San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

December 17th, 2010
Mother of slain teenager still seeking answers

111510espinoza

Elijah Espinoza.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

A lawyer representing the mother of a 19-year-old shot to death in San Marcos last month says police have not told the whole story about what happened to her son.

Elijah Espinoza, 19, was shot multiple times on Nov. 14 around 3 a.m. as he allegedly attempted to break into the back door of a home in the 1300 block of Belmont Drive. Police said the shooter appeared to have been acting in self-defense, and they made no arrests.

Though the San Marcos Police Department (SMPD) has not completed its investigation, Espinoza’s mother, Nelda Jean Cuevas, hired a private investigator and later retained San Marcos attorney Chevro Pastrano to request court depositions from SMPD Detective Michael Wellman, Dr. Suzanna Elva Dana of Central Texas Autopsy, and three people at the home at the time of Espinoza’s death.

Espinoza lived with Cuevas near the Belmont Drive home. Cuevas said her son suffered from poor mental health.

“They lowered his dosage and he started having mood swings,” Cuevas said.

Police have not released the name of the shooter, who reportedly decided to sleep over at his daughter’s house after a violent incident there the night before. SMPD Commander Chase Stapp said an unknown man entered the home on Nov. 13 at about 5 a.m. and assaulted the daughter.

“She was fondled and her clothing was torn,” Stapp said. “She screamed and then he left the house.”

SMPD Chief Howard Williams said his department is “fairly confident” Espinoza was the assailant.

“We are not prepared to say that for certain,” Williams said. “We can’t say that for certain because we honestly can’t prove it.”

Although the Cuevas’ court petition lists the names of those at the home on Nov. 14, San Marcos Local News has chosen not to publish that information in order to avoid identifying a possible victim of sexual assault and her family members, who have not been charged.

“What was released to the media by the police department was that Elijah was inside the home and therefore an intruder,” Pastrano said. “What was released to the family was that he never went inside the home, that he was standing at the back door and he was shot through the back door.”

Williams declined to say whether Espinoza was shot through the back door. Williams said his department has a policy of not commenting on specific details related to an ongoing investigation. Williams said police found Espinoza’s body in the front yard of the Belmont Drive home.

“We don’t have any answers whatsoever, and the few that we have aren’t consistent with what they’ve (police) told the media,” Pastrano said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to figure out what really happened.

On Nov. 14, the City of San Marcos released a preliminary report that stated Espinoza was shot “as he tried to enter the back door.” The report again stated Espinoza “was shot multiple times after attempting to enter the home.” Soon after the shooting, at least eight news outlets, including San Marcos Local News, reported that police said Espinoza was shot as he attempted to enter the Belmont Drive home. One news organization ran a story on Dec. 7 that claimed Espinoza was shot inside the home, though the same organization published an article on Nov. 14 that stated Espinoza was shot as he attempted to enter the home. The city’s initial report did not specify where Espinoza’s body was found.

Pastrano said many details may dramatically change the nature of the case, such as whether Espinoza tried to enter the home or was “shot at through the door” before he fled.

Section 9.31 of the Texas Penal Code states that people use deadly force legally if they employ it against a person they have reason to believe has “unlawfully and with force entered,” or is “attempting to enter unlawfully and with force,” their habitation, vehicle, or place of business or employment. The code also states people have the right to employ deadly force against a person they know or have reason to believe is committing “or attempting to commit aggravated kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery, or aggravated robbery.”

Williams said his department is putting the finishing touches on the Espinoza investigation, and he said his department will probably forward the case to the district attorney’s office before the end of the year. Williams said a grand jury will decide whether to investigate the case further.

In a video interview posted on the Internet, Cuevas told KVUE-TV she does not blame the father for shooting her son.

“I would have done the same, maybe,” Cuevas said. “I just want them to know that I don’t have any hard feelings. I just need to know how he died. I just want to know if he was okay when he was dying. Was he praying? That’s all I want to know. And I don’t have any hard feelings towards anybody. I just want closure.”

Of Espinoza’s family, said Williams: “Bless their hearts. They lost their son in this thing and they’re upset. I can understand them feeling like they’re not getting all the answers, because in an investigation like this, you never get all the answers. Somebody’s always got some kind of nagging question. And that’s okay. That’s part of their coping with the loss of their son. They want some answers that sometimes we just can’t give them — and sometimes, before the investigation’s finished, that we won’t give them. But once it’s all over, said and done, if the grand jury decides to no-bill on it, then they’ll (the family) ask at that point for copies of everything we’ve got, and we’ll be happy to give it to them. And maybe that will satisfy them, I don’t know.”

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