DNA testing at issue in 1998 murder case

The two sides are battling as to whether U.S. District Judge Hilda Tagle ruled that a Brownsville man convicted of murder has the right to a new DNA testing in his case.

Ruben Gutierrez, 44, is on death row after he was found guilty in the 1998 stabbing and beating death of Escolastica Harrison. Gutierrez has repeatedly denied killing the woman and requested DNA testing be done.

Gutierrez’s attorney, Shawn Nolan, said in a statement earlier this week, “Last week the federal district court found that the Texas statute that guarantees testing of materials for DNA was unconstitutionally applied by Texas courts when they denied DNA testing in Ruben Gutierrez’s case. Yesterday (Tuesday), the State asked the Court to clarify its ruling so that they can file an immediate appeal. Mr. Gutierrez has continually asked for simple access to fingernail scrapings that can surely confirm the true identity of the person who committed this crime.”

However, Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz in statement said, “Contrary to the disingenuous statement of the attorneys for convicted murderer Ruben Gutierrez, Senior Federal District Judge Tagle did not order the State of Texas to test any DNA evidence from the murder case of Ms. Escolastica Harrison.

“What Judge Tagle did do recently, on March 23, 2021, is find the Texas Post Conviction DNA Statute (Ch. 64 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure) unconstitutional.”

According to a summary of incident statement on the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s website pertaining to Gutierrez’s case reads, “On September 5, 1998, in Brownsville, Texas, Gutierrez and two co-defendants entered the home office of an 85-year-old Hispanic female with the intent to rob her of the money she kept in a safe. The victim was struck repeatedly and stabbed multiple times in the head, causing her death. The subject and co-defendants fled the residence with a minimum of $56,000.”

Rene Garcia and Pedro Garza are listed as co-defendants in the case. Garcia, 44, received a life sentence. No information on Garza is available.

Saenz also stated, “Separate and apart from the dilatory tactics of Gutierrez, his case is not one that in which a DNA test is required or necessary. We know he did the crime. Ruben Gutierrez murdered Mrs. Harrison. He confessed; a co-defendant identified him as the organizer; he led the police to the money he stole from Mrs. Harrison; and, in the middle of his trial he threatened to murder then ADA Rebecca RuBane just like he murdered Mrs. Harrison.”

Prosecutors argued Gutierrez and two accomplices planned to rob Harrison of her savings, killing the woman when the theft didn’t go according to plan. Gutierrez has maintained his innocence, pursuing multiple appeals at the state and federal level seeking to have crime scene evidence tested for DNA.

Saenz added that the public should not lose sight of the real victim Mrs. Harrison. “She and her family deserve the justice that a jury has deemed appropriate. My office and the Texas Attorney General will continue to see that this justice is carried out.”

lmartinez@brownsvilleherald.com

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