by SEAN KIMMONS
A 19-year-old San Marcos man described by his family as mentally retarded and by police as an intruder was shot four times, one of those in the back, according to an autopsy report.
An unarmed Elijah Espinoza was shot to death on Nov. 14 as he tried to enter the back door of a San Marcos home in the 1300 block of Belmont Drive. Police discovered his body in the house’s front yard.
San Marcos police have said they believe Espinoza was the same person who broke into the house a night earlier and groped a teenage girl who lived there. The girl’s father, Thomas Pope, told authorities he was guarding the house against another break-in.
According to an autopsy conducted by Dr. Suzanna Dana of Central Texas Autopsy, the first gunshot hit the left clavicular region of Espinoza’s chest and was recovered in the lower lobe of his right lung. The autopsy found “stippled wounds” on his face embedded with glass fragments.
The second gunshot entered his anterior chest and was recovered in his right lateral chest wall; the third shot entered and passed through his left upper arm.
The fourth wound is described by Dana as “peri-mortem,” which means it occurred at or near the time of death. The language suggests the fourth shot was fired sometime after the initial volley of three gunshots.
Attorney Chevo Pastrano, who represents Espinoza’s mother, Nelda Jean Cuevas, said that the fatal shooting isn’t as black and white as police originally assumed.
“I think it speaks for itself,” Pastrano said of the report. “It’s hard to conceive self defense when somebody is turned in the opposite direction and you put a bullet into his back.”
All of the bullet wounds resulted from 9mm hollow point copper jacketed bullets, the report said.
The prescription drug 10-Hydroxycarbamazepine, an anticonvulsant used to treat seizures, was also found in Espinoza’s body, a toxicology report stated. Espinoza’s family members have said that he was diagnosed as being mentally retarded and suffered from psychiatric disorders, Pastrano said.
“There’s no doubt that he’s been prescribed medication for his psychiatric problems,” he said.
In early December, Cuevas opened a private investigation and filed a petition in state district court asking permission to conduct depositions of the shooter, two women who reside at the home, a San Marcos police detective and the autopsy doctor.
On Jan. 4, State District Judge Gary Steel denied the requests but ruled that Espinoza’s family can wait six months to seek the witness accounts when the criminal investigation into fatal shooting will presumably be complete or nearly complete. The family will continue their investigation and decide whether to proceed with a civil lawsuit for wrongful death. If the family does file a civil lawsuit, it would have the right to conduct depositions sooner than the six-month delay, Pastrano said.
The San Marcos Police Department’s investigation into the shooting is completed and will file no charges in the case, Police Chief Howard E. Williams said, specifically citing the state’s Castle Doctrine. Case files were handed over to the Hays County District Attorney’s Office last month, he said.
The department’s Criminal Investigations Division Cmdr. Penny Dunn would not comment on the autopsy report since the investigation hasn’t been presented to a grand jury.
“It’s still an open investigation,” she said. “We do not want to taint this investigation.”
District Attorney Sherri Tibbe declined comment on if or when her office would present the case to the grand jury for possible indictments.
SEAN KIMMONS reports for the Hays Free Press where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership between the Free Press and the San Marcos Mercury.Email | Print