Patterson Murder Trial, Oct. 27, 2017

Questions remain about hospice board


EDINBURG – Hundreds of thousands of dollars in missing money belonging to murder victim 96-year-old “Marty” Knell, a large amount of it transferred to a bank account belonging to murder defendant Monica Melissa (Palacios) Patterson?

Multiple early morning cell phone calls between Patterson and former San Juan City Commissioner Heriberto “Eddie” Suarez, her married illicit lover, the morning of Knell’s murder Jan. 28, 2015?

A secretive $70,000 civil agreement/settlement made between Patterson and the Comfort House after her August 2015 arrest for murder, even though the majority of the hospice board of directors knew nothing about it?

According to court testimony delivered Thursday in the capital murder trial of Monica Melissa (Palacios) Patterson, she and her family paid back $70k to the hospice based on allegations that she stole money from it even though Board President Omar Guevara testified earlier in this capital murder trial that the stolen money exceeded the $70k. This, based on an internal audit he and his wife had conducted following Patterson’s arrest in August of 2015. Guevara testified that he went to the Palacios home in the company of CH Board Member (Judge) Dori Contreras to work out the settlement agreement.

Within the civil settlement was a clause that Patterson was waiving HER RIGHT to sue the hospice and vice versa. Attorney Ray Thomas drafted the settlement agreement and helped oversee its execution, according to court testimony. A lot of things about this trial have proven odd, which would include the fact that now Contreras and Thomas are running against one another for the chief justice seat on the 13th Court of Appeals.

For those who have been following this long-winded capital murder/theft trial, they already know that Patterson, 50, is facing life in prison with no chance of parole if she is found guilty of capital murder. According to court testimony, just prior to Knell’s murder, he was demanding that Patterson remove her name from his last Will and Testament and Durable Power of Attorney that granted her access to his approximate $1 million estate (money, stocks, and real estate).

Motive, means, and opportunity. The state claims that Patterson was the only suspect (person of interest) in Knell’s murder to hold in hand the trifecta.

The illegal immigrant and convicted drug felon Angel Mario Garza, accused of playing the part of Patterson’s murder accomplice, has already confessed to taking part in the homicide. In his confession, however, Garza claims that he held down Knell while Patterson was the one who actually smothered the victim to death by placing a plastic bag over his head.

Garza has been locked up in the Hidalgo County jail since he was arrested Aug. 25, 2015, unable to post bond. Patterson, meanwhile, has remained free on bond (approximately $700,000), despite several attempts by the DA’s office to have her bond revoked, citing numerous alleged violations of its conditions.

Besides the capital murder charge, three other felony counts were handed to Patterson by an Hidalgo County grand jury, which involve theft and misapplication as a fiduciary while she worked as the nonprofit Comfort House’s chief administrator between late December 2013 and the date of her arrest, Aug. 26, 2015. The two theft charges are tied to the grand jury indictment that claims Patterson stole money from both Knell and the Comfort House. The fiduciary charge is tied to her work at the hospice.

Some of that news has already been admitted into evidence (testimony and bank records). This week, however, Hidalgo County Sheriff Investigator Adam Palmer laid it all out in more detailed fashion for the jury.

The criminal investigation into the four felony counts for which Patterson stands accused was a joint effort between the Sheriff’s Department and the Texas Rangers. As a team, Palmer and lead Texas Ranger Robert Callaway worked the investigation, which took approximately six months before they had collected enough evidence to present to District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez, after which his staff presented it to a grand jury that subsequently indicted Patterson and charged her with the capital murder of “Marty” Knell. The motive: Money.

Garza was also indicted on the charge of capital murder. Unlike Patterson, however, he has yet to strike a plea deal with the DA as did his accused accomplice: life in prison without any chance of parole in exchange for not having to face the death penalty.

The theft/fiduciary three felony counts came courtesy of a county grand jury indictment handed down in February of 2016 after Palmer and Callaway were finally able to gain access (via subpoenas, search warrants) into the inner workings of all of the financials, bank records, personal receipts, phone records, business invoices, legal documents, etc., tied to Patterson, “Marty” Knell, the Comfort House, and multiple other parties.

