Texas Ranger testifies in Patterson trial

Woman who first “fingered” defendant was frightened and distraught

 

EDINBURG – It’s the start of Week 4 in the capital murder trial of Monica Melissa (Palacios) Patterson, and now state prosecutors are transitioning from Theft to Murder. The trial is indeed long, but grows more interesting by the day.

The Hidalgo County Grand Jury Indictment (2015) of Patterson contains four counts, three of which pertain to finances (theft and failure as a fiduciary) and one that pertains to the cold-blooded murder of a helpless 96-year-old man, Martin “Marty” Knell, recently widowed.

Based on her court demeanor thus far, the murder defendant shows little signs of worry or concern as she sits surrounded by her four high-profile defense attorneys; while a fifth, an appellate attorney, sits behind the “bar” typing out notes on her lap top, clickety-clack, presumably already working up Patterson’s motion to appeal should the jury find her guilty.

If she is found guilty of capital murder, she won’t be sentenced to death. Rather, she will spend life in prison with no chance of parole.

Texas Ranger Testifies

When Monica Melissa (Palacios) Patterson’s former Comfort House administrative/finance liaison, Michael Merinos, warned her that the woman she met at a Mercedes fast-food restaurant to discuss Knell’s death might be wearing a “wire,” well, turns out, he was right, she was, courtesy of the Texas Rangers working in a joint covert operation with the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department.

Why did Merinos think that the woman Patterson met might we wearing a wire? Prosecutors asked.

“I watch a lot of cop shows,” said Merinos.

Patterson’s former Comfort House employee testified under oath Oct. 4 that Patterson asked to speak with him privately in 2015, months after Knell’s Jan. 28, 2015 death, which at the time was still considered death by natural causes (cardiac arrest). After all, the WW II vet was well past the age of 90, suffering from chronic heart problems, so there was no reason at the time of his death to believe that his “passing” wasn’t the result of natural causes (cardiac arrest).

That all began to change, though, after Knell’s former caregiver, Celestina Mascorro, alerted local law enforcement approximately a month after his death that something far more sinister was afoot -- Patterson had murdered Knell, along with a guy she simply knew as “Mario.”

At the time, Patterson was paying Mascorro to help care for Knell. Based on the fact that the murder defendant was making approximately $40,000 at her hospice job, how she could manage to pay a caregiver to take care of Knell around the clock, who knows. If the money is tied to the theft of Comfort House money for which she stands accused, prosecutors have yet to link those payments.

The first meeting that Mascorro had with a Texas Ranger to tell her tale of (alleged) murder and deceit lasted approximately 10 hours, according to court testimony Monday by the same Ranger, Robert Callaway, with whom the caregiver first met. He described her demeanor during that first meeting as being visibly upset; frightened; and distraught.

Based on Mascorro’s story, Callaway met with the Hidalgo County Sheriff and entered into a cooperative murder investigation. One of the sheriff’s criminal investigators, Adam Palmer, was assigned to the case. The subsequent criminal investigation lasted approximately six months, and ultimately led to the Grand Jury Indictment of both Patterson and her alleged accomplice, Angel Mario Garza.

Garnering evidence to present to the county grand jury was no simple task, however, according to Callaway’s testimony Monday, which continued into Tuesday. Over the course of the approximate six-month investigation into Knell’s murder, more than 100 people were subpoenaed; and countless financial and legal documents were subpoenaed from banks, law firms, and businesses.

On top of that, investigators finally had to get a court order to exhume Knell’s body. Getting that accomplished took a lot of time and resources, said Callaway. Before they exhumed the body, however, arrest warrants were issued for both Garza and Patterson. Garza was considered a flight risk, said Callaway, if he discovered that Knell’s body was being exhumed. At the time, Garza already had a criminal record, and he was living in this country illegally. Fleeing into Mexico would presumably be no big problem.

Bits and pieces of the capital murder investigation were first made public Monday during Callaway’s court testimony. The investigators’ sole mission, according to the Texas Ranger? To prove or disprove the information provided to them by Celestina Mascorro. Nothing more; nothing less. The evidence trail should tell the story.

Some of Callaway’s testimony on Monday included the following:

  • • First step, to determine how much the Knell Estate was worth and whose name was on the victim’s bank accounts (Patterson’s).

  • • Investigators used Mascorro’s phone records and social media to ID who this “Mario” was exactly. Mascorro didn’t know his last name; but the guy who accompanied Patterson to Knell’s home the morning of his murder (while he was still alive) was indeed named “Mario,” said Mascorro. Once investigators had “Mario’s” full name, they were able to look into his criminal background and other personal pertinent information relevant to the case.

