EDINBURG – A Tiger by the Tail. That’s how one might describe Criminal Defense Attorney Ricardo “Rick” Salinas’s job of having to cross examine Celestina Mascorro, who is also the key to the state’s claim: Monica Melissa (Palacios) Patterson murdered 96-year-old Martin “Marty” Knell the morning of Jan. 28, 2015. He did indeed have a tiger the tail.
Mascorro’s time on the witness stand spanned three days – Friday, Oct. 20; Monday, Oct. 23; and Tuesday, Oct. 24. To call it a grueling marathon would be an apt description.
Look for a complete news story in next week’s Advance News (printed and online): Mascorro’s testimony and the questions asked of her by both the prosecutors and Patterson’s defense team, and the evidence (phone records; taped conversations; statement) shown her, are going to take up a great deal of space, not to mention the time needed to write out all of it.
For now, consider today’s piece an opinion column vs. a straight news story. Columns are easier to write, not to mention faster, and I have to be back in court in an hour-and-a-half. If I’m right, it’s time for the state to put Hidalgo County Chief Forensic Pathologist Norma Jean Farley, MD, in the witness box. Her testimony should finally lay to rest for the jury, the question: Was Knell’s death the result of cardiac arrest (a natural death), or homicide by asphyxiation.
My plan was to wake up at 4 this morning and write out the entire Mascorro story, but this capital murder trial has frankly worn me out, so I overslept. To be honest, the 4 a.m. idea wouldn’t have worked out anyway, because the time to write out Mascorro’s entire testimony, including the long “cross” on the part of Salinas, is at least a six-hour job. If the only thing I had to do was cover this trial, it wouldn’t be so hard, but I also have to put out a weekly newspaper, and handle business affairs, advertising business, etc., etc., etc. Why am I including this info in this column? Who knows. I’m beat, and my brain is fried. I’m not complaining, though, because this capital murder trial is one worthy of the record books. Yesterday (Tuesday), during a courtroom break, I asked two seasoned attorneys not working this case if they had ever seen a murder trial go on for this long. Both said, no.
Let the Testimony Begin
Last Friday (Oct. 20), I couldn’t attend the trial, so I had an assignment reporter cover it for me who is well schooled in law. When I found out who the witness was Friday morning – Celestina Mascorro – my first thought was, are you kidding me, this is the testimony I’ve been waiting to hear from Day 1 (Sept. 25), when Assistant Criminal District Attorney Joseph Orendain made his opening statement to the jury – Patterson did it; she murdered “Marty” Knell.
State District Court Judge Noe Gonzalez (the 370th) has typically cut short Friday testimony early (approximately 3 p.m.), so I was pretty sure that Mascorro would again take the witness stand on Monday, which indeed proved to be the case. Meaning, I’d still to get to witness live the state’s so-called star witness in action. In fact, not only did Mascorro’s testimony take up all of Monday but Tuesday as well.
In fact, Mascorro wasn’t finally excused from the witness stand until approximately 5 p.m. yesterday (Oct. 24).
According to The Advance News assignment reporter who attended Mascorro’s testimony Friday, Patterson’s defense team tried to set the day’s tone by asking the judge to remind the witness (still waiting in the hallway) of her Fifth Amendment Rights due to her interview with Texas Ranger Robert Callaway. Meaning, she should be reminded that her court testimony might expose her to self-incrimination (she committed a crime for which she could later be charged).
Judge Gonzalez said he would advise Mascorro of that if he saw such a concern while she was on the witness stand.
Assistant Criminal District Attorney Cregg Thompson said that the defense was just trying to shut her up, AKA, keep her quiet. After all, without Mascorro, this murder-and-theft case never would have developed. Mascorro -- 60 years of age, petite, barely five-feet tall, if that -- is the one who kicked this whole criminal investigation into gear when she went to law enforcement approximately a month after Knell’s burial in late January 2015 and told criminal investigators that the old man’s death wasn’t natural, but was, instead, a homicide, and she could point out the two guilty parties.
Patterson’s defense attorneys told Gonzalez, before Mascorro took the stand last Friday, that she “owed a legal duty to protect Mr. Knell.” Not only that, argued Patterson’s defense, but Mascorro could be liable as a paid provider for having failed to do so.
Presumably meaning, that while she heard Patterson’s co-conspirator Angel Mario Garza inside Knell’s kitchen smothering to death the 96-year-old WW II vet (based on her statement), while Patterson waited by her side in the garage, she should have stormed into the kitchen and intervened?
Both Patterson and Garza remain innocent until proven guilty, and both have pleaded not guilty, even though Garza has already signed a written confession that he participated in the murder. So far, his written confession jives with court testimony, except for one thing: Garza said that Patterson used a plastic bag to kill Knell while he simply held down the murder victim, helping facilitate the crime.
According to Mascorro’s testimony, however, Angel Mario Garza was the one who went into Knell’s kitchen the morning of Jan. 28, 2015 and stole Knell’s life after Patterson had ordered him to do so. Mascorro said she was scared to death of Garza, and that was before she testified that she saw him go inside the Knell home.
Given that fact (Mascorro’s testimony), how exactly was she supposed to “protect Mr. Knell,” as the defense argued last Friday?
“Mario, stop what you’re doing. Remove the plastic bag from Mr. Knell’s head. I’m going to call the police.”
Judge Gonzalez told Patterson’s defense attorney, Calixtro Villarreal, that all court testimony showed that the murder victim had his senses about him the day of his murder. In fact, a visiting nurse who had visited him the morning of his murder had already testified to that. Really, said the nurse, “Marty” Knell’s main problem was forgetting when to take his medications. Other than that, his mind was still pretty clear-headed.
