Patterson outside the courtroom Monday.

Photographer: Gregg Wendorf

Big moment finally arrives Judge lectures me?

Observations Commentary Patterson next week

After covering this capital murder case for the past 25 months, the big day looks like it has finally arrived: the state’s case (capital murder trial) against Monica Melissa Patterson should begin next week barring any unforeseen circumstances. The capital murder trial of her alleged accomplice, Angel Mario Garza, will begin as well.

The latest court hearing took place this Monday during which Patterson’s defense team argued before the bench of state District Judge Noe Gonzalez (the 370th) that the state, during the discovery process, wasn’t turning over to it everything it had. The DA’s office said it had.

The problem is, as the case moves closer to trial, more and more things are constantly being uncovered. In other words, the process remains fluid. As new evidence is being uncovered, said the state, prosecutors are indeed turning everything over to Patterson’s defense team.

Apparently, it wasn’t until recently that criminal investigators (Texas Rangers; county) were finally able to gain access to what’s referred to as a “phone dump,” which seems to include everything Patterson had on her cell phone, including text messages, etc. What those might include, well, that should come out during the trial.

How long this one will last is anyone’s guess. More than 120 people have been subpoenaed, so that should give us a clue. Not all will be called to testify, but if the DA’s office deems their testimony pertinent to winning the case, indeed they’ll get the call.

Of all the trials I’ve covered, in both state and federal courts, over a long career, this one certainly stands out in many respects.

For starters, her maiden name is Palacios, which means I personally know many of her family members, since so many of them have been tied to PSJA politics: a beat I started covering back in 1982. Took a break and moved out of the area between 1990 and 1993, and then moved back here when my wife and I bought The Advance from my parents after my mother came down with ALS.

On the other hand, I also know some of the people who are tied to the man that Patterson is accused of killing: Marty Knell. He coached two of my best friends in Little League, and I know well another friend who simply adored the man. Plus, I know his former pastor; and irony of ironies, Patterson served as the administrator of the hospice in McAllen where my mother died in 1995.

When it comes to murder cases, some are more complex than others. The upcoming trial of former Catholic Priest John Feit is very complex for obvious reasons. His alleged victim was murdered more than 57 years ago. In fact, as I’ve pointed out before, Feit’s case will be the oldest cold-case murder ever brought to trial, which is just one reason the national media will be in town to cover it. National reporters won’t cover the Patterson case, but for locals such as myself, it’s almost as complex and of interest, and shares, at least for me the same level of inter-,

est, which is why I’ve been covering it so closely.

It’s cost me, though. In time and work and getting annoyed. Judge Gonzalez took an unusual step several weeks ago when he actually asked his bailiff to bring him several copies of “a newspaper” he had sitting on his desk. When she brought them out, I could tell right away they were copies of The Advance. The black front page is indeed noticeable. What’s he up to? I asked myself. Didn’t take long to find out. When there is “inaccurate reporting” about a case that’s taking place in this courtroom, he said, it’s important to clarify, for the record, the inaccuracies. He said, however, that he wasn’t going to name the newspaper. Why not? Give me some publicity, judge.

What “inaccuracies,” I asked myself. In the news business, no one is perfect, but I try my best not to make mistakes. In fact, I pride myself on accurate reporting. I work hard at it.

The judge started reading from my story – the one about Patterson’s bond revocation hearing, which had taken place two weeks prior. The assistant DA, Joseph Orendain, was claiming that Patterson was gaming the system; letting the battery charge go out on her ankle bracelet in the middle of the night.

Who knows where she is when that happens, Orendain asked. He wanted her put in the county jail until the trial to ensure her appearance, but the judge wouldn’t grant his motion. So instead, he tightened the ankle bracelet protocols. If the battery died in the middle of the night, the Dallas-based company that monitors it was supposed to immediately alert someone down here that something was amiss, and then they would then drive to the home where Patterson is currently living to make sure she was still there.

