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Patterson Trial: One juror dismissed, Oct. 19, 2017

Defense Attorney Salinas goes head-to-head with Texas Ranger


EDINBURG – The 16 jurors (12 plus four alternates) learned Wednesday (Oct. 18) why there was no testimony the day before: one of their own was getting booted from the jury. Juror #2 was being replaced by alternate Juror # 1.

There was no court Tuesday morning because state District Judge Noe Gonzalez had to attend a funeral. His state District Court (the 370th) was supposed to reconvene at 1:30, during which Texas Ranger Robert Callaway would return to the witness stand from which he had stepped down at the end of Monday’s testimony. He had already started re-counting his criminal investigation into the murder of Martin “Marty” Knell, and more revelations were expected.

The entire afternoon (Oct. 17), however, was taken up with a “sensitive matter” as Gonzalez explained to the jury once it had reconvened Wednesday morning. The “sensitive matter” somehow flushed out whatever it was that led to the dismissal of Juror #2, but also involved interviewing one-by-one the remaining 15 jurors (11 plus four alternates) to make sure that no other juror has run afoul of the court’s initial instructions as laid down to them. Those instructions include: Don’t discuss Patterson’s case with anyone; don’t take any notice of media coverage of this trial; don’t look up past news coverage of this case; and don’t research cases similar to that of Patterson. Those are the basics. There are a few more.

After thanking the jurors for the patience they have exhibited so far as this capital murder case has now entered Week 4, Gonzalez reminded them how important their work is, and asked them to give no concern to the removal of Juror #2. In other words, pretend it didn’t happen.

Then the capital murder trial got down to business Wednesday, which included playing for the jury two phone calls that Callaway had covertly recorded between Knell’s former caregiver Celestina Mascorro and the accused murderess Melissa (Palacios) Patterson.

It took state prosecutors (assistant Hidalgo County criminal district attorneys Joseph Orendain and Cregg Thompson) some time to play them for the jury, however, because Patterson’s defense team dealt every legal card at its disposal to maintain their silence. One of their arguments was, if the jury doesn’t hear Patterson respond in a way they believe an innocent person would respond when Mascorro called her, basically accusing her knowing full well that Knell’s death wasn’t natural, jurors might consider that as evidence of guilt.

In the end, however, Judge Gonzalez ruled that the two phone calls could be played; but once the jury had reconvened, he instructed them to only consider the “context” of the taped phone conversations and not use them to judge the “truth” with regard to Mascorro’s claim: On the morning of Jan. 28, 2015, Patterson, along with the help of Angel Mario Garza, murdered 96-year-old “Marty” Knell inside his north-side McAllen home.

In both phone calls, the voice of Mascorro sounds clearly distraught and upset. Some of her statements to Patterson during those two phone conversations include the following:

“I’m not feeling good Melissa; what am I supposed to do? You put me in the middle (of this) and got me in trouble. What am I supposed to do?”

“What can I do to stop from feeling the way I do?”

“I need someone to talk to (because) I’m feeling so bad.”

“(You) don’t think I’m scared? (Our job) is to take care of elderly people; not hurt people.”

“How can I trust (to meet with you in person) and know that you’re not bringing Mario to do the same thing you did (with Mr. Knell)?”

At the end of the second phone call, recorded July 5, 2015, Mascorro agreed to meet with Patterson at a fast-food restaurant in Mercedes. Patterson asked if she could bring along her mother-in-law, to which Mascorro agreed. Patterson’s mother-in-law, by the way, a Cuban citizen, flew to Cuba several days after the arrest of both Patterson and Garza in late August of 2015 and hasn’t been seen since. Aqui no mas.

The face-to-face meet at the fast-food restaurant was also recorded, but the audio was of poor quality. At least with regard to those sitting in the gallery. The gist of that meet, however, was that Mascorro was mistaken about what she thought had gone down at Knell’s home Jan. 28, 2015, said Patterson. Nothing untoward had happened. The old guy had simply died of cardiac arrest, so why not just let the matter rest? Patterson was “proud” of the care she had provided Knell, she told Mascorro.

Then it came time to interview Texas Ranger Callaway. Apparently, Patterson’s lead defense attorney Ricardo “Rick” Salinas had a lot of questions for him, because without the work of the Ranger and Hidalgo County Sheriff Criminal Investigator Adam Palmer, and several other law-enforcement sources, Patterson might still be gainfully employed at the Comfort House.

Actually, that’s not entirely accurate.

After Knell’s death had been ruled death by natural causes (cardiac arrest) in late January 2015, and he was dead and buried, nothing seemed amiss at the Comfort House (McAllen hospice) where Patterson served as its chief administrator. Sure she was stealing money out from under the very nose of her board of directors (as testified to earlier in this trial by former board president Omar Guevara), but the board had no clue she was using hospice money to fly to Vegas with her former lover and part-time hospice employee, former San Juan City Commissioner “Eddie” Suarez. Nor did they know she had completely depleted its investment account (approximately $100,000), according to previous court testimony. Nor did they know she was using approximately $20,000 of hospice money to throw her son a lavish high school graduation party. Those expenses on the part of Patterson were just the tip of the iceberg, according to Guevara’s testimony.

After Patterson’s arrest, Guevara did his own internal audit, with the help of his wife, and estimated, based on receipts found in the accused murderess’s office, that Patterson’s personal expenses tied to the Comfort House were in excess of $85,000.

That’s not counting the Falcon International Bank account that she had opened (based on court testimony and documents submitted into evidence), about which her board knew nothing, nor did the CPA firm that did the 2014 fiscal year audit for Comfort House know of its existence.

At the time of Patterson’s arrest in late August 2015, the Comfort House’s main Compass Bank operating account was basically broke; and yet her board remained deaf, dumb, and blind.

“We trusted our (chief administrator to do the right thing),” said Guevara during his testimony.

Meaning, just because her board could never seem to get its hands on hospice financials, everything was still good. Patterson could be trusted.

There was one big problem, however: There was no more money to make Comfort House payroll or pay the utility bill, said Guevara. So if Patterson hadn’t been arrested, and her deceit uncovered in late August 2015, what would she have done? Who knows. There is, after all, according to court testimony, still approximately $250,000 missing from Knell’s estate. So perhaps she could have used some of the money she had stolen from the Comfort House (based on court testimony) and funneled it back into the hospice’s main operating bank account to make payroll and keep the lights alit.

What really kicked this murder investigation into gear, turning Knell’s (death by natural causes) into a murder investigation, was the fact that Celestina Mascorro approached law enforcement approximately a month after his burial, saying that she had a story to tell, which involved cold-blooded murder. Why she came forward hasn’t yet been made clear.

After an entire day’s testimony Wednesday, including the played audio tapes, Salinas and Callaway went head-to-head. Callaway’s testimony is expected to conclude today (Oct. 18). Look for that online story tomorrow, which will recount the Ranger’s testimony and Salinas’s attempts to discredit it.

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