A Lubbock District judge on Thursday reluctantly granted defense attorneys’ motion for a mistrial in the death penalty murder trial of a 56-year-old man charged with the 2019 murder of a 79-year-old man. years of Slaton whose body was found northwest of Abernathy .
The decision to end the trial three days into the chief prosecutors’ case against David Wayne Hampton came following multiple potentially damaging statements against him before jurors by state witnesses without the court approval.
Hampton, who has been held in the Lubbock County Detention Center since August 15, 2019, is charged with capital murder in the August 3, 2019 murder of Celestino Rodriguez. The trial began Tuesday after attorneys worked Monday to reduce a group of 70 people to a 12-person jury that will hear the case against Hampton.
Capital murder is usually punishable by death or life in prison without parole. However, prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty in this case, so Hampton faces an automatic life sentence without parole if convicted.
Hampton is one of seven people charged in connection with the homicide case that began as a missing persons case when Rodriguez’s family reported him missing. However, he is the only one facing a capital murder charge.
Heather Casias and Brett Garza are each charged with murder. Freddie Salinas of Abernathy and James Andrew Anderson have been charged with tampering with a corpse. Toby Daughtry and Amanda Blagburn each face one count of unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, a state prison felony that carries a sentence of six months to two years in state prison .
Anderson pleaded guilty in December 2020 in exchange for a 10-year prison sentence. Blagburn also pleaded guilty to his charge in return for a 12-month sentence.
In her opening statement, prosecutor Cara Landers told jurors that evidence at trial will show Casias hatched a plan with Garza to rob Rodriguez, who Casias knew was about to receive a monthly benefit check.
She said Rodriguez met Casias, who worked as a prostitute, at a gambling hall where he spent a lot of time in gambling halls after his wife died nearly a year before.
Meanwhile, Garza recruited Hampton to help with the robbery in which they beat and killed Rodriguez. Then Garza brought in Salinas and Anderson to move Rodriguez’s body to Abernathy.
During the trial, jurors heard from Rodriguez’s daughter, Norma Wallace, who said her father descended into depression as he mourned the death of his wife nearly a year prior.
In the weeks leading up to his disappearance, she said she noticed signs of her father’s later decline.
“He was coming home with bruises,” she said. “There was money missing from his account. He seemed a little more angry and lost.”
She said that on August 3, 2019, her father left for Lubbock telling her he was going to have the oil changed in his car, a white Chrysler 200. She said he never came home and knew something bad had happened to him.
“I knew the day my dad didn’t come home that something was wrong,” she said.
As police searched for Rodriguez, his family discovered that his debit card was being used at several stores in Lubbock.
Security camera footage from the stores showed two men, later identified as Hampton and Brett Garza using Rodriguez’s card.
Garza was arrested on August 14, 2019, on a warrant charging him with debit card abuse.
When investigators spoke to him, he revealed the plot that Casias had proposed to steal Rodriguez’s debit card. He allegedly told investigators that Casias knew Rodriguez’s card PIN and gave it to him and Hampton.
He said Casias lured Rodriguez to a field on private land near the intersection of Erskine Street and Farm to Market Road 179 where he and Hampton confronted Rodriguez, beat him until he no longer responds. He died shortly afterwards.
Garza led investigators to a secluded location in Abernathy where he, Salinas, and another man left Rodriguez’s body.
Whitney McClendon, a forensic analyst for the Lubbock Police Department, told jurors she found Rodriguez’s body covered under a tent and tarp by a drainage culvert. She said Rodriguez’s body was in an advanced stage of decomposition, the tarp and tent were soaked in bodily fluids, and his skeleton was separating from his flesh.
Many of Rodriguez’s family members left the courtroom before crime scene footage taken by the forensic analyst was shown on a screen for jurors to view.
In an August 15, 2019 press release announcing Garza’s arrest, police officials said Hampton remained at large and was believed to be in Lubbock, but was able to get away. move undetected.
That same day, Hampton turned himself in to Abilene police when he learned of the arrest warrant for using Rodriguez’s debit card. There he met some Lubbock police detectives who wanted to talk.
