Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Case of Cesar Fierro: Open Deliberation

I ask you to consider the following case as if you were a jury member in the trial of The People of Texas versus Cesar Robert Fierro. This means you are not allowed to research the case before reaching your vicarious verdict. You may consider only the information provided in the two summaries below. Once you read and considered the evidence, I ask that you use the comments to make your case for a Guilty or a Not Guilty vote.

In other words, I ask that you use the comments to deliberate the case.

First, I present the State's case as taken from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals decision in Fierro v. Texas (1986), I have replaced each instance of "appellant" with "Cesar Fierro" or "Fierro." I introduced paragraph breaks to make the reading a bit easier.
On February 27, 1979, the body of Nicolas Castanon, an El Paso taxicab driver, was discovered in Modesto Gomez Park in the city of El Paso. Castanon had a bullet wound in his head behind the right ear and another bullet wound in his shoulder.

The taxicab which Castanon had been driving was discovered across the international border in Juarez, Mexico, with bloodstains on the front seat and carpet. His jacket was discovered on the grounds of Bowie High School on a road leading from Modesto Gomez Park to Juarez.

The cause of death was shown by autopsy to have been the bullet wound behind the right ear which fractured the first vertebra and the base of the skull and compressed the medulla oblongata. This stopped respiration and caused almost instantaneous death. It was estimated that the shot had been fired from no more than 15 inches away. The bullet fragment recovered revealed the deceased had been shot by a .357 Magnum or a .38 caliber Special. No valuables were found on the body.

Some months later on July 31, 1979, Geraldo (Jerry) Olague, age 16, personally contacted El Paso police officers. His written statement to the police led to the arrest of Cesar Fierro. The officers took Olague to Juarez where he pointed out the residence of Fierro mother and stepfather.

At trial Olague testified he was with Fierro at the time the deceased was shot. Olague revealed that about 2:15 a.m. on February 27, 1979, he and Fierro were together in front of the El Paso Public Library. Olague hailed a taxicab to go home. The taxi driver was Castanon. ...

Olague got in the front seat and Fierro got in the back seat. Fierro told Olague that after Olague was taken home he would go to his home in Juarez. Olague requested Castanon to take him to 226 Wooldridge where he lived. As they neared the location Olague heard Fierro yell "stop" and as Castanon turned Fierro shot him in the back of the head. Castanon fell into Olague's lap leaving blood on Olague's pants. The taxicab jumped the curb and ran into a yard, but Olague hit the brake and the engine died.

Olague was surprised and scared. Fierro told him to get into the back seat. Fierro got behind the wheel. Olague remembered asking Fierro why he shot Castanon, but he could not recall Fierro's response.

Fierro drove to Modesto Gomez Park. Fierro removed Castanon from the cab and dragged him some distance and then shot Castanon again, and took Castanon's wallet and watch and jacket. Olague stated Fierro used the jacket to wipe up some blood and threw the jacket out along the road they took to Juarez. The watch was discarded in a dumpster.

After reaching Juarez, the taxicab was abandoned and Fierro and Olague went to the home of Fierro's mother. Olague revealed that when the television news told of the murder Fierro laughed. Later Fierro and Olague went into the interior of Mexico where Fierro sold his .357 Magnum to a rancher. Olague then went to visit his father in Mexico, but Fierro later checked on him by telephone and warned him not to tell of the incident. After some months, Olague returned to El Paso and went to the police.

Fierro's written extrajudicial confession was also introduced into evidence. It was very similar to the details related by Olague. Fierro stated he had a .357 Magnum which had been stolen by his brother, that he shot the deceased and drove the automobile to a small park. After Olague dragged the body out of the cab, Fierro admitted he shot the deceased and took his watch. He stated he later threw the watch into a trash can on the way to Juarez. ...

Fierro contends the confession was inadmissible into evidence as it was not given voluntarily "and came about as the result of coercion."

