NORTH RICHLAND HILLS (CBSDFW.COM) – Legal experts say the Cameron County District Attorney went too far when a North Richland Hills woman, called as a witness in a murder case, was arrested and held in jail for three weeks.
“I wouldn’t want to be without my children,” said Nora Quezada who describes herself as a typical soccer mom with two young daughters. She has no criminal record, and said her only run in with police was a speeding ticket years ago.
“I’m with my four-year-old, and they tell me you’ve been arrested,” she said, remembering back to Sept. 15.
When Quezada was 15-years-old, she lived in Brownsville. Police there said her then-boyfriend, Ricky “El Boy” Hernandez, shot and killed three teenagers and then escaped to Mexico for nearly a decade. He was also 15 at the time.
On Wednesday, she said, “If he did it or not, I want to know.”
Mexican authorities finally caught Hernandez in 2008. They sent him back to Cameron County to face murder charges. Prosecutors tracked down Quezada, who said she barely remembers her boyfriend from so long ago.
“I’m trying to remember to see if i can help. If I know something I want to help,” she said
Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos subpoenaed her. In May, she and her family made the long trip to Brownsville for the trial. Quezada said that was not a problem.
“For the first time, I was able to make the expenses to go and come back,” she said.
But the judge continued the case and told Quezada she would have to come back again later. As the Quezadas walked out of courthouse, they realized they could not afford to spend the hundreds of dollars to drive back again. They decided to ask the prosecutors for gas and food money to return.
It’s not an unusual request. Texas Code of Criminal procedure states, “When a witness lives in another county “that person shall be reimbursed… for reasonable and necessary transportation.”
“We called and we speak to Mr. Gillman (the prosecutor) but he is the one that said I’m not the bank to help you with money,” Quezada said.
“I believe he said, ‘I’m not the Bank of America,’” her husband Luis Quezada added.
The Quezadas then faxed a letter to Cameron County Clerk of Court which explained “due to the distance, and lack of money, I will not be attending.”
CBS 11 checked the court documents filed in Cameron County and Quezada’s letter was in the court file. There was even a yellow Post-It Note to the judge on the faxed letter with a handwritten message that read, “Judge, please note. Witness.”
After Quezada did not show up for the trial, Cameron County prosecutors sent a Tarrant County constable to arrest her. Records show her offense listed as “Witness.”
“I was in a cell by myself. I could only go out every seven-to-eight hours,” said Quezada who first did time in Tarrant County and then was transported to Cameron County. While she was there, a prosecutor from the DA’s office came to the jail to question her about the case.
“I told him I still don’t remember anything, I don’t know anything about the murder,” Quezada said.
For three weeks, Quezada stayed behind bars without a chance to see a judge without a way to make bail. She said she sat and worried, not about her herself, but about her two girls.
Her husband spent the weeks looking for a Brownsville lawyer who would help. He and his family finally found a local attorney who agreed to papers “seeking” her “release from illegal detention.” A judge let her go on a promise she’d return for the trial.
“I think the District Attorney in this case was completely out of line for not offering to pay for her to get here,” said Dallas Attorney Phillip Linder who has practiced law 19-years, four of those years in the Dallas County District Attorney’s office as a prosecutor.
“This was a violation of her civil rights,” he added.
Linder says he’s never heard of a witness treated this way in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
CBS 11 spent days trying to get answers as to why Quezada was treated this way. We sat in District Attorney Armando Villalobos’s office, but no one would speak with us in person or on the phone.
Nora Quezada is prepared to testify when the trial starts in January. While she says the experience has been humiliating at times, it hasn’t changed how she feels about herself.
“I’m not a criminal,” she said.