Mistrial considered after Edinburg officer brings up mugshot in capital murder trial

Only have a minute? Listen instead
Gabriel Keith Escalante is moved to another chair before the start of his murder trial in the 92nd state District Court Monday, May 23, 2022, in Edinburg. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

EDINBURG – Wednesday’s testimony ended in uncertainty after a witness in a 2018 capital murder trial may have possibly “tainted” the jury during his testimony.

Gabriel Keith Escalante, 43, is accused of beating his friend, Alejandro Salinas, 53, to death and asphyxiating his friend’s mother, Olivia Salinas, 73, for money they would’ve received from a lawsuit settlement. He’s also accused of cleaning the scene of the crime with Clorox together with his girlfriend, Irene Navejar, 44.

Escalante and Navejar are charged with capital murder of multiple persons and tampering with evidence with intent to impair.

Both have pleaded not guilty.

Sgt. Joaquin Daniel Mendoza of the Edinburg Police Department, the last witness who testified Wednesday, used the word “mugshot” during his testimony in front of jurors, which the defense claims could potentially taint the image of the defendant in jurors’ minds.

Defense attorney O. Rene Flores told the court that Mendoza had been reprimanded in the past for speaking under his breath and answering things he shouldn’t.

“He has a record of talking too much,” Flores said.

State District Court Judge Luis Singleterry said he would decide whether it constituted a mistrial Thursday morning.

Mendoza testified he was ordered to investigate a possible second crime scene at Escalante’s last residence. When he arrived at the home, the officer found Escalante in the driver’s seat of Olivia’s 2014 GMC Sierra, which had been missing.

He testified that he recognized Escalante from a mugshot provided to him.

It was then that the defense objected and asked for a sidebar with the judge who then dismissed the jury for the day.

Testimony is scheduled to continue Thursday.