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JURY GIVES LIFE SENTENCE WITHOUT PAROLE IN MURDER OF LOCAL STORE OWNER

photo-of-samShamsuddin Sadruddin was the owner of the Z.P. Mart located on SH 105 at Walker Road. To his hundreds of friends, he was known as “Sam”. For years he catered to residents in the area and many travelers passing through. He was loved by all. If “Sam” had collected all the money people owed him over the year’s he would probably be a millionaire. Sam had a heart of gold. It wasn’t uncommon for a customer to come in needing gas but not having money. As usual Sam would give them some gas to get to get to their destination with a promise he would be paid later. Some he would just say go ahead and get it. It was the same for groceries, cigarettes or anything else in the store. Friends who were customers a dollar short, or down on their luck. Sam was always there with the smile and the generosity. One small child would come in on a regular basis and Sam would tell him to get him some candy. “I want this one and this one and this one”, the little boy would tell him. One longtime customer said, “when you have a community which everyone calls full of “Rednecks”, you know Sam was special since he was accepted by all in the community.” Many local adults have memories of visiting the store in their childhood, claiming that when their parents would not let them buy candy, Sam would give it to them free of cost.

That all ended the night of March 24, 2014 when two thugs walked in and within less than a minute robbed him and shot him twice, killing him. Two customers were in the back of the store at the time. One heard the shot, looked up as Sam was falling. Montgomery County Hospital District paramedics arrived but it was too late, Sam was gone.

One of those customers, Jack Smith, owner of Jack’s Barbeque on SH 105 just down the street from Sam’s Store. Each night Smith makes his trek to Sam’s and spends several hours on the machines. Monday night he had just been there a short time another woman was also there playing the machines in the back of the store.

It was just before 9:30 and within minutes of Jack arriving that he heard the familiar cow bell on the front door ring one time. Then a male’s voice saying. “Give me your money bitch.” Smith explained he really didn’t take note of that as many people walked in and joked with their friend and store owner Sam Sadruddin the same way. Comments like give me your money were not that uncommon. What was different was instead of Sam’s laugh a shot was fired. Jack looked up from the back of the store to see Sam standing with his hands partially spread and a strange look on his face. Then another shot and Sam went down.

Smith concealed himself behind a beer display, as the woman next to him hid herself under the machine. Smith called to her for her cellphone and called 911. “It was within forty-five seconds the first unit arrived. A Montgomery County Sheriff’s Patrol unit had been just across the street less than five minutes before and was just east of the location.

Due to the displays between the front of the store and the back of the store neither person was able to see the shooters. It is believed there were two suspects that then fled on foot toward the rear of the store and vanished into darkness.

As detectives arrived a search was started for at least one Hispanic male who fled the scene. No vehicle was seen so a search of the neighborhood behind Sam’s Store was done. Montgomery County District Attorney Bret Ligon responded to the scene and he too worked with detectives through the night. Customers and friends gathers outside the crime scene tape, most in disbelief, many in tears.

The following night a candle light vigil was held in front of Sam’s Store, with over 300 in attendance. The front of the store was covered in flowers, candles and hand written messages from hundreds of friends. Sam’s son Sunny addressed the crowd telling them he may be an 18-year-old boy but tomorrow he will be a man and take care of his family the way his father did. He told of his younger days of coming to the store with his dad and playing with the frogs out behind the store. Eating too much candy as he sat in the back of the store. He also commented on how when his dad came over from India he had nothing. but gave his son everything. “What does a boy say the day his father dies, what does a boy say for his father, because today I’m not the man my dad raised, but I am a boy without a father.” Sunny continued, “you know my dad was from India, but he sounded like a cowboy, the way he talked, he talked like all of you, I listen to you guys and I hear my father.” Sunny said, “I know when I ever I miss my father I will come back and talk to any of you and I’ll break down because that’s my dad coming out of all of you.” That was not the first time he spoke openly. It showed again when he faced his father’s killer after the jury convicted him.

On Thursday, March 27, 2014 Sam was buried. The South Park Funeral Home on North Main in Pearland counted just short of three thousand people at the service. With the cemetery on the same property, the parking lot spilled out onto every roadway there was in the memorial park with many having to walk long distances to the service.

Once inside it was standing room only with screens showing the service in several different rooms.

The service ended with the traditional carrying of the casket to the gravesite. Men lined up over the quarter mile path each taking a turn to carry Sam on their shoulders to his final resting place.

As this was going on, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office detectives poured over the area running on any tip they had, no matter how small. Still empty handed they have not let up. Many of the detectives and patrol deputies knew Sam as they also patronized his business which has been there close to thirteen years. Even though Sam was from India, everyone swore he talked like a cowboy.

Detectives did locate video from neighboring businesses showing two individuals approaching the store from South Walker Road and then leaving the same way. Some clothes in the woods a short distance away on Walker Road. This included two pair of jeans, two shirts, a beanie and an Astros cap, a bandana and a belt.

