CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Practices by the Nueces County District Attorney's Office have come under fire following the dismissal of Dr. Juan Villarreal's criminal case, due to lost evidence.
“I don’t feel like justice was served when you can’’t have your man cleared or you can’t have your day in court,” said Nueces County Judge Connie Scott, reacting to the case.
Loosing evidence has not been the only recent questionable action by the district attorney's office.
We reported that in a criminal case against Joseph Tejeda for capital murder, the district attorney's office gave access, to the case file, to the alleged victim’s mother.
A judge said it found "credible evidence of gross incompetence negligence or carelessness" in the prosecution of Tejeda's cases.
Villarreal's case is now the latest instance.
“We’re not the first office that’s lost evidence. It’s a shame that any office looses evidence like this. But we’re not the first time this has happened,” Douglas Norman of the district attorney's office said in Villarreal's Monday hearing.
In a hearing about the Tejeda case, Norman said there are no policies and procedures pertaining to access of case files.
Assistant District Attorney Angelica Hernandez testified the to clarify the information.
“That is correct," she started to say." "We follow the Nueces County policies and procedures, and the standard documents they require employees to sign that they understand the confidential nature of criminal histories or TCIC/NCIC, other documents that might be in the file, and that they're not to disclose the contents of those but those are Nueces County's."
In an open records request, we were told it's the Nueces County Personnel Manual the district attorney's office uses.
County Judge Scott was unaware the district attorney's office does this.
“What the policy works for us isn’t always the same with what might work in let's say, the jail or for the district clerk’s office," she said. "There are all different kinds of records that are kept. So, those policies have to be implemented in to suit that position.”
Scott said she has no authority to instruct how to run the district attorney's office. She said she and commissioners are willing to help, though.
“If any one of those entities needed our help with anything and came to us with something, we’d be more than happy to help to implement something," said Scott. "Our door is open to anyone that needs our help and especially with something such as this."
We reached out District Attorney Mark Gonzalez’s Office, but they did not get back to us.
Gonzalez's Office did, however, take action today in Villarreal's case. They filed an appeal to the decision that granted the defense motion to dismiss the case.
Lisa Greenberg, Villarreal’s attorney, provided this statement in response:
“We think the trial judge made the correct decision in this case. Dr. Villarreal waited 5 years to show the allegations against him were false and to confirm his innocence. He never got his day in court because the district attorney’s office mishandled and lost evidence. Based on the testimony of the witnesses, including the police officers and the assistant district attorney in charge of the case, it was clear to the judge the only remedy was dismissal."
Villarreal's medical license was suspended following his indictment. We reached out to the Texas Medical Board to learn what comes next, but have yet to hear back.
We also reached out to the Texas Attorney General's Office and have also not gotten a response.
We will continue to update this story as it progresses.
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