Mardi Gras Crime Beat
Reuters Thursday published an article saying New Orleans’ rising murder rate has the city on the defensive just as it is gearing up for Mardi Gras and the height of the tourist season. The article repeats the statistics on murder and mayhem for 2011 and January which are very familiar to those of us who live here.
Not sure that Reuters really understands what Mardi Gras in New Orleans means to America and the World. It’s the ultimate free public party in America. Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the one stop party shop of the year,and it will be right back next year.
Generally the event itself is rather safe, though we’ve had a few parade route shootings over time and a few French Quarter gun pulls as well. However more than a million folks attend the entire Metro event over the season, and 99.999% report having a dream of a time.
So any rooms not booked due to an increasing murder rate will be booked by the next enthusiast. If they decide not to come, the next enthusiast will be happy to have that room.
The city’s homicide statistics are rising as the national rates are declining, and city officials don’t really know why. It notes Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s plan to adopt Chicago’s CeaseFire program as pilot program in February. Noting that the perpetrators and victims are generally young black men, the article quotes Tulane University criminologist Peter Scharf as saying the city has failed to come to grips with the drug war it has on its hands. “You have to deal with the vibrant dope economy and culture around these guys,” Scharf said. ” CeaseFire is fine, but that doesn’t replace the need for a plan.
UPDATE 9:15 p.m.
A Travis County jury has sentenced Martha Hernandez to 60 years in prison for murder in the killing of Christy Lynn Espinosa, whose body was found burning in eastern Travis County after she disappeared from a Sixth Street Mardi Gras celebration.
Hernandez, 27, will be eligible for parole after serving half that time.
Hernandez also received a 20-year term for tampering with evidence. The sentence will run concurrently.
Her husband, Kenneth Hernandez, faces murder and tampering with evidence charges in the case and is scheduled to be tried next month.
UPDATE 6:50 p.m.
Jurors in Martha Hernandez’s murder trial began deliberating a sentence at about 6:45 p.m. today after prosecutors implored them to issue a harsh punishment for the suffocation and burning of 21-year-old Christy Lynn Espinosa in 2009.
“She was an innocent victim that was out having a good time on Mardi Gras,” said prosecutor Amy Meredith. “She did nothing wrong to this defendant. She did nothing wrong to Kenneth Hernandez. She did not deserve what happened to her.
“If this is not a life case I don’t know what is,.” Meredith said.
Hernandez, who was convicted of murder and tampering with evidence earlier in the day, faces 5 years to life in prison.
Defense lawyer Alexander Calhoun asked the jury to consider that Hernandez “is a human being just like the rest of us.”
He noted that Hernandez has two young children who love her. Calhoun did not ask for a specific sentence.
“Only the 12 of you can figure out what the appropriate sentence is,” he said. “I am going to ask you to give her a fair sentence.”
UPDATE 6:02 p.m.
Christy Lynne Espinosa’s parents told a Travis County jury today that their daughter was a compassionate and giving person with a comedic streak whose loss has fractured their family.
“When you have a child, that’s the happiest day of your life and when you lose a child, it’s unbearable,” said her mother, Dianna Espinosa. “If you were having a bad day you no longer were going to have a bad day because of Christy. She wanted to make sure she was going to make your day brighter.”
The testimony of Dianna and Antonio Espinosa came during the sentencing trial for Martha Hernandez, who earlier in the day was convicted of murder and tampering with evidence in Espinosa’s death.
Espinosa, 21, was suffocated after she disappeared from a Mardi Gras celebration on Sixth Street in February 2009. Her body was found burning off rural Imperial Drive in eastern Travis County hours later.
Prosecutors said she was killed by Hernandez, 27, and her husband, Kenneth Hernandez, who will be tried on the same charges next month.
Hernandez could receive life in prison. The jury is expected to begin deliberating a sentence this evening.
The only witness called by Hernandez’s lawyers during the sentencing phase was Francisco Medina, Hernandez’s older brother. Medina, 31, said his sister was the youngest of four children born to their parents in Sabinas, Coahuila, which is about an hour’s drive south of the border at Eagle Pass.
He said their father died when Hernandez was about three years old and he and his sister came to the United States to live with their mother when Hernandez was about 5 years old. Medina said her mother remarried and their stepfather, who worked at a mattress factory and later as a security guard, helped raise them.
Medina said his sister eventually became an American citizen.
Medina said when his sister was about 15 she was raped by a cousin, who fled for Mexico. When she was in ninth grade, he said, Hernandez got pregnant and dropped out of Stephen F. Austin High School.
