SAN ANTONIO – Attorneys for disgraced ex-Bexar County constable Michelle Barrientes Vela argued in court Wednesday that she is entitled to a new trial following flubbed testimony from a Texas Ranger and jurors sleeping or coughing during key moments of last year’s proceedings.
Barrientes Vela was sentenced to five years probation and 90 days in jail in early January, months after being convicted of tampering with security payment logs at a West Side park.
Wednesday’s hearing, which lasted slightly over an hour, was granted by Judge Velia Meza after attorneys for Barrientes Vela filed a formal motion for a new trial in early February.
The testimony of defense attorney Jasmin Olguin focused on observations she made in the courtroom during Barrientes Vela’s trial.
Olguin testified that jurors were “taken aback” when Texas Ranger Bradley Freeman said on the witness stand in late August that he believed Barrientes Vela had committed official oppression.
Although the former constable faced multiple counts of official oppression, they were not included in the evidence portion of her felony tampering with records trial and were off-limits for attorneys and witnesses to discuss, per an order from Meza.
Freeman’s utterance of the phrase nearly caused Meza to declare a mistrial and eventually led her late last year to hold Freeman in contempt of court.
“The jury was 100% paying attention and were shocked,” Olguin testified.
Freeman’s contempt case is scheduled to be back in court late this month and his misstep is likely to play a key role in Barrientes Vela’s appeal, should she not be granted a new trial.
Meza took issue with additional testimony from Olguin that focused on accusations that one juror’s persistent cough made it difficult for fellow jurors to hear important evidence.
The judge pointed out that defense attorneys for Barrientes Vela failed to object to the coughing during the trial.
After Olguin leveled a separate allegation that a different juror was sleeping on and off throughout the trial, Meza again interrupted her and asked how she knew the person was actually asleep.
An attorney for Barrientes Vela also argued that a large number of armed Bexar County District Attorney’s Office investigators seated in the gallery during the trial gave off the false impression that the ex-constable was a dangerous defendant.
The deadline for Meza to issue a ruling is March 20. She could also allow the motion to expire without issuing a ruling.