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Patterson Murder Trial, Oct. 20, 2017

Defense Attorney shoots It out with Texas Ranger


EDINBURG – The hot lead flying in Judge Noe Gonzalez’s 370th state District Court Thursday was all verbal: a rapid-fire exchange between Criminal Defense Attorney Ricardo “Rick” Salinas and Texas Ranger Robert Callaway in the capital murder trial of 50-year-old Monica Melissa (Palacios) Patterson.

Death; Murder; Death; Murder; Death; Murder.

Every time Salinas mentioned the “passing” of Martin “Marty” Knell on Jan. 28, 2015, he referred to it as his “death.”

Callaway fired back: “(You mean) Mr. Knell’s murder.”

The courtroom dispute – “death” vs. “murder” – should be cleared up when, as expected, Hidalgo County Chief Forensic Pathologist Norma Jean Farley, MD, takes the witness stand and testifies as to her official forensic autopsy findings from late August of 2015 after Knell’s body had been exhumed from his resting place at Valley Memorial Gardens Cemetery.

Expected Autopsy Testimony

According to the criminal complaint that led to the capital murder charges against Monica Melissa (Palacios) Patterson, she and her accused accomplice, Angel Mario Garza, were indeed responsible for Knell’s murder. The subsequent four-count Hidalgo County grand jury indictment (August of 2015) against both defendants described the cause of Knell’s death in succinct fashion: “…asphyxiating Martin Knell with a plastic bag, for remuneration and the promise of remuneration, namely, money and the estate of Martin Knell.”

Whenever the opportunity presents itself during court testimony, however, Patterson’s four-man defense team does its best to still categorize the murder as “Mr. Knell’s death.” It usually follows “death” up with “cardiac arrest,” as if Knell actually died from natural causes

At the time that Knell’s body was exhumed in late August 2015, both Patterson and Garza had already been taken into custody and charged with capital murder, Even though Dr. Farley has yet to take the witness stand, and even though her forensic autopsy report has yet to be presented to the jury or made public, her autopsy of Knell presumably provided criminal investigators with forensic proof that his death was indeed a homicide. Sure, he may have died of cardiac arrest, but there was now the matter of the plastic bag. Hard for the heart not to arrest (stop) when one’s airways (nose and mouth) are covered. At least that is presumably going to be the state’s argument once Dr. Farley takes the witness stand and lays out for the jury her forensic findings.

Dr. Farley is a seasoned forensic pathologist who, at one point in time, was chief pathologist of both Cameron and Hidalgo Counties before she told Cameron’s elected officials in 2010 that she simply couldn’t handle the two-county workload. At the time, she also told Cameron County officials that she had a concern over the way bodies were being transported to the morgue. So, her reasons for stepping down from Cameron County were two-fold.

In addition to being well-seasoned – approximately 20 years spent in medical practice -- Dr. Farley was once a member of the Texas Forensic Science Commission, appointed to the position in 2009 by then-Texas Governor Rick Perry. No slacker, she is double-board certified in Anatomic & Clinical Pathology and Forensic Pathology.

Before Knell’s body was exhumed in late August 2015, as far as the general public knew, the old WW II vet had simply died of natural causes (cardiac arrest). Once the criminal complaint and grand jury indictment were made public and hit the news, however, the cause of death switched to homicide.

Presumably, because the grand jury indictment against Patterson and Garza make mention of “asphyxiating (Knell) with a plastic bag,” Dr. Farley found enough forensic evidence during her autopsy of the decedent’s body to rule it a homicide. She doesn’t have Forensic Pathologist in front of her name, nor is she double-board certified by the American Board of Pathology, because she reads Tarot Cards or flips a coin: Heads, death by natural causes; Tails, death by homicide.

If her forensic autopsy of Knell’s body had ruled death by natural causes (cardiac arrest), there never would have been sufficient evidence to submit to a grand jury for the murder charges; and without the murder charges, investigators never would have had probable cause to obtain a search warrant to search Patterson’s office where enough evidence was collected to later charge her with three counts tied to theft (Knell and the Comfort House) and malfeasance as a fiduciary (Comfort House).

Salinas vs. Ranger Callaway

As has been the defensive strategy used by both Patterson’s lead defense attorney, “Rick” Salinas, as well as her other three lawyers – Rene (Ponytail) Flores; Calixtro (Cal) Villarreal; and Fernando (Judge) Mancias (he used to be a state district court judge, the 93rd, before returning to private practice) – there was no difference in the approach Salinas took with the Texas Ranger called to the witness stand, Robert Callaway, Tuesday and Thursday: In other words, do whatever it takes to discredit his testimony and show his investigation as lacking credibility and prudence.

