Judge Denies Request to Dismiss Starr Co. Illegal Voting Case
EDINBURG – On Monday, prosecutors for the Attorney General's Office refuted claims of prosecutorial misconduct and selective prosecution stemming from a Starr County illegal voting case.
Attorneys for Bernice Garza, Hilda Garza Gonzalez and Martie Garcia raised the allegations in a motion to dismiss the case against her by the Attorney General's Office.
The case involved a ballot cast by a dead voter, an alleged political backdoor deal and DNA evidence.
Garza is facing charges for illegally voting by impersonating a dead voter and providing false information on a mail ballot application.
The ballot was part of the Starr County 2015 March primaries. Hortencia Rios was deceased nine years when her vote was cast illegally.
Garza assisted Rios with the application for ballot by mail and signed proving Garza's assistance. Her attorneys contended the application was pre-filled and that Garza did not have knowledge of Rios' passing.
The Attorney General Office believes Garza did know and signed the application. Further, she is also accused of forging signatures on ballots.
Prosecutors decided to request DNA testing of the saliva used to seal the envelope for the mail-in ballot application.
Records show the Weslaco Department of Public Safety lab found the DNA on the envelope did not belong to Garza.
Garza Gonzalez and Garcia questioned why Garza was the only one prosecuted when the state was in possession of over 30 names of deceased people on the voter rolls in Starr County.
Investigators explained they prosecuted the only case with a ballot that was actually cast.
Both parties were working on a deal to dismiss the case. Terms were set for the defendant as part of the deal.
The government said Garza did not comply with requirements, but the defense countered she did.
As the deal was progressing, defense attorneys filed the motion claiming prosecutorial misconduct and selective prosecution. They alleged the Attorney General's Office was acting on behalf of a relationship with the Starr County District Attorney's Office.
District Attorney Omar Escobar Jr. has offered testimony on amending voting laws to avoid illegal voting alongside the AG's Office before state lawmakers.
The deal fell apart. Prosecutors explained they felt pressured by public perception that dismissing the case after misconduct allegations were made would look like the state's office was under the influence of another office.
When Judge Israel Ramon Jr. of the 430th District Court mentioned possibly dismissing the case, prosecutors admitted to those concerns saying, “We would ask that if that’s where the case is heading that there’s going to be an order of dismissal in the case, a motion to dismiss, that there be findings that there wasn’t sufficient evidence or that the evidence does not support the allegations that they have made against us in this case, otherwise we’re left with this cloud.”
In the end, Ramon denied the defendant's motion to dismiss the illegal voting case based on the accusations of prosecutorial misconduct and selective prosecution.
Unless a deal is struck, the case is scheduled to go to trial November 12.
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