By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
"The cops better catch those boys before the lesbians do," one of Tracey's friends said.
Six days before Christmas, three Hispanic teens were shoplifting Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger T-shirts from the Ross Dress For Less at Beltway 8 and Pasadena Boulevard. The boys created an escape route by kicking a hole in a nearby fence. When the boys saw Pasadena patrolman D.L. Speights, they scattered and ran. "Anytime a person runs from a police officer, they're running for a reason," Speights said. He called for reinforcements. Officer Regio Saldivar vaulted a six-foot fence and caught Robert Hidalgo; the keys to Tracey's Honda were in his pocket.
The license plates were switched, speakers added and Tracey's Green Bay Packers sticker had been scraped off the windshield, but the vehicle ID number was wanted by HPD homicide. Robert told officers he'd seen the car parked on the side of the road and was just driving it around. Robert has a long, thin face, doe eyes and straight black brows; Tracey immediately identified him as the driver. HPD Detective J.C. Bonaby told Robert it was over; Robert cried and gave a taped confession ratting out his best friend, Kevin Rivas. "The dummy told them everything," said Robert's court-appointed attorney, Cruz Cervantes. Cosme Ramirez, the other boy caught shoplifting, is Kevin's quasi-brother-in-law (Cosme's sister and Kevin have a baby). Cosme confirmed Robert's story and gave a sworn statement. A warrant was issued for Kevin's arrest.
Even with the boys in custody, Tracey stayed locked in her father's house. Protected by her parents, an alarm and five dogs, Tracey still didn't feel safe. Some nights she sat in the living room watching TV until 3 a.m., too scared to walk down the hall to her bedroom. She told her parents, "I'd sleep with one eye open, but I only got one eye."
Tracey's father and mother took off the rest of the year from work. After the new year, and Tracey's 32nd birthday, her mother worked half-days trading shifts with her father. Tracey didn't want to be alone. She was tired and dizzy and felt awful all the time; she couldn't stand in the shower or walk to the bathroom by herself. Since she couldn't open her good eye without her blind eye hurting, Tracey spent her days with her head down, eyes closed, listening to the TV.
Tracey lay on the couch, with a heating pad wrapped around her head and a Q-tip stuffed up her nose, which wouldn't stop running. Her shot-out eye hurt so bad that if someone touched her eyelashes, Tracey screamed. On January 6 Tracey checked into Hermann Hospital for an overnight operation, but stayed 16 days because the surgeon found a spinal fluid leak in her brain (which explained her runny nose and watery eye). If they hadn't patched it, she would have died.
Morphine, Demerol and Darvocet didn't kill the constant pain. "They could not give me enough drugs to make the pain go away," Tracey said. "I felt like I'd been in a prisoner-of-war camp."
The week before Robert's trial, Tracey dreamed spiders were crawling all over her as people tried to kill her. She slept with the light on and the door open.
In the courtroom June 2, Tracey held Robert's eyes for five seconds. "I was trying to look for any understanding; I was searching for something in his eyes," she said, but he broke her gaze and looked down. "It was bizarre seeing him with his head held down like a meek and mild little boy," Tracey said. "This kid was pure evil."
When a psychiatrist asked Robert the difference between right and wrong, Robert said it was a trick question. Robert failed both the first and sixth grades, he has an alcoholic father in El Paso, and his mother, Lucy Lechuga, is on probation for welfare fraud. His parents divorced 14 years ago; Robert lives with his mother in a battered blue trailer. His older brother, Eric, says Robert dresses like a "gang wanna-be" in big, loose clothes. As a freshman at Sam Rayburn High School, Robert's grades are 70s or below. Robert's a Broncos fan, loves the band Lil' Keke and spends most of his time playing PlayStation. He had just finished a community-service sentence for a curfew violation; he wants to be a probation officer. In juvenile jail Robert cried daily, couldn't sleep and tested positive for chlamydia. When a psychiatrist asked Robert to describe himself in three words, Robert couldn't think of anything to say.
In Robert's version of the story, he had a fight with his girlfriend (she caught him with another girlfriend) and was at her house apologizing when his homeboy dropped by. Kevin pressured him to ditch his woman and go cruising. For safety, Robert took the gun his mother keeps under her mattress. Robert says Kevin did all the shooting.
Robert's attorney's basic defense was that Robert is a teenager, and teenagers do stupid things. "A 16-year-old has mush for brains," Cervantes said. He said Robert is timid and like a daughter to his mother (he does the cooking, cleaning and laundry). Since Robert was sitting in the car with the radio on and the windows up, Cervantes said he didn't hear Tracey being shot and couldn't have stopped it. "The guy who's got the gun calls the shots," Cervantes said. But Robert could have called 911.