A break came a few days later. First a 13-year-old student at Moorehead Junior High, Michael Hernandez had become good friends with his CISD bus driver. He sat directly behind her on the bus and confided in her. Two days after the murder he began asking her if she had heard about the murder. He had been a good kid and never gave her a problem. The teen had already been in the juvenile court system for quite some time prior to the shooting. In November 2013, in another publicized case, he stole a Mustang and the next afternoon led police on a chase that started near the intersection of Drowsy Pine and Hilltop. With three occupants in the vehicle, he sped down Highline Drive to Crockett Martin then up to SH 105, at which time DPS joined in the pursuit. The vehicle reached speeds of close to 80 mph before overheating and shutting down at the Community Center in Security.

Michael finally opened up more and told her that he knew who was responsible for the robbery and shooting but didn’t want to rat a friend out. The following day he again talked with her and said, “I want to tell you what I did two weeks ago but I don’t want you to be mad at me”.

The next day, four days after Sam was killed Michael told his bus driver he had been the lookout for the robbery and murder. He told her what they wore and many details of the incident. Later that day she called the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office with the information. It just so happened that about the same time Rebecca Gutierrez, the mother of 19-year-old Joseph Gutierrez came to the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office. She, her husband and pastor talked with detectives. She told the detectives that for the past several nights after she heard about the murder she had lost sleep. She had a feeling her son Joseph was somehow involved. For several days he had spent more time with her which seemed abnormal. He kept looking up news stories on the internet about the murder on Montgomery County Police Reporter.

She was able to identify one of the hats detectives found as her other son.

Knowing Michael was on probation detectives went to Montgomery County Probation and were able to locate the GPS logs from Michael’s ankle monitor. It showed them exactly where he was at and at what time. It showed him at the store, it showed his approach track and departure track from the store.

Detectives arrested both. Michael, being a juvenile was processed through the Montgomery County Attorney’s Office. J.D Lambright wanted to make sure justice was served for the death of Sam and on April 24, 2014 Michael was charged with capital murder.

Then on May 6, 2014, prosecutor Marc Brumberger with the Montgomery County Attorney’s Office presented a petition for capital murder against the juvenile to the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury approved the petition, which authorized the County Attorney to seek a determinate sentence against this juvenile.”

According to Lambright, “Because the juvenile was below the age of 14, he was not eligible to be certified as an adult to stand trial in criminal court. By obtaining Grand Jury approval to pursue a determinate sentence, it made him eligible for a sentence of up to 40 years in the Juvenile Court.” Lambright further explained that, “the child will begin serving his time in the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, which used to be called the Texas Youth Commission. Then, at some point prior to his 19th birthday, the Juvenile Court will determine whether he should be discharged, released onto parole, or made to continue serving out the remainder of his sentence in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.”

J.D. Lambright and prosecutor Marc Brumberger, along with detectives worked with Michael Hernandez. In May of 2014, Judge Suzanne Stovall of the 221st state District Court, was sitting in for Judge Stewart on Thursday and asked three times for confirmation the plea agreement would reduce the sentence to 15 years. Judge Stovall finally said she would approve it “against her better judgment.”

Lambright said there were reasons for what some will consider a very light sentence and it was agreed upon by his office, the District Attorney’s Office, and the family’s spokesperson.

According to Lambright, as part of the plea agreement, the teen is cooperating and assisting in the prosecution of the second suspect and triggerman, 19-year-old Joseph Raziel Gutierrez.

“Without the cooperation and testimony of the 13 year-old, it would be a very difficult case against the 19-year-old,” he said. “The worst could happen, and suddenly the 19-year-old could walk away – and I don’t think anybody would want that.

Joseph Raziel Gutierrez, was offered a plea deal last year by the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office. The offer was life in prison for capital murder. On a 40 -year sentence, Gutierrez could have been eligible for parole in 20 years. Gutierrez and his attorney turned the deal down and requested a trial by jury.

Last Monday, January 11 with jury selection complete the trial began in the 221st District Court with Judge Lisa Michalk presiding. District Attorney Bret Ligon and First Assistant District Attorney Phil Grant put their faith in a three -woman team. The three prosecutors Sheri Culberson, Shanna Redwine and Monica Cooper.

During the weeklong trial many took the stand. Not just Jack Smith who was in the store at the time of the murder, but also Rebecca Gutierrez, the mother of the shooter who said she didn’t want to be there but the state issued a subpoena to put her on the stand.

Several detectives also testified in the case. They told of the clothes being found in the woods and a pair of pants with six shotgun shells in it. They showed the jury video from a security camera of two people walking up Walker Road to the store and seconds later running back the same way. They also described, how using forensics, they were able to recover internet history on the Gutierrez computer and that within 30 minutes of the shooting and robbery they had already logged into Montgomery County Police Reporter several times to see if there was any news on the incident.

The most time on the stand was Michael Hernandez, now 14-years-old and still in custody. Michael told how he was a “Peewee” member of the Latin Kings Gang. A well organized gang which has a large presence in the Deerwood Subdivision off Crockett Martin where both boys lived. He testified Gutierrez was not a Latin King but hung with several others who were.

