Suspects in Mission child’s drive-by shooting death plead not guilty

Proceeding among first in-person arraignments for high-profile cases since pandemic

Four men stand in front of a judge Wednesday, June 16, 2021, on charges they were involved in a drive-by shooting which caused the death of a young girl. (Mark Reagan | mreagan@themonitor.com)

 

EDINBURG — Four men accused of participating in a drive-by shooting that left dead a 6-year-old girl appeared in court Wednesday and were arraigned on charges of capital murder of a child under 10 and murder.

Daniel Guzman listens to charges of murder, accused in the drive by shooting of a 6 year old girl in February in the 370th state District Court at Hidalgo County Courthouse on Wednesday, June 15, 2021, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

Alton residents Juan Roman Garcia, 44, Marco Antonio Chairez and Daniel Guzman, both 43, and 30-year-old Mission resident William Garcia pleaded not guilty to the charges levied in the two-count indictment.

The in-person arraignment is among the first high-profile cases to happen since the pandemic took hold in Hidalgo County in March 2020, when hearings were switched to video-conferencing.

Each of the men stood next to their attorney during the proceeding, but they were separated by plexiglass.

All of them were arrested by the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office between Feb. 24 and March 3 after being identified as suspects in a Feb. 23 shooting of a home in the 2400 block of Valencia Avenue in rural Mission.

In most arraignments, defense attorneys will waive the reading of the indictment and enter a not guilty plea on behalf of their client.

However, on Wednesday, because of the seriousness of the allegations and the potential consequences if convicted, each of the men’s attorneys asked Hope Palacios, chief of the DA’s Special Crimes Division, to read the indictments aloud.

This revealed the name of the girl, Yvonne A. Mireles, who was shot as she watched television in her home.

Marco Antonio Chairez listens to charges of murder, accused in the drive by shooting of a 6 year old girl in February in the 370th state District Court at Hidalgo County Courthouse on Wednesday, June 15, 2021, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office said after the men’s arrest that they would not identify the girl, and efforts to learn her identity through public information requests were unsuccessful because of adverse Texas Attorney General rulings against the newspaper.

The indictment against the men is also not available publicly in online court records.

The Monitor also sought to learn more about the specific allegations against the men through public information requests, but those efforts also met roadblocks because of the same attorney general rulings.

Wednesday’s proceeding provided a few new details into the allegations.

Initially, the sheriff’s office only said that the shooting was precipitated by a neighborhood altercation.

During the arraignment, Palacios revealed that Chairez had a verbal altercation with the girl’s family before the shooting. The details of that verbal altercation were not disclosed.

The hearing also confirmed a statement made by Guzman to investigators after his arrest.

Juan Ramon Garcia listens to charges of murder, accused in the drive by shooting of a 6 year old girl in February in the 370th state District Court at Hidalgo County Courthouse on Wednesday, June 15, 2021, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

“Daniel stated he saw Marco Antonio Chairez exit the vehicle and shoot at the residence with a firearm,” an affidavit for Chairez’s arrest states.

While briefly detailing the allegations in the indictment, Palacios also alleged Chairez was the shooter.

During bond hearings following the arraignments, defense attorneys representing Guzman and Juan Ramon Garcia both noted that they are not accused of being the shooters.

Guzman told investigators he went to the home with Chairez as “back up,” according to the affidavit for his arrest.

As for Juan Ramon Garcia, aside from him not being a shooter, it’s not immediately clear what role he’s accused of aside from participating.

It is also unclear what William Garcia’s alleged role is or whether investigators are accusing him of pulling a trigger.

The Monitor was unable to obtain his probable cause affidavit because of an adverse attorney general ruling, and Palacios, the prosecutor, did not disclose that Wednesday.

William Garcia listens to charges of murder, accused in the drive by shooting of a 6 year old girl in February in the 370th state District Court at Hidalgo County Courthouse on Wednesday, June 15, 2021, in Edinburg. (Joel Martinez | jmartinez@themonitor.com)

The newspaper was also unable to obtain Juan Ramon Garcia’s probable cause affidavit and investigators with the sheriff’s office have not publicly disclosed any of the alleged roles for any of the suspects.

Regardless of role, under Texas’ Law of Parties, they can all be charged with capital murder if investigators allege they played some role in the shooting — even if they didn’t actually shoot.

Additionally, Palacios described Chairez as a habitual offender, which resulted in enhancements in his indictment that could impact sentencing upon a conviction, and District Judge Noe Gonzalez noted that Chairez has been through his court before.

Guzman’s indictment was also enhanced because of previous convictions for previous federal convictions.

Neither Juan Ramon Garcia nor William Garcia have any criminal history.

Chairez remained jailed Wednesday on $1,100,000 in bonds, while Juan Ramon Garcia had $1,025,000 in bonds. Guzman was being held on $575,000 in bonds, while William Garcia had $125,000 in bonds.

If convicted of capital murder of a person under 10, the men could face the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

Palacios said she was not yet ready to announce whether she would seek the death penalty if the men are convicted.

If convicted of murder, the men face five to 99 years in prison or life.

If the DA’s office does seek death, it doesn’t necessarily have to be against all of the suspects, and Gonzalez, the judge, said each suspect would likely be tried separately.