Patterson Murder Trial, Oct. 6, 2017
Today (Oct. 6), should be very, very interesting in the capital murder trial of former Comfort House Chief Administrator Monica Melissa Patterson if, as expected, former San Juan City Commissioner Heriberto “Eddie” Suarez is called to the witness stand to testify.
Suarez’s name has already surfaced during this trial. According to Patterson’s former gopher (go-for), Michael Merinos, who once worked under the supervision of the murder defendant as hospice caregiver and office assistant, the Comfort House previously had volunteers who would cut the grass. For free. They left, however, according to Merinos, after Patterson implemented some new policies.
Merinos was a witness for the prosecution who took the witness stand Wednesday (Oct. 4)
What sort of new policies?
For one thing, said Merinos, when the Comfort House volunteers showed up for morning volunteer duty, they could no longer have access to free morning coffee. Petty things like that, said Merinos, drove away at least three volunteers.
On deck, ready to take their place, said Merinos, stood “Eddie” Suarez who was a friend to Patterson. They graduated high school together, said Merinos.
Only one thing was different, said Merinos. Instead of cutting the grass for free, Patterson started paying Suarez to do it.
How did you feel about that? asked Assistant Criminal District Attorney Joseph Orendain.
“I was upset,” said Merinos. “I didn’t think it was right. We are a charity. So why are we paying someone to come in and cut the grass when we (previously had) volunteers to come in and cut the grass.”
Once Patterson was arrested and relieved of her duties at the hospice, said Merinos, the volunteers returned and the grass was once again cut for free.
Before getting into the real bomb-shell testimony delivered Wednesday by Michael Merinos (column will be posted online tomorrow), my thoughts and prayers this morning (Friday) go out to Pastor Max Grubb and his wife who must now find a way to work through the pain of her loss. Max died Thursday (Oct. 5) while in hospice care.
I say, “Max,” because I personally knew the man and grieve as well for the loss. If the world were filled with more people like him, the world would indeed be a better place. After he testified last Tuesday during the Patterson capital murder trial, grilled un-mercilessly (my opinion) by Patterson’s lead defense attorney, Ricardo “Rick” Salinas, Max Grubb entered hospice care. While on the stand, he said he thought he’d enter hospice the following week. Little did anyone know it would be the following day.
I first met the pastor of McAllen’s First Christian Church back in 2002 when he was one of the few clergy, if not the only one among the clerical ranks, who attended the anti-war rallies at McAllen’s Archer Park.
Even though U.S. former ally (Iraq/Iran war) and bad-guy Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9-11 (15 of the 19 hijackers were citizens of Saudi Arabia), Iraq was suddenly on our hit list. The real reasons for the war are still being debated.
While the rest of those who preached from the pulpit remained either silent about the Bush/Cheney plan to invade Iraq, or actively cheered on W’s efforts to attack, co-mingling the Christian Cross and the American flag in some grotesque fashion, Grubb took his bold anti-war stance, not caring if it cost him church members. Not sure if it did, since his church (Disciples of Christ) is considered among the more liberal denominations, but back then, even some libs were shouting, “Drop the bombs,” so who knows. In fact, approximately 40 percent of peace-loving U.S. House Democrats voted in favor of Bush’s Iraq War Resolution.
After talking to Max Grubb at Archer Park in late 2002/early 2003, I found him to be of such human interest that I went to his church in 2004 and interviewed him for a story. A delightful and interesting man was he. As mentioned in a previous column, after spending a career in business, he decided to enter seminary at the age of 69. So clearly, he was unique in his own right. At that age, most people are thinking retirement as opposed to undertaking a new challenge: three years spent at a seminary; not even sure if a church would hire a 72-year-old man to preach once his theological studies were complete.
This year, in the lead-up to the Patterson trial, a mutual friend called and said the pastor wanted to speak with me, and I was given his cell number. Over the course of approximately three phone conversations, maybe four, he repeatedly told me that he was dying, but was praying that he could at least last until the trial. He badly wanted to testify against Patterson because in his mind, there was no doubt that she was guilty of killing his friend, “Marty” Knell. Obviously, all of those conversations were off the record.
What bothered him the most, however, was that he knew that Patterson’s defense team was working to discredit him as a witness by portraying him as a greedy guy eager to get his hands on his friend’s million-dollar estate. “I loved Marty,” he said. “In fact, I turned down $100,000 from Max’s will that that Patterson woman had somehow convinced him to leave me. I think it was just an effort to somehow cover her tracks. I had (law enforcement) come and visit me. I said, ‘Sure, look over all of my finances,’ but they never found anything, because I had nothing to hide.”
Max never claimed to be an angel; had struggled with his own personal demons during his earlier years; but he had never stolen a dime from anyone; and for someone now attempting to malign his character was “just not right,” he said.
As a precaution, knowing that he had serious health issues, state prosecutors deposed Max earlier this year, just in case his death preceded this trial. Defense attorneys were present during the “depo.”
“Hopefully I can make it to the trial,” he said. “I’m doing everything I can to live long enough to take that witness stand in person so I can testify to everything I know about that woman.”
Last Tuesday, Grubb swore to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth and climbed into the witness box with an oxygen tank by his side, no less, to help facilitate his ability to breathe, considering that terminal lung problems were leading him to the grave. Salinas battered him with questions, forcing Prosecutor Orendain to rise from his chair multiple times to object to Salinas’s form of questioning.
“He’s badgering the witness, your honor,” said Orendain, referring to Salinas.
“Sustained,” said state District Court Judge Noe Gonzalez.
Despite being in a weakened state, Max still put up a fight, calling Salinas’s allegations that he was after Marty Knell’s money ludicrous. “You have a wild-eyed imagination, said Max.
So now, Max Grubb is no longer among the living, sad to say. He leaves behind his loving wife and many friends and admirers.
Max told me one time that he was worried about what would happen to his wife once he was gone. “We don’t have a lot of money,” he said. “I’m not like Melissa Patterson,” Max said. “But I sure want to be there for that trial. That’s what I’m praying for.”
His prayers were answered, but now he’s passed on, only nine days after taking the witness stand and being subjected to grueling cross-examination on the part of “Rick” Salinas, who did his best to portray Grubb as a greedy old money-grubber. Hopefully, the jury didn’t buy into that fiction.
For me, the truly sad part is, last week, a mutual friend called and said that the retired pastor (he preached his last sermon Sept. 24) wanted to talk to me. He had something about the murder case that he wanted to relate. So I called, but he was asleep at the hospice where he was living out his last days. I could stop by anytime, I was told. “If Max is asleep, just say something to him, and he’ll wake up.”
I had plans this Wednesday to stop and see him, but work got in the way. I figured I’d visit him either Thursday (didn’t work out) or today. At the time, I thought he had at the very least another few weeks left to live. In fact, some still held out hopes that he’d get better and could return home.
Late Thursday (Oct. 5), I found out that he had died. Sure, I regret that I missed the chance to hear what he wanted to tell me about Knell’s murder (Patterson remains innocent until proven guilty), but more importantly, I’m sad that I missed the chance to say good-bye to a great and stellar individual.
RIP, Max. Guys like you are hard to come by.
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