Hernandez described how on the night of the shooting they had a double barrel shotgun, they walked the trails from Highline Road to Old 105 and to Walker Road. At one point they had to hide in the woods as a vehicle approached. They continued to the store. Wearing a pair of clothes over the clothes they already had on they got up to Sam’s store and hid behind the dumpster. Gutierrez handed Michael some shotgun shells and told him, to wipe them down. Michael described how he did this with his sleeves over his hands, using the sleeves as gloves. They then made their way to the store. Gutierrez, with gloves opened the door and went in with the shotgun, Hernandez was to be the lookout. He held the door with his foot and elbow. They did not see the two witnesses in the back of the store. Hernandez said Gutierrez then yelled at Sam, “give me the F**kin money, he then screamed it again and louder. As Hernandez looked outside to see a white SUV pass he heard a shot, he turned his attention back to Gutierrez who then reached over the counter and shot Sam as he lay there.

Hernandez then testified they ran out the door and down the street. At one point they needed to stop as Hernandez was having a panic attack. They ran into the woods and took the outer layer of clothes off, leaving them behind. They then ran to Old 105 and west to Weir Road and across the dirt trail to Highline Drive. At first they went to another gang member’s RV, “Stretch” he was called. From there he went home.

DNA experts were called in to testify on the DNA found on the clothes. They told of the possibility of some of the DNA found on some of the items as 1 in 6 sextillion, that is 1 in 6,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 chance of it being someone else’s DNA.

At one point after the testimony of the CISD bus driver who Hernandez confided in, Gutierrez attorney Gerald Bourque stood up and asked her if she knew who the Latin Kings were and commented about how they could harm people going against them. He then sat back down. Many in the courtroom took it as intimidation.

On closing Gerald Bourque tried to sway the jury by telling them Hernandez already pled to the capital murder and it was he an “Stretch” who did it. That they drove to the scene and robbed and shot Sam. The jury saw right through it as they had been shown the GPS track along with times that verified the Hernandez story almost to the second.

After right at 5 hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of guilty of capital murder on Gutierrez. Gutierrez sat, without moving as the jury was polled one by one. The verdict automatically sends Gutierrez to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice for the rest of his living life, without a chance of parole.

After the verdict Sam’s son Sunny once again got up in front of the court to deliver his victim impact statement. In the witness stand he held four legal size pieces of paper which he planned to deliver. Within seconds that changed, Sunny set them to the side and delivered an extremely emotional statement directed at Gutierrez. With most of the courtroom in tears, Sunny showed that as he said when he talked to his father’s friends in 2014 at the candlelight vigil that he was no longer a boy and had quickly become a man.

He said, “you pulled the trigger and ran away, the beautiful woman I call my mother, you stole her husband”. “You robbed my sister the chance of having her father walk her down the aisle during her wedding” He then took out a photo of his entire family together, telling Gutierrez that this was one of the only photos he had with him and his father together. It was a rare photo as his father was always working. “You gave us more reasons to take photos”. He talked of the days following his father’s death, fingernails, watching the mop bucket turn red with his blood”.

Sunny then got quite angry as he told Gutierrez that a life sentence was too merciful for the man who took his father of 17 years in just 17 seconds. He said when Gutierrez dies there will be no tears, nobody at your funeral and if it rains, the rain will move away from your grave as to not to give the illusion that someone cried for you.

He told Gutierrez how his home would now be the size of a coffin.

Chief Prosecutor Sherri Culberson said it was the verdict she had hoped for. The gun used was never found and without Michael Hernandez testimony it would have been a difficult case to prove to the jury.

Culberson praised her prosecution team and all the hard work by just about every detective with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.

 

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GUTIERREZ SENTENCED TO LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE

 

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A MEMORIAL IS PUT UP IN FRONT OF SAM’S STORE

 

 

 

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FRIENDS COMFORT SAM’S WIFE

 

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FRIENDS COMFORT SAM’S SON SUNNY

 

 

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SAMS SON SUNNY SPEAKS TO FRIENDS

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SAM’S FUNERAL

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VIDEOS

CHIEF PROSECUTOR TALKS ABOUT LAST WEEKS TRIAL IN WHICH

GUTIERREZ WAS GIVEN A LIFE SENTENCE

THE SCENE AS POLICE ARRIVED ON MARCH 24, 2014

 

JACK SMITH, CUSTOMER, WITNESS AND DEAR FRIEND OF SAM’S TALKS

ABOUT THE MURDER

 

OVER 300 ATTEND SAM’S CANDLE LIGHT VIGIL

 

SAM’S SON SUNNY ADDRESSES SAM’S FRIENDS AT VIGIL

 

COUNTY ATTORNEY J.D. LAMBRIGHT AND DISTRICT ATTORNEY BRET

LIGON TALK ABOUT THE CASE OF SAM’S KILLERS

 

COUNTY ATTORNEY J.D. LAMBRIGHT TALKS ABOUT MURDER SENTENCING

OF 13-YEAR-OLD MICHAEL HERNANDEZ

 

 

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