UPDATED Trial Begins in "Satanic" Killing of 15-Year-Old Girl
Update: Jose Reyes was found guilty of capital murder and sentenced to life in prison, the Chron reports. The jury only took a little more than an hour to return the verdict, according to the Chron. Prosecutors used Reyes' jailhouse letters in closing arguments, quoting a passage about how Satan "was standing there" watching Reyes and another teen torture and kill 15-year-old Corriann Cervantes. "It's all good. It's what the devil asked for," Reyes wrote.
Hisel Reyes cried on the witness stand as she reluctantly testified that her brother told her how he and a friend tortured and killed 15-year-old Corriann Cervantes in a vacant Clear Lake apartment last February.
Jose Reyes, 18, has been charged with capital murder in the crime, although he is not facing the death penalty because he was 17 when the crime was committed. He and 16-year-old Victor Alas are charged in the sensational crime, which made headlines in part because Cervantes was found with an upside-down cross carved into her chest, and a similar cross was painted on a wall in her blood.
Under questioning by prosecutor John Jordan, Hisel at first said she didn't remember what Reyes told her on February 15, and she evaded another question by saying "I don't want to talk about it."
The jury learned that the brother and sister were close -- they had each other's name tattooed on their wrists. But Reyes watched without expression as his sister dabbed at her eyes and fidgeted in her chair, wearing a glassy stare he maintained all day. Occasionally, he would stare at the ceiling.
Finally, after Jordan asked, "Did he admit to killing a girl?" Hisel -- barely audible -- said "Yes."
But Reyes admitted to more than just murder, Jordan told the jury in his graphic opening statement. Jordan described how Reyes and Alas allegedly took Cervantes into a vacant apartment in the Bays apartment complex on El Camino Real, where they engaged in consensual sex. But after Reyes accused Cervantes of biting his penis, things took a turn: Reyes and Alas bludgeoned Cervantes' face with a porcelain toilet tank lid, so hard that it shattered and left her face unrecognizable, Jordan said. He also said Reyes told Alas to choke Cervantes with a belt.
Then, while Cervantes was begging for her life, the duo gouged her eye out with the hook end of a plastic rod pulled from the vertical blinds in an upstairs bedroom, Jordan said, adding that they then sodomized the girl with another blinds rod. Reyes then repeatedly stabbed her with a screwdriver and carved an upside-down cross in her chest and stomach.
When police arrested Reyes, they found similar crosses, pentagrams, and "666" carved into a bedside table, Jordan said. They also found a picture on Reyes' cell phone of the three teens having sex.
"Whether the devil was involved or not, it was certainly sadistic, inhumane, and this defendant is guilty of capital murder," Jordan told the jurors.
It's the "capital" part that Reyes' court-appointed attorneys, Bob Loper and Jerald Graber, are contesting. It's a desperate defense, and apparently the only one available, because Loper did not deny Reyes' participation in the murder in his opening statement.
What they're left with is disproving prosecutors' argument that Cervantes was killed in the course of a kidnapping and sexual assault. If found guilty of capital murder, Reyes would be automatically sentenced to life in prison. But if, for example, Reyes' lawyers can prove Reyes and Alas inserted the blinds-rods post-mortem, there was no sexual assault. That's what kind of trial this is.
"We can't escape from the cruel facts," Loper told jurors. "....This was a horrible murder of a young girl, and we're not going to shy away from that. We don't even take exception to much of the detail that [Jordan] gave you...."
Loper told the jurors that "It's a truly horrible case [with] truly horrible evidence....I want you to know: it's going to be bad."
The jury learned this firsthand when Jordan and co-prosecutor Martina Longoria introduced physical evidence, including gruesome crime scene photos. (The evidence was presented after a 40-minute delay, outside the presence of the jury, during which Garber argued that the crime scene video was "unbelievably prejudicial.")
HPD crime scene investigator Andrew Barr walked Jordan and the jury through the photos, which showed Cervantes' half-nude body laying on the floor, her face covered in blood. Longoria assisted in pulling pieces of the shattered toilet tank lid from police evidence bags so Jordan could show the jury. One of the pieces was coated with blood.
According to Barr, bloodstains on the walls, floor, and ceiling of a closet underneath the stairway of the two-story apartment pointed to that space being the origin of the "blood-letting event."
Reyes, who wore glasses and a lightly pinstriped white shirt with black pants, stared at the grisly photos without any sign of emotion.
Cervantes' body was discovered around 4 a.m. February 5 by a resident of the complex who testified that he went to the vacant apartment to smoke a joint. The 21-year-old, a friend of Cervantes', said he didn't recognize Cervantes because of the condition of her face. He said he summoned help from his neighbors, two brothers, who went to the apartment. One of the brothers testified that he felt for a pulse, but knew Cervantes was already dead because her skin was "ice-cold."
"She didn't have a face, from what I could see," Damian Sewell testified.
Sewell said he and his brother called police and allowed the 21-year-old to leave, because they thought he was not a legal citizen, something that Loper grilled Sewell on.
"You were concerned about him being an illegal alien, and you realized you were letting the person leave who'd at least claimed that he found the body, right?" Loper asked.
"Correct," Sewell said.
"You're not a police officer, are you?" Loper asked, following up with, "You didn't look him over head to foot, looking for blood, did you?"
The questioning might have made sense if Loper was going to allege that the man who found the body participated in the murder, but when the man took the stand, the best Loper could do was get the man to admit that he sometimes drank alcohol. (However, "alcohol" wasn't good enough for Loper -- he pressed the man on what kind of alcohol he liked. Again, it's that kind of trial.)
The trial is expected to conclude this week.