Hampton initially told detectives he would not speak to them without a lawyer. However, when told by detectives about a second warrant charging him with murder, he unpromptedly admitted to using the debit card, saying he was a drug addict and needed drugs, but repeatedly denied being implicated in Rodriguez’s death.
“I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life, sir,” the detective could be heard saying. “But I wouldn’t, I couldn’t kill anyone.”
During the trial, defense attorneys reserved their opening statements for their main case.
However, jurors heard from witnesses for the state who testified that Hampton told them he was involved in Rodriguez’s death but was an unwitting participant.
Hampton’s niece told jurors her uncle told her he was involved in Rodriguez’s death and was upset and upset by what happened. She said her uncle told her that he and Garza didn’t expect Rodriguez to fight back and said he hit Rodriguez once on Garza’s orders but couldn’t keep hurting the man, saying he started seeing his father’s face on Rodriguez.
Meanwhile, Anderson told jurors that Garza summoned him to the Tech Inn where he learned of the fatal robbery. He said Hampton was there and was upset about what happened and was angry with Garza for ending the robbery.
Anderson told Garza, admitted to killing Rodriguez, and threatened him to help move Rodriguez’s body. However, he said he also promised to pay him money and medicine if he helped.
Anderson initially told jurors that Garza was solely responsible for Rodriguez’s death. However, he later retracted that statement saying he was trying to help Hampton.
Anderson told jurors that while he was being held in Lubbock County Jail for forgery, he and Hampton were in the same group and discussed Rodriguez’s death.
He told jurors that Hampton told him that when they robbed Rodriguez, the old man attacked Garza and Hampton put an arm around Rodriguez’s neck to pull him away from Garza. He said Hampton told him he felt Rodriguez’s last breath and the man died in his arms.
Garza, whose case was still pending, was the last witness called before the trial ended in a mistrial. He told jurors he made no deal with the Lubbock County prosecutors office in exchange for his testimony, although he was granted testimonial immunity.
He told jurors that Casias, who he was dating at the time, came up with the plan to steal his money from Rodriguez. He said she wanted to use the money to move out of the Carriage House Inn where they and his daughter were living at the time.
Garza said he recruited Hampton, whom he’s known for a few years, to help him with Rodriguez’s robbery plan.
“I felt (Hampton) had what I needed to get the job done,” Garza said. “He knew him better than me.”
Defense attorneys objected to the statement, which violated an evidentiary rule that prohibits prosecutors from presenting a defendant’s criminal history, however slight, to jurors during the guilt-innocence phase of a trial.
Prior to trial, McClendon granted defense attorneys a motion to restrain prosecutors, through witnesses, from referring to their client’s unrelated criminal history until the court decides the admissibility of the case. testimony.
“Evidence of a foreign offense or wrongdoing is highly prejudicial in that it induces the jury to convict the accused for being a criminal at large, rather than being guilty of the offense at the time of the lawsuit,” the motion reads. “For this reason, evidence of a foreign offense or wrongdoing is inadmissible unless exceptional justification is presented.”
However, on a few occasions throughout the trial, witnesses for the state, including Garza, when asked how they knew Hampton, testified that they first met him while he was being held at the Lubbock County Jail on prior charges unrelated to Rodriguez’s homicide.
Statements that Hampton had been in jail in the past resulted in lectures in the judge’s chamber, after which McClendon ordered jurors to disregard those statements. He also denied the defense attorneys’ motion for a mistrial.
However, Garza’s latest statement that Hampton was familiar with stealing from people, compounded by the earlier inadmissible statements, left the court no choice but to declare a mistrial.
“I’m afraid the last answer just puts us in a position where curative instruction wouldn’t be appropriate,” McClendon said.
However, he said he did not believe prosecutors deliberately obtained the inadmissible statements.
“Reluctantly, especially in light of the fact that a lot of time and effort has gone into this – I feel bad that we have to do this again – I grant the motion to have the trial dismissed and we will get this reset. trial,” McClendon said.