The court conducted a hearing on the pre-trial motion to suppress the confession. ... The record reflects that after Olague gave his statement on July 31st Officers Holland and Medrano took him to Juarez and contacted Juarez police officers. Olague pointed out to all the officers the house where he had gone with Fierro after the shooting.

The Juarez officers were asked to communicate any information they obtained. Juarez Police Lt. Palacios called Medrano in El Paso about 5 a.m. and told him he had some information and asked Medrano to meet him and other Juarez officers for breakfast. Medrano contacted Holland and they drove to Juarez for breakfast. There they learned from Palacios and other Juarez officers FierroFierro's mother.

Holland and Medrano returned to El Paso and located Fierro in jail. They took him before Judge Baca ... where Fierro was given his Miranda rights in both English and Spanish. Later Fierro was taken to the police department and again warned.

In discussing the case with Fierro, Medrano asked him if he lived at a certain address in Juarez and gave his mother's name. When Fierro asked how Medrano got that information, Medrano told him it was from the Juarez police. Fierro then inquired if his mother was in custody and insisted she had nothing to do with the murder. Fierro stated his mother had once been arrested for possession of marihuana and the conditions in the Juarez jail were not good.

Medrano testified he truthfully had no information that Fierro's mother was in custody. To satisfy Fierro, Medrano called Lt. Palacios and handed the phone to Fierro. Medrano did not know what conversation took place, but Fierro seemed satisfied when it concluded. Thereafter the confession was taken from Fierro.

The time consumed was from about 9:35 a.m. until 10:15 or 10:17 a.m. Medrano denied that he threatened or coerced Fierro or beat him. He stated Fierro was given a cup of coffee and a pack of cigarettes and that the Fierro had freely given the confession. He denied that he had shown to Fierro two letters that had been taken from Fierro's mother.

Officer James Holland, Jr., testified that Fierro gave the confession freely and voluntarily, was not threatened or physically abused, etc. Judge Baca testified as to his properly warning Fierro of his rights. ...

... The jail nurse testified Fierro complained on August 3, 1979, of a throat infection and that he was injured while being interrogated. She did not testify she saw any bruises or injuries.

Socorro Reyna [Fierro's mother] testified at 3:30 a.m. on August 1, 1979, the Juarez police came to her home and took her and her husband to jail. They took from them two letters, one from the Cesar Fierro and one from his brother. They were held in jail until 7 p.m. that day and then released. Alfredo Murga Garcia, Fierro's stepfather, testified the armed police came to the house at 3 a.m. on August 1, 1979, and took him and his wife to jail and did not release them until about 7 p.m.

Cesar Fierro's wife, Laticia Fierro, testified she saw Fierro in jail on August 3rd or 4th in 1979 and he had bruises on his face.

In his brief testimony the Fierro testified his confession was not voluntary, that Medrano had told him that his mother was in jail and would remain there until he confessed. He stated Medrano showed him two letters addressed to his mother, one from his brother and one from him. He knew they had been taken from his mother. He also stated Medrano hit him three or four times on the side of the head. He never mentioned any telephone conversation with Lt. Palacios nor was he asked. ...

It is observed that the issue of the voluntariness of the confession was later submitted to the jury in the court's charge and was rejected by the jurors.
Now for the defense case, I offer the following description of the trial from Executed on a Technicality by David R. Dow:
Because no physical evidence connected Fierro to the crime, his conviction and sentence rested entirely on two pieces of evidence: first, the testimony of Olague, and second the confession. The confession included details provided by Detective Medrano, like the location and date of the crime, the disposal of the body, and the route Fierro had supposedly taken back to El Paso. Oddly, it also included a statement that his mother and stepfather had nothing to do with the crime.

Olague's testimony was needed to confirm the veracity of the confession, to preclude Fierro from disavowing it. ... [Olague] testified that he and Fierro had been committing robberies together for six or seven months. He said Fierro had taken a silver watch from Castanon; the watch was never found. He said he and Fierro had sold the murder weapon to a rancher south of Juarez, but neither the rancher nor the gun was ever located. He said the cab had skidded out of control when Castanon was shot, jumping the curb and landing in someone's front yard, but no one in the neighborhood heard a gunshot or saw or heard a cab go out of control.

