Judge denies motion for mistrial in Edinburg double homicide

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Gabriel Keith Escalante smiles with his attorney before the start of his murder trial in the 92nd state District court Monday, May 23, 2022 in Edinburg. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

The judge overseeing the trial of man accused of a brutal murder denied a request for a mistrial after allegations that a police officer’s use of the word mugshot would taint the jury and violate the defendant’s right to a fair trial.

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.

State District Judge Luis Singleterry on Wednesday afternoon excused the jury and told the parties he would issue his ruling Thursday morning.

The defense had warned the court about a witness with a history of misconduct on the stand, saying the witness often speaks out of line.

During Wednesday’s testimony, Edinburg Sgt. Joaquin Daniel Mendoza mentioned Escalante’s previous mugshot and prompted the defense to seek a mistrial.

State prosecutors argued that they weren’t aware of Mendoza’s history, saying that his use of the word mugshot wasn’t intentional and that the issue could be easily remedied if the court were to admonish Mendoza.

Mendoza denied ever being reprimanded before and said he was never spoken to by a judge for his conduct on the witness stand.

“It wasn’t intentional, sir,” Mendoza told Singleterry. “I apologize for causing issues.”

And while the judge didn’t declare a mistrial, the defense now has reason to appeal the case if Escalante were to be convicted, according to the judge.

Prosecutors also called Edinburg police officer Jose Francisco Ruiz to discuss a separate incident between Escalante and Alejandro. Ruiz took a statement from Alejandro prior to his death after Escalante allegedly “sucker punched” him. Attorneys argued it would be hearsay to use that report during the trial.

Ruiz testified that he responded to the Salinas residence the morning after Alejandro was assaulted and said Alejandro had a swollen, bruised right eye. He proved it by showing the jury the photos that he took of Alejandro’s injuries.

According to Ruiz, Escalante, who wanted to hang out, punched Alejandro after the man told him to leave the property because Olivia didn’t want him there.

The state also published surveillance video from an EZPAWN in Edinburg which showed Escalante arriving with Navejar and an unidentified male in Olivia’s 2014 GMC Sierra and pawning Alejandro’s power washer, which he used for his truck and trailer washing business, and a blender.

This happened the day before police found Alejandro and Olivia naked and dead.

Testimony will continue Tuesday afternoon.