”

(For the full news report concerning the capital murder, how Patterson and Garza allegedly smothered the elderly man while he sat in a recliner, struggling against his attackers, refer to last week’s front-page story, Sept. 2.)

Before her arrest, Patterson had never been in trouble with the law. The only problems she had faced were all civil: she had been the subject of multiple collection actions; her property was sold at a judicial foreclosure sale in 2011; she had faced lawsuit issues; and the IRS had placed tax liens against her in the amount of approximately $400,000.

Her alleged co-conspirator in the murder of 96-year-old Martin Knell, Angel Garza, remains locked up at the Hidalgo County jail. He’s already admitted to the murder, according to law enforcement, and fingered Patterson as the woman who told him to kill the WWII vet (Jan. 28, 2015) because Knell allegedly wanted to remove her as the main beneficiary to his will, valued somewhere in the neighborhood of a million dollars.

Contreras said the difference between the two charged with Knell’s murder – Patterson and Garza – goes back to the issues of “flight risk” and “past criminal history.” In the case of Garza, said Contreras, he’s a Mexican illegal immigrant with obvious ties to his home country, and he’s got a prior felony conviction for drug trafficking.

How he got a job at the Comfort House as a handyman remains a mystery. 

“Am I going to reduce the bond on a suspect like that?” Contreras asked when questioned by this reporter. “No.”

Meanwhile, after news broke of the arrest two weeks ago, the Comfort House, long known for its compassionate hospice care in this county, issued a press release:

“At this time, Comfort House is cooperating fully with the authorities as to this investigation. (And its board of directors) wishes to reassure our patients and their families that operations will continue as usual.”

In a statement sent to KGBT-TV following the arrests of Patterson and Garza, a Comfort House representative wrote: “Comfort House will continue its mission of providing a peaceful, homelike environment to its residents and their families. We appreciate the ongoing support from our community and are thankful for the many calls of concern, encouragement and prayers we have received.”

The murder victim, Martin Knell, died at his home in rural north McAllen, while his wife died at the Comfort House last October while Patterson and Garza worked there. She died the day after the couple had celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary.

Patterson became the hospice’s executive director approximately 2.5 years ago, according to one source. Prior to that, she owned her own therapy business of some sort near Weslaco that reportedly went bankrupt. 

According to a legal claim made against Patterson’s right to his father’s estate, filedby Mark Knell, son of the descendant, it was shortly after his mother was admitted to the Comfort House that Patterson became aware of the family’s wealth, and that’s when things started to turn decidedly strange, according to the son’s legal affidavit filed in the Hidalgo County Clerk’s Office April 7, 2015.

Atlas & Hall is the firm representing Mark Knell. McAllen-based Mark Talbot is the attorney who, along with two witnesses, signed off on the new will Martin Knell put his pen to in December 2014, a month before his murder, naming Patterson as his executrix and leaving her the bulk of his (approximate) million-dollar estate.

Last week, a county employee sent The Advance News Journal a section of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. She wanted to remain anonymous, but wrote: “With all the commotion going on with the reduction of the recent bond, I thought I’d pass along the attached information. It may help calm some of the public, but also inform them on bond settings overall.”

The section of the Texas Code comes from Article 17.15 – Rules for Fixing Amount of Bail: “The main purpose of setting bail is to ensure that the accused will show up for court.”

In other words, her point was – a bond isn’t meant to serve as any sort of punitive measure, no matter the crime for which one is charged. In the case of Melissa Patterson, capital murder. Is it fair that she gets out of jail while a grand jury decides whether or not there is sufficient evidence to indict her on capital murder charges? Or should she stay in jail? According to the Texas Code, that’s apparently not the point when it comes to setting a bond and deciding its amount.

Instead, the purpose of a bond, setting bail – its amount and/or whether one should even be issued -- is to ensure that the accused shows back up in court when ordered to do so.

"I don’t consider her to be a fligh risk, and she has no criminal history. That’s why I agreed to reduce her bond, provided she met and continues to meet all the requirements as outlined in the bond-reduction order I signed (Sept. 2)." -Bobby Contreras, Justice of the Peace


In some cases, even a million-dollar bond isn’t enough to prevent flight. For example, consider the case of former Hidalgo County District Clerk Omar Guerrero. After posting a $1,050,000 bond in May 2013, he split the scene. Today, it’s believed that he’s living in Mexico, perhaps near the Monterrey area.

A wanted man, Guerrero stands accused of child molestation, drug possession (100 grams of cocaine), and having a large weapons cache in his home, including a rifle with its serial number conveniently filed of.

When the former district clerk escaped bond in 2013, many people questioned the judgment of Hidalgo County Precinct 4, Place 2 JP Homer Jasso. Why would he let Guerrero out of jail, even with a million-dollar bond hanging around his neck, considering his past history?

Guerrero won election for district clerk 10 years ago at the relatively young age of 28, but quickly fell from grace the following year when he was charged with the sexual assault of a 15-year-old girl. He allegedly took her to parties, plied her with drugs and alcohol and had sex with her multiple times at area hotels. He was also charged with threatening her family if they reported the alleged abuse to police.

Instead of facing the music, he promptly fled to Mexico. After a two-month manhunt that cost taxpayers who knows how much money, Guerrero was captured, hanging out in Reynosa.

Following a high-profil trial in 2007, the former district clerk was acquitted of sexually assaulting a minor, but apparently learned little, i.e., how to stay out of trouble.

He pleaded guilty the following year to a 2006 DWI bust, and then in 2011, he was charged with making threatening phone calls to a man he considered to be his wife’s lover. Those charges were dismissed the following year.

But then unlucky 2013 rolled around. The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department, under the direction of Sheriff Lupe Treviño, who was still out of federal prison at the time, came knocking on Omar’s door, with a search warrant in hand related to a new charge of sexually assaulting a child. That’s when deputies allegedly stumbled on the approximate hundred grams of coke and the weapons cache, which included the riflewith the missing serial number.

To everyone’s surprise, Jasso handed Guerrero a million-dollar bond (three bond companies helped pool the money), despite knowing that the defendant had previously skipped bail in 2006 and had fled to Mexico. At the time, people were joking: Look up “flight risk” in the dictionary, and you’ll find Omar’s picture next to it.

But the joke turned serious when deputies returned to Guerrero’s home the following day to arrest the former district clerk on the still-outstanding sexual assault charges of a minor. Apparently, he’d already packed his bags and headed south. His father, sister and a friend were later charged with hindering a fugitive.

Known for his outlandish, eccentric behavior, if he hasn’t somehow managed to run afoul of the Mexican drug cartels, Guerrero may well be living the good life south of the border.

But for the female child victim he’s alleged to have sexually abused, one has to believe, she and her family are living in relative fear, always looking behind their backs, wondering when and if the former county district clerk may one day show up on their doorstep, seeking revenge for the charges they filed against him.

Which leads back to the main point of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure: there are some criminal defendants not worthy of bail because their flight risk is too great.

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