The judge said that negligence on the part of a caregiver is not a criminal violation, absent other circumstances, such as incompetency. Gonzalez said he would give Mascorro some admonishment, but negligence “does not rise to the level of a crime absent other circumstances.”
Another Patterson attorney, Rene (Ponytail) Flores told the court that if criminal conduct had occurred, Mascorro could (be held liable).
Prosecutor Cregg Thompson said that Patterson’s defense strategy involves trying to place the blame for Knell’s murder on someone else.
Gonzalez noted that Celestina Mascorro had already made a written statement – Patterson and Garza were responsible for Knell’s murder – and that her criminal liability would not be enhanced by similar oral testimony in court.
Thompson said that the request made by Patterson’s defense team was an attempt at intimidation and to discourage Mascorro from testifying.
The accused murderess’s lead defense attorney, “Rick” Salinas, said, “Some of the questions on (cross-examination) will expose her to liability, and (he) doesn’t want her to suddenly shut down during trial.”
Judge Gonzalez said, “I’m not concerned. I can admonish her, but I’m not going to be putting the fear of God (into) her.”
Tiger by the Tail
When Celestina Mascorro first took the witness stand last Friday (Oct. 20), Gonzalez advised her that if she believes that her testimony will incriminate her, then she has the right to remain silent. He confirmed that she had come forward voluntarily and freely and was willing to testify.
During Friday’s testimony, according to The Advance News reporter who was in court that day, Mascorro first appeared mild-mannered, but was clearly upset by what had occurred. She testified that she was scared of both Garza and Patterson, and both had threatened her if she told anyone what she had witnessed. In fact, she said, that after Knell’s murder, she moved around a lot, staying in one place, then another. She didn’t want to stay with one of her daughters, she said (Monday, Oct. 23) because she was scared for both herself and her entire family.
As her testimony moved into this week, the mild-mannered woman had become defiant – there was still no question in her mind that Patterson and Garza were guilty of Knell’s murder. She was not only defiant Monday and Tuesday, but outright hostile toward Salinas during his cross-examination of her testimony.
All you do is twist things, she told Salinas, raising her head just a little to scoff at him. Asked about Knell’s missing money, Mascorro told Salinas, why don’t you ask your client about the money, she’s the one who knows.
Judge Gonzalez had to remind her repeatedly to only answer the questions asked of her. Do not, he said, add any additional comments to her answer.
She tried, but could never quite manage it, much to the chagrin of both Gonzalez and Salinas, who frequently lowered his head in frustration when the witness added additional comments to the question he had just asked of her.
“It’s a simple yes-and-no question,” Salinas would often say.
Clearly, Mascorro had trouble remembering exact dates. She freely admitted to it; but to one thing she held firm: She didn’t know Angel Mario Garza, so how could she have conspired with him to murder Knell; and Melissa Patterson was the cold-blooded killer who had masterminded Knell’s murder. So if Salinas wanted the real story as to what happened the morning of “Marty” Knell’s death, Jan. 28, 2015, he should be asking his client to fill in the details for him, not her.
“Non-responsive,” said Salinas. Numerous times.
In my opinion, Patterson’s defense team failed to discredit Mascorro’s testimony or sworn statement. Her memory may waiver with regard to certain things, she may come across as forgetful, but of one thing she was certain: The defendants on trial for the murder of “Marty” Knell are indeed guilty.
Whether the jury will agree with my assessment, who’s to say?
There is no doubt, however, at least in my opinion, that Mascorro’s three-day court testimony will play a key part in the jury’s ultimate Patterson verdict: Guilty; Not Guilty.
Tuesday’s court testimony ended with “Rick” Salinas showing Mascorro’s cell phone records to the jury, hoping it would call into question her testimony that she didn’t know Angel Mario Garza – she had only seen him briefly once or twice prior to the murder. In other words, the implication Salinas was trying to paint was that Mascorro and Garza were somehow in cahoots together to murder Knell. Patterson wasn’t the guilty party; Mascorro was, because she was after Knell’s money, part of which he kept hidden under his bed.
“I didn’t even know he had any (money in the house),” said Mascorro.
Salinas did his best to make her claim incredulous. You cleaned his house, he said, so how could you not know there was money under his bed?
“I never saw any money (in his home),” said Mascorro.
When asked by Salinas why her phone records indicated that she was the one who had first called Garza the night before Knell’s murder, when she had previously testified that it was Garza who had first called her, Mascorro said, basically: I don’t know; maybe Melissa did it. She’s capable of anything.
During Monday’s testimony, Mascorro proved that she was no longer intimidated by Monica Melissa (Palacio) Patterson. Her fear had turned to anger. Apparently, the murder defendant had made some sort of face concerning Mascorro’s testimony. She looked right at Patterson and said, “Is it funny? It’s not funny, Melissa.”
While Patterson waited with Mascorro in Knell’s garage the morning of his murder (criminal complaint), when Garza was inside murdering the victim, according to court testimony, Patterson said to her, “We had to put him to sleep because he was accusing you of stealing.”
Because of what she claims to have witnessed, and the fear she said she has lived with for the past approximate 33 months, Mascorro said she has been traumatized ever since. After all, she was very fond of Mr. Knell. Could he prove difficult at times? Yes. She’d grant the defense that. Would she ever think, however, of stealing from him or murdering him? No.
When Salinas tried to steer her testimony in another direction, away from Patterson’s involvement in the murder of Knell (grand jury indictment), Mascorro leaned back and looked at Salinas as if he were out of his mind:
“Talk to your client before you ask me,” she said. “You’re barking up the wrong tree. You’re not talking to (Melissa); you’re talking to Mascorro.”
Look for the entire Mascorro testimony next week.