In other words, create doubt in the mind of the jurors as to whether or not the state has proven Monica Melissa (Palacios) Patterson guilty of capital murder (and the three other felony counts) beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

The legal definition of Reasonable Doubt, by the way, is this: “The standard that must be met by the prosecution’s evidence in a criminal prosecution: that no other logical explanation can be derived from the facts except that the defendant committed the crime, thereby overcoming the presumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty.” (Source: Legal Dictionary.)

In matters of a criminal trial, criminal defense attorneys come in all shapes and sizes. Some stick more to the evidence at hand, while others throw everything and anything they can at the jurors to see what might create within their minds Reasonable Doubt before they enter into deliberation behind closed doors to decide whether or not the state (prosecutors) has proven the defendant’s guilt beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

Over the years, Salinas has proven a master at this second art form (throw everything and anything they can at the jurors), which is why he is considered one of the best criminal defense attorneys working both the state and federal circuits.

When people take issue with his trial tactics, he has been heard to say, “Hey, I’m just doing my job, and if you were in my client’s place, you’d want me to do the same for you.”

As a result, Salinas is either loved or hated, based on who you’re rooting for: the defendant on trial, or the victim and his or her family.

In the capital murder trial of Monica Melissa (Palacios) Patterson -- PSJA graduate, failed business owner, daughter and niece and sister to some of this county’s better-known elected officials (either retired or current) – Salinas and his band of three are pulling out all the stops. Nothing is off-limits unless the judge (Noe Gonzalez) declares it so.

The testimony by one of the state’s key witnesses, Texas Ranger Robert Callaway, took place over the course of three days this week – Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Because the testimony is so lengthy, look for it in its entirety in Monday’s online posting, which will also include sworn testimony by one of the state’s so-called star witnesses -- Celestina Mascorro – who testified Friday (she will also be back on the stand Monday).

Mascorro was Knell’s caregiver, employed by Patterson, who lived at the Knell residence and took care of him Monday through Friday. It was Mascorro who first approached the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department approximately a month after “Marty” Knell was laid to rest to tell criminal investigators that the old vet’s death was no natural death, per se, but, rather, murder. The sheriff’s department contacted the Texas Rangers, and so began an approximate six-month criminal investigation that ultimately led to a grand-jury indictment and the arrest of both Patterson and Garza. After his arrest, Garza confessed to the murder, but pleaded not guilty during his arraignment. Patterson never confessed to any wrongdoing, including the theft charges, and like her alleged murder accomplice, pleaded not guilty.

Second Juror Dismissed

A second juror, Juror #1, was dismissed Thursday following the dismissal of Juror #2 on Wednesday.

Thankfully, this trial contained four alternates, so if something else occurs that leads to the dismissal of another juror, there are still two alternate jurors left on deck. In most, not all, but in most capital murder cases or serious felony criminal cases, four alternates is the norm. Lower-level felony cases, two alternates are usually selected.

The court gave no indication Wednesday as to why Juror #2 was dismissed, but simply instructed the remaining jurors to pay it no mind.

The juror change Thursday was a little different. In open court outside the earshot of the jury, the judge spoke to Juror #1 and asked several questions to determine if indeed there was justification for the juror’s removal. In Texas, there is no law that mandates an employer pay his or her employee if they are called to jury duty.

With a going rate of $40 per day for jury duty, if a juror has living/family expenses that exceed that $40 number, and the trial is a long one, as is the case with regard to the Patterson trial, which moves into Week 5 starting Monday, then clearly there is some financial distress at home. In the case of Juror #1, the problem was, how were household expenses supposed to be met if the employer wouldn’t help out while the juror was doing his/her public duty away from the job?

The juror told the court Thursday that it was going to be impossible to really focus on the evidence at hand, determine Patterson’s innocence or guilt, when financial worries were in play.

Neither the state, the defendant or her attorneys, had an objection with the juror’s request to be excused from jury duty, so Judge Gonzalez granted Juror # 1 a dismissal (“disabled for good cause” in legal parlance).

So in the blink of an eye, Alternate Juror #2 is now Juror #1.

Judge Gonzalez thanked the juror for his/her service rendered, and reminded him/her that court instructions would remain in place. The departing juror couldn’t discuss the case with anyone until the trial had ended, said Gonzalez.

See you Monday. Have a good weekend.

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