Patterson Murder Trial, Oct. 4, 2017

Real murder trials nothing like TV

This is an opinion/observations column and not a straight news story, so please bear with me because with regard to the Monica Melissa (Palacios) Patterson capital murder trial, there are indeed some observations to be made.

If real-life capital murder trials were like their counterparts as portrayed on either TV or in most movies, the Patterson trial would be over by now. We wouldn’t be into week two with no real end yet in sight. The jury would have already declared her innocent or guilty, or the judge would have declared a mistrial (AKA, the 12 jurors couldn’t arrive at a unanimous verdict regarding her innocence or guilt).

Presumably, if a mistrial is declared in the Patterson case, the DA’s office will at least attempt a second go-around. After all, a defenseless 96-year-old WW II vet was indeed murdered Jan. 28, 2015, suffocated to death; someone did it; so in the court of public opinion, it would be tough for this county’s Criminal Defense Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez to simply say, “Case closed; we did all we could.” Not with two of his most seasoned prosecutors, Joseph Orendain and Cregg Thompson, having led the charge, so to speak, to gain a conviction.

Let the new jury selection begin, and perhaps a motion filed by the DA for a change of venue?

As opposed to TV or cinema, if one sits through a real-life capital murder trial, the reality soon becomes evident: it’s not all drama. In fact, day in and day out, court testimony bounces back and forth between boredom and, well, drama, with a little bit of in-between thrown into the mix. One could see the boredom side of it last week as one juror struggled to stay awake while long-winded, sometimes seeming irrelevant, banking transactions were being discussed.

In the movies or on TV, murder trials cut quickly to the chase. In real murder trials, it takes a lot longer to get from Point A to Point B. When faced with cross-examining witnesses called to the stand by the prosecution, defense attorneys have a tendency to ask the same question countless times in the seeming hope of eliciting a different answer from the witness, who is often hit with rapid-fire questions.

Laying aside the (purely subjective on my part) boring aspects of the trial so far, here is a partial list of the dramatic testimony delivered during the trial’s first seven days (Sept. 25 through Oct. 3) that hasn’t yet been fully covered in previous Advance News’ stories related to the Patterson capital murder trial:

  • • The Comfort House Board of Directors had absolutely no clue what the state of the hospice’s financials were during the better part of 2014 and 2015, prior to Patterson’s arrest in August of 2015. Each time the board would ask to see “the books,” she would offer some reason as to why bank records were not available. Even the board treasurer could never lay his hands on them. When he asked for online access to the bank records, Patterson never complied with his request.

  • • The same board had no clue that Patterson had opened a separate bank account about which board members knew nothing. The board had never agreed to it, and no board minutes should suggest otherwise.

  • • The same board didn’t know that Patterson was, according to testimony, using Comfort House money for her own personal use, which included a Vegas trip, a gym membership, car repairs, AC repairs at her home, ATM cash withdrawals, and at least $25,000+ to throw her son a high school graduation party.

  • • The Comfort House board of directors never approved those personal expenses.

  • • The Comfort House board didn’t know until the time of Patterson’s arrest that the hospice’s operating account had basically no money left in it. Turn out the lights.

  • • When the 2014 Fiscal Year audit was conducted for Comfort House, Patterson kept hidden from the auditor an entire bank account, about which the board knew nothing, as well as personal expense receipts.

  • • Previous Comfort House Board President Omar Guevara testified that according to an internal financial audit that he and his wife conducted after Patterson’s arrest, the murder defendant had spent more than $85,000 of hospice money on personal expenses without Comfort House board knowledge or consent.

  • • Despite knowing that hospice losses to its former executive director exceeded $85,000, without full board approval or even knowledge on the part of the entire board members, Guevara went to the Palacios family in the company of Board Member Dori Contreras (who currently sits on the 13th Court of Criminal Appeals and is now running for chief justice) and entered into a civil non-disclosure agreement. In exchange for a one-time payment from the Patterson family of only $70,000, the two parties would agree not to sue one another or make the settlement public. The settlement document was signed by Dori Contreras.

  • • Thus far during trial testimony, this was the first time that the Palacios family name has been mentioned. Patterson is the daughter of former Hidalgo County Precinct 2 Commissioner Hector “Tito” Palacios, who also served as San Juan mayor; daughter of former top PSJA Administrator Berta Palacios, who also has a school named in her honor; and sister to County Court-at-Law #2 Judge Jaime J. Palacios.

  • • During three trips Patterson took to the Chase Bank (the Neuhaus branch on 10th Street) in the company of murder victim “Marty” Knell during October of 2014, $400,000 in cash was withdrawn from Knell’s account. The cash was comprised of “bricks;” each tied with a “strap;” each “brick” comprised of $10,000 counted out in $100 bills. The money was deposited into a large canvas bag. The bank security guard walked them to the front entrance but could go no further, per bank policy. As testified to, the branch manager admitted that such large cash withdrawals were unusual, but he followed proper bank protocol before handing over the money.

  • • Patterson took one trip with Knell to the Chase branch he typically visited on Nolana for his bank transactions. His personal banker was not only his banker, per se, but also a personal family friend. She had known Knell’s wife, Penny, before she died in October 2014, and she had not only shared many a meal with the two of them, but had, in fact, spent one Christmas with the Knells after inviting them to her home to spend the holiday with her family. The first time she met Patterson, she felt uneasy. She thought it impolite of the murder defendant to speak to her in Spanish, knowing full well that Knell didn’t understand the language; and she didn’t think it proper to discuss how much money Knell had in his account at the time ($600,000) in front of a woman she had never met.

  • • The next time Knell’s personal banker saw her friend and customer, after the old vet had once again returned to his “regular branch” on Nolana, she was shocked to see $400,000 missing from his account. The $600,000 was now $200,000. When she asked him about it, he told her the missing money was in “a safe place,” but wouldn’t tell her where that “safe place” was.

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