A Hays County jury on Thursday sentenced a San Marcos teenager to 16 years in prison for killing his sister’s ex-boyfriend with a 12-gauge shotgun in a front yard near the Holland Hills neighborhood.
The same jurors had earlier convicted Damian Cuellar, 19, of criminal homicide, but said he acted in sudden passion, which lowered the crime to second-degree murder — and the maximum sentence from 99 to 20 years in prison. His trial started on Monday in 207th State District Judge Jack Robison’s court.
Prosecutors said Cuellar shot his sister’s ex-boyfriend, 30-year-old Brandon Valdez, in February in front of an apartment at 141 Coers Drive, just off Old Ranch Road 12. Valdez returned to the home to retrieve belongs he left there, got into an argument with with Cuellar, punched him in the face and then pushed the younger man into a door.
“They exchanged words in the door of apartment complex and Valdez punched in the nose. That’s when he went back inside to get his gun,” Hays County first assistant District Attorney Fred Weber said.
After retrieving his weapon, Cuellar crawled out a back window and ran around to the front of the residence, where he shot and killed Valdez with one shotgun blast. He then waited for San Marcos police to arrive and arrest him.
The Texas Penal code allows juries to hand down less severe punishments in murder cases if they determine the defendant acted in “sudden passion caused by and arising out of provocation by the individual killed or another acting with the person killed which passion arises at the time of the offense.”
Amanda McDaniel, Cueller’s court-appointed attorney, could not be immediately reached this morning. The Mercury will update the story when we hear from her.
Cuellar’s defense attorney, Amanda McDaniel, said a jury decision that convicted her client of murder but will allow him to be eligible for parole in less than eight years is “a just verdict.”
“Damian acknowledged that he made a mistake and that he is going to pay a price for it. But he is not going to pay for it with his whole life,” McDaniel said on Friday.
On Thursday, a Hays County jury convicted Cuellar of killing Brandon Valdez, his sister’s ex-common law husband, after a fight in February this year. Valdez came to Cuellar’s apartment on Coers Drive to pick up tattoo equipment that Cuellar was holding for collateral on a debt.
Cuellar arrived home from work at a construction company to in Seguin to find an angry Valdez at his home. After being punched and pushed by Valdez, Cuellar fetched a shotgun from inside the residence and returned outside to shoot his attacker.
Because the jury determined that Cuellar had acted in “sudden passion” caused by “provocation by the individual killed,” his murder conviction was reduced from a first- to a second-degree felony and the maximum prison sentence lowered to 20 year from 99 years or life. The jury gave Cuellar 16 years.
Because Cuellar used a deadly weapon in the commission of the crime, he must serve at least half his sentence before being eligible for parole, McDaniel said.
With credit for time he has spent in jail since the shooting in February, Cuellar will be eligible for consideration for parole in about seven a half years.