The murder trial of Andrew Ray Flores and Anthony Reyes Serena got off to a rocky start Tuesday morning.
Flores and Serena have been charged with capital murder in the shooting death of Lupe Garcia on Oct. 19, 2017. Jury selection was completed Monday with the trial getting underway today in District Court with Judge Jack W. Marr presiding.
A glitch was discovered during the morning session when it was realized that the charges had not been read, and the defendants had not been allowed to enter their pleas.
During a recess, the judge said he discussed the matter with fellow judges and decided the case could go forward if the defendants and the district attorney stipulated that evidence given in the morning session, as well as exhibits entered into evidence, were acceptable.
Assistant District Attorney Shannon Salyer so stipulated, as did defense attorneys Joseph Garza, representing Flores, and Keith Weiser, representing Serena.
The jury was brought back into the room, and the judge explained what had been decided.
At that time Salyer read the indictment. "Not guilty," responded Flores when asked how he pleaded while Serena responded with "I didn't do it," Marr said he would accept that as a plea of not guilty.
Following a bit of housekeeping on the exhibits, Salyer had the 911 tape played for the jury. He then called his first witness, Dr. Vickie Willoughby with the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office, which the county contracts to perform autopsies when required.
Willoughby, who did not conduct the autopsy but reviewed Dr. Sam Andrews' work per policy, testified that there were stippling and gunpowder that hadn't burned on the skin around the wound, which could mean the shooter was close to the victim. How close, she said, would depend on the bullet and the weapon it was fired from, but it could be as close as two feet.
Additionally, she testified that the bullet was still in the body, and there was no exit wound.
When Dr. Willoughby was asked if the gunshot was the cause of death, Garza objected. During his cross-examination, he asked if Garcia could have died from a heart attack or a stroke after being shot.
Willoughby stated there are cases where a gunshot was not the immediate cause of death, but in the case of severe gunshot wounds, cause of death would be related to the gunshot, not a stroke or heart attack.
In addition, Garza brought up Andrews, who left the Travis County ME office to take the position of the chief of the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s Office. He and his predecessor Sridhar Nataranjan are currently under investigation for harvesting body parts.
Willoughby said she knew of the investigation, but his findings on the Garcia autopsy were in line with procedure.
Following Willoughby on the witness stand was Port Lavaca Patrol Officer Kyle Lee Curtis.
He testified about his arrival on the scene, and how the scene looked when he arrived. He said Garcia was still alive but didn’t speak when asked if Garcia said anything. He also said he checked for an exit wound with his hand under Garcia and did not roll him over, and all they did was to get him laid flatter on the surface while
Curtis, who is a former U.S. Marine, testified that wound care was part of their training.
He also testified that he followed the ambulance to Memorial Medical Center and collected Garcia’s clothes and effects.
The last witness of the day was Marion Hetherington, a former PLPD detective who conducted the interview and now works for the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office.
Hetherington was taken through his investigation by Salyer and testified they found Garcia’s room tidy. However, they did find two small bags of cocaine and a rolled up $5 bill, which contained Flores’ DNA.
In addition, Hetherington testified about messages on Garcia's cell phone between Garcia and Flores, as well as messages between Garcia and his girlfriend. The only other DNA was on Flores’ shirt and belonged to Serena.
Garza poked at the identification, noting how dark the hallway seemed. Hetherington said the witness said she could not see faces just men in hoodies.
The trial will continue Wednesday at 9 a.m. in district court.