During one bizarre moment ... he accused a member of the jury of having purchased as stolen CB radio from him. He said that he had committed more than forty burglaries and that the police were aware of them, but that he had been charged with only one offense. ...

The defense did what it could. It pointed out that Fierro had signed the confession -- the details of which were provided by the detective conducting the interrogation -- only because he knew what would happen to his mother and stepfather if he did not confess. It called his parents, who testified to the brutal treatment to which they were subjected. [The mother claimed she was beaten. The stepfather claimed he was threatened with application of a cattle-prod device to his genitals.] It called Fierro's landlord, who swore Fierro was at home on the night of the killing.
Ladies and gentlemen of a small cohort of the reading public, it is now up to you to argue your point and cast your vote in the case of The People of Texas versus Cesar Roberto Fierro. Please use the comments to do so. Remember that you may base your arguments and your decision only on the evidence presented in this blog post.

Deliberations are open.


Andrew Hickey said...

Just from that evidence, pretty clearly not guilty. Confession made under dubious-at-best circumstances, quite probably with threats to his parents, no physical evidence tying him to the crime scene, and only one witness who sounds like his statement could plausibly have been part of a plea bargain.

The Doormouse said...

when you say he turned and was shot, do you mean he turned the car or his head? its hard to shoot someone in the back of the head if they are facing you.

Anonymous said...

I vote not guilty.

Does he have an alibi - yes, based on his landlord's testimony

Is the prosecution's witness compromised ? Think so, based on his bragging about how the police treated him. What is his motivation for testifying against Fiero anyway?

Coerced confession - his mother and father's testimony as to their arrest is convincing and Fiero's mentioning his parent's were innocent in his confession seems telling.


Anonymous said...

I would say not guilty.

I guess we are spoiled on TV shows where all the suspect interviews are video taped. Hopefully in the future all police interrogations of interviews should be taped so we won't get into this he said/he said problem


Anonymous said...

I cannot understand why the Defence did not demand testing on the items of clothing?

No gun,
No car stuck in yard,
No Rancher who they sold the gun to
Confession in question,
Snitch after 5 months since incident,

Dont buy this one.

The Airborne Juror said...

It really should be impossible to sentance someone to death based on a witness with everything to lose followed by a confession which was likely coerced. Your previous post did a lot to highlight the startling problems that exist with police-obtained confessions, and here you present the perfect case to illustrate it. There is no evidence to speak of here that is above manipulation by otherwise interested parties - interested in getting themselves off the hook or interested in closing a case and making numbers on the board.

No way, on the evidence presented in your post, that this one should be a conviction.

Greetings from Lörrach,


Sullied Red Secret said...

Why would a robber throw away a silver watch?
How could Olague have hit the brakes from the passenger seat so quickly with a dead man in his lap?
Why would Olague's testimony hold more weight than Fierro's landlord's?

Add these to the above-mentioned inconsistencies and the verdict must be not guilty.

Anonymous said...

This sounds a lot like the case of Randall Adams in Texas c. 1977. 16 year old David Harris bragged about killing a police officer in Dallas, was in possession of the murder weapon, and had stolen the car that was pulled over before the shooting. Once police questioned him, he blamed a 28 year old drifter (Adams). There was no evidence linking Adams to any aspect of the shooting, other than a "confession", of which Adams said should have made no mention of any shooting.

It turns out that Harris was in fact guilty of this crime, and was executed ikn 2006 for a different murder in Houston. In the documentary "The Thin blue Line", Harris essentially confesses to the murder of the officer, when asked by the interviewer "is Adams innocent", Harris says "Did you ask him"? The interviewer says "He has always said he is innocent". Harris says "I am sure he is". The interviewer says "How can you be sure?". Harris says "Because I am the one that knows".

Adams has since been released from prison, but he was on death row for around 10 years, and came shockingly close to execution, a completely innocent man with no priors.

I would vote that Olague is the killer of the cab driver.

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