Medina said the family of four formed a band playing conjunto music and they traveled around Central Texas playing. Medina said his sister, who played drums and bass, quit that band after she married Kenneth Hernandez about five years ago.
On cross-examination, prosecutor John Hunt asked about the rape accusation, noting that the man accused was 18 at the time. Hunt asked Medina whether his sister “stated to the police that they just kind of started liking each other and that she didn’t use the term rape?”
Medina said he did not know.
Update 3:33 p.m. A jury has found Martha Hernandez guilty of murder and tampering with evidence in the February 2009 killing of 21-year-old Christy Lynne Espinosa, whose body was found burning in eastern Travis County after she disappeared from a Sixth Street Mardi Gras celebration.
Friends and family of Espinosa, a Crockett High School graduate who worked as a waitress at Applebee’s, wept after the decision was announced.
Hernandez faces up to life in prison at the sentencing phase of the trial, which will begin this afternoon.
Earlier: Prosecutors told a Travis County jury today that the truth will never be known about why 21-year-old Christy Lynne Espinosa was killed and set on fire following a 2009 Mardi Gras celebration on Sixth Street.
“We don’t have to prove why someone did what they did,” Assistant District Attorney Amy Meredith said during closing arguments of Martha Hernandez’s murder and tampering with evidence trial today.
What is clear, Meredith said, is that Hernandez is guilty of murder.
“She is absolutely guilty.”
The jury in state Distict Judge Bob Perkins’ court began deliberating at about noon.
In her argument, Meredith cited the evidence against Hernandez:
- Somebody who left with Espinosa the last time she was seen on Sixth Street, who could not be identified, gave Martha Hernandez’s old phone number to Espinosa’s boyfriend.
- Hernandez’s military dependant identification was found near Espinosa’s body
- Hernandez could not be excluded as a contributor to DNA found on Mardi Gras beads found near Espinosa’s body
- Hernandez told police that she put her hand over Espinosa’s mouth attempting to suffocate her while her husband drove them around that night. Hernandez said her husband ultimately killed Espinosa.
- Hernandez said she gave her husband, Kenneth Hernandez, a lighter that he used to set Espinosa’s body on fire.
Earlier, prosecutor John Hunt told the jury that under the Texas law of parties, the jury may find Hernandez guilty of either crime if they believe she committed the crimes herself or if she aided or attempted to aid Kenneth Hernandez in the crimes.
If convicted, Hernandez, 27, faces up to life in prison. Her husband, Kenneth Hernandez, 35, is also charged with murder and tampering with evidence and is scheduled for trial next month.
Defense lawyer Alex Calhoun told jurors that if they do not know what happened on Feb. 25, the morning Espinosa’s burning body was found on rural Imperial Drive, then they should acquit Hernandez.
“We don’t know can be reasonable doubt,” Calhoun said.
Calhoun argued that Martha Hernandez was under the control of her husband, who he described as an abusive and manipulative man.
“Control has been a theme that’s run through this case,” he said, describing Kenneth Hernandez as bigger than his wife, athletic and independent.
He also suggested that Martha Hernandez did not plan to kill anyone that night.
“If you are going to go out and you are going to plan to kill someone are you going to give that person’s boyfriend a number that would trace back to you,” he said.
Martha Hernandez told a Travis County sheriff’s detective that the couple ended up leaving the Sixth Street area with Espinosa after meeting her there and returning to their car so Kenneth Hernandez could smoke a cigarette.
They drove around drinking, and Martha Hernandez said at one point her husband said he wanted to have three-way sex with Christy, something Martha Hernandez said she refused to do. After that Kenneth Hernandez began to put his hand up Espinosa’s shirt and told his wife that he had given Espinosa’s Xanax earlier in the evening.
Soon Kenneth Hernandez became concerned that he would get in trouble, Martha Hernandez said, and at one point her husband told her to put her hand over Espinosa’s mouth and nose and stop her breathing. Martha Hernandez said that after she couldn’t follow through on the killing her husband put his hand over Espinosa’s mouth.
Calhoun said Martha Hernandez lacked intent to kill Espinosa, an element required for conviction. He said she was in a daze because of her husband’s abusive behavior and when she realized what she was doing she stopped and took her hands off of Espinosa’s face.
Meredith said the case is not about any domestic problems that may have occurred between Martha and Kenneth Hernandez.
“This is about this defendant and what she did to this victim,” Meredith said. “She committed a heinous, heinous crime … and she needs to be held accountable.”