Luis Enrique Rivera was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after jurors found him guilty of capital murder in about 30 minutes late Friday afternoon after hearing from a witness who testified via SKYPE from Iraq. It is the first time in Texas that a witness has testified through that medium in a case of this nature. Officer T. Taylor was sent to Iraq by the Texas Army National Guard after the case