Board Member Problems

As previously reported, the Patterson/Knell case is two-fold: Criminal and Civil. So far, it’s the criminal side of it that has taken up the past five weeks. After it is concluded (hopefully next) week, the civil process is expected to begin. The Knell Estate is suing Patterson and the Comfort House, claiming she has no right to the murder victim’s approximate $1 million estate (or what’s left of it). The lawsuit also claims that the Comfort House Board of Directors was negligent in not only hiring Patterson sans a background check, but also allowing her to continue working despite multiple warnings that she was improperly performing her job as hospice executive administrator.

Earlier this year, Patterson’s attorney working the civil case wanted the probate judge to grant her motion that the state’s key witness, Knell’s former caregiver Celestina Mascorro, be deposed. It was urgent that the deposition take place ahorita (right now). There have already been too many postponements, she said.

Meaning, Mascorro would presumably be sitting at a table in close proximity to Monica Melissa (Palacios) Patterson while the “depo” was underway, knowing that she was going to have to testify that the former Comfort House administrator had murdered Knell.

Patterson lost that round when Hidalgo County Probate Judge Homero Garza ruled that the civil case could wait until the criminal trial had concluded. In other words, said Garza, there is no need to push the civil case in front of the criminal trial.

Called by the state to the witness stand this week, current Comfort House Board Member Margarito Trujillo said he felt betrayed after being shown the $70,000 settlement. He had asked to see it after he first found out about its existence (following Patterson’s arrest), but was never granted the courtesy, and now he should be held personally liable for the actions of the hospice for which he served on a voluntary basis?

In the first Affirmative Claim made by the Knell Estate in April of 2015, Patterson was listed as the sole defendant. The law firm of Atlas & Hall was the estate’s legal representative and has remained on board ever since.

In January of 2017, the Affirmative Claim was amended to include Comfort House Inc. and its board of directors.

According to court testimony, Guevara and Contreras settled with Palacios and her family without running the $70,000 settlement by Comfort House’s full board of directors. There has not been any court testimony yet to indicate that the two even had a board quorum in place to sign off on the legal settlement. In earlier court testimony, even the former board treasurer, Paul Garcia, said he wasn’t aware that Comfort House had settled anything with Melissa (Palacios) Patterson.

Trujillo testified that he was always questioning why the board was not getting access to hospice financials while Patterson served as chief administrator. He testified that the appellate judge and Comfort House director, Dori Contreras, was always making up excuses for Patterson’s failure to produce the financials. “(Dori) would admonish me,” said Trujillo, “and tell me to just go with the flow.”

He testified that he had no clue that Patterson had opened a secret bank account at Falcon International Bank, had no clue that she was using Comfort House money to fly to Vegas, had no clue about any financial malfeasance on her part, including the approximately $20,000 in Comfort House money she used to pay for her son’s high school graduation party (based on court evidence), and yet, the Knell Estate is including him in its lawsuit? Why, Trujillo asked.

Currently, said Margarito Trujillo, Comfort House is very much in need of money. Before Patterson arrived on the scene, he said, the board was always kept in the loop about the current state of finances, expenditures, income, but not after the murder defendant was hired. After that, he said, things began to change.

At first, he got along with Patterson, he said, but approximately seven months after she was hired, he showed up at the hospice one day to find no one in the front office, so he went to the back to ask the caregivers why no administrator was on hand. They didn’t know, he said. Later, according to Trujillo, Patterson called him and wanted to know why he was questioning her caregivers. He told her that as a board member, he had that right. According to Trujillo’s testimony, Patterson told him if he kept it up, she’d make sure he got booted off the board.

It was after that, he said, that his weekly visits to the hospice came to an end because he no longer felt comfortable going.

The cross-examination of Trujillo last week came courtesy of “Rick” Salinas, who tried to paint Patterson as someone who was good at bringing in new donors, good for the Comfort House, and without policies and procedures in place, there was no clear way for the murder defendant to know for what she could and could not spend Comfort House money.

According to Trujillo, Dori Contreras resigned from the Comfort House board a mere two weeks before the Knell Estate lawsuit was filed.

Trujillo also testified that he had never seen any board minutes authorizing Patterson to open the Falcon Bank account.

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