  • • Callaway and Palmer used a double-blind photo line-up and presented it to Mascorro to properly ID the man she claimed was with Patterson the morning of Knell’s murder. “Double-blind” meant that Palmer took five digital photos of people who resembled Mario and put them in individual sealed envelopes. The sixth envelope contained Garza’s photo. Callaway had no idea which envelope contained Garza’s photo, according to his court testimony. He simply numbered them one through six and drove to meet Mascorro in a parking lot near where she worked. After she had looked through each envelope, she correctly picked out Garza from the photo line-up. Seeing his picture caused her to become fearful and emotionally distraught, said the Ranger. “She was shaking.” It took her awhile to regain her composure, said Callaway.

  • • Once investigators had the cell numbers for Mascorro, Patterson, and Garza, they put them into a software analytical “tool,” which allowed them to place all three people at Knell’s home approximately an hour before Mascorro called 911 to report that “Marty” Knell wasn’t breathing.

  • • As previously reported in news stories published in The Advance, according to the criminal complaint, Mascorro said that Patterson had waited outside Knell’s residence the morning of Jan. 28, 2015, while Garza went inside and murdered him (Garza has already confessed to the murder, but subsequently pleaded not guilty). Patterson was the person who had told Garza to go inside and carry out the dirty deed, according to the criminal complaint. After Knell’s murder, Mascorro claimed that both Patterson and Garza (allegedly) threatened her if she ever told anyone about what she had witnessed.

  • • When first interviewed by Ranger Callaway, Patterson said that she had first arrived at Knell’s home around 9 a.m. after being alerted by the caregiver that Knell was no longer breathing. After the cell numbers were run through the analytical software system, however, investigators could place her at Knell’s home at approximately 8 a.m., said Callaway Monday while under oath.

  • • There is still approximately $250,000 missing from Knell’s bank accounts that has yet to be found.

  • • For Callaway, the phone records confirmed that what Mascorro had told him was the truth. “It led credibility in her favor,” he said Monday while on the witness stand.

  • • Callaway secretly recorded two conversations made by Mascorro. Both were made to Patterson. The calls to Patterson were to first discover her reaction to Mascorro mentioning Knell’s name, and then to set up a personal meeting with her.

  • • During the first recorded phone conversation with Patterson, Mascorro was visibly distraught simply speaking to the woman about “Marty” Knell. Patterson attempted to calm her down, and then made mention of Mascorro’s daughter, saying she had something she wanted to say about her. At that point, Mascorro became angry. During that phone conversation, Patterson didn’t admit or deny causing any harm to “Marty” Knell. The second recorded phone conversation was made by Mascorro to set up a personal meeting with Patterson. According to Callaway, he and Palmer took every caution to ensure Mascorro’s safety while she met with Patterson.

  • • During the fast-food sit-down face-to-face, Patterson said that, yes, she and Garza had been at Knell’s home around 8 a.m., but were simply there to work on his shower. That was the reason that Patterson had instructed Mascorro to wait outside in the garage. Apparently, Patterson didn’t want Mascorro to be bothered by the work. Callaway said during this meeting that, again, Patterson would neither confess or deny anything as it pertained to Knell’s death.

  • • Callaway had been in contact with Hidalgo County Chief Forensic Pathologist Norma Jean Farley through much of the investigation as it entered its latter stages and the decision to exhume Knell’s body had been determined. The autopsy wouldn’t be considered a “normal autopsy” because by the time the body was exhumed, approximately seven months had passed. Knell’s body was exhumed in late August of 2015; the autopsy completed; and he was re-interred the same day. By then, both Patterson and Garza were already in custody.

  • • Based on bank subpoenas, Callaway found that a lot of money had been transferred out of Knell’s accounts before he was murdered (Patterson and Garza remain innocent until proven guilty), and more money was transferred out of his bank accounts after his death.

  • • Subsequent to “Marty” Knell’s murder, a lot of his money was transferred to a new account under Melissa Patterson’s name.

  • • Gaining legal documents and office paperwork from Attorney Mark Talbot took some time and more subpoenas, said Callaway. After finally gaining access to them, however, the first thing that captured the Ranger’s attention was a phone message that had been written by Talbot’s secretary. The phone message said that Melissa Patterson had called, and she said she needed an appointment ASAP for a friend, “Marty” Knell, who needed a power of attorney drawn up. It was “immediate” and “urgent.”

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