At some point, it was mentioned that maybe an officer assigned to the AIP (Alternate Incarceration Program) could be used. I made the mistake of writing in that story that Patterson was in AIP, when, in fact, it’s only used for people who have already been convicted of a crime, as opposed to someone like Patterson still awaiting trial.

In the grand scheme of things, in my opinion, not a big mistake. She’s out on bail. AIP, no AIP. Unlike her alleged accomplice, Angel Garza, she hasn’t been cooling her heels inside the county jail for the past 25 months.

I figured this had to be a setup job, of sorts, because just as Noe Gonzalez began to read part of my story, Melissa Patterson, who was standing up next to the lawyers’ long table, turned around and looked me straight in the face and smiled. As if she “had me.” Then she turned back to listen attentively to what the judge was reading.

Nice, I thought.

Then I remembered, how ironic to be chastised by a judge for “inaccuracies,” when in fact, this is the very same judge, Noe Gonzalez, who was admonished by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct three years ago for allowing one attorney to pay himself more than $1 million from a receivership account over which Gonzalez was supposed to monitor (had to do with a big-dollar divorce case).

In fact, wrote the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, Gonzalez had “failed to comply with the law, failed to demonstrate professional competence with the law, and demonstrated incompetence performing the duties of the office, when he entered a receivership order in the (divorce case).”

Imagine that. This is the very same judge now calling into question my “inaccuracies?”

Hey, judge, I thought, if you’re going to read about the AIP mistake, why not read all of the facts to this case that I’ve written about, which I’ve gotten right?

Not only did the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct condemn Gonzalez for the receivership misstep, but it seems that he also violated the Texas Fair Defense Act and the Hidalgo County Indigent Defense Plan by handing off a high percentage of indigent defense positions to an attractive female attorney (sheer coincidence, of course). In fact, over a fiveyear period, 2008 to 2013, Judge Gonzalez bestowed upon this same attorney approximately 20 percent of the indigent cases, which amounted to payments (legal work) in excess of $450,000.

So, please, judge, read about my indiscretions, while I recount yours. Tit for tat.

To be fair, I also made another mistake last week when I wrote that Patterson had a history of mini-strokes and abnormal brain activity. Her medical files were sealed by court order during Monday’s hearing, but I had already printed them out in hard copy. The doctor’s orders didn’t say that Patterson had a history of abnormal brain activity, but wanted several MRIs performed to see if she had had a history of TIAs (Transient Ischemic Attacks), and to see if she had a degree of numbness on her left side.

Too much to get into over that, but based on a wide variety of medical sources, TIAs often never show up on an MRI because they leave no lasting damage. Unlike a stroke that’s not transient, whether it be an Ischemic Stroke or a Hemorrhagic Stroke, there is no lasting damage to the surrounding brain tissue or blood vessels if and when a TIA occurs.

A TIA, however, often is a pre-cursor to a full-blown stroke, so it’s not something one should ever take lightly. The problem is, except for slurred speech, blindness in one or both eyes, some of the other symptoms associated with a TIA resemble something as simple as a panic attack: dizziness, tingling and/or numbness in arms and legs, etc.

All told, I’d have to add up all the stories I’ve written about the Melissa Patterson murder case -- well over 30,000 words, I’d venture -- but there have been very few “mistakes” along the way. Or “inaccuracies” as Judge Noe Gonzalez would like to describe them. It didn’t help that there is a civil case against Patterson going on at the same time due to the fact that she gained access to the murder victim’s will and estate shortly before his death.

I do apologize for those two mistakes (AIP and the certainty of abnormal brain activity). In the real world of journalism, there wouldn’t be any mistakes. Like the work of a judge, however, they occasionally occur. At least I admit mine. I own my mistakes. In the case of Noe Gonzalez, he lawyered up once the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct released its findings against him. What did Noe’s lawyer have to say? The judge did nothing wrong. The whole thing was the fault of someone else.

Apparently, the commission didn’t agree, seeing that it ordered Gonzalez to obtain four hours of instruction with a “mentor judge.”

So do I need a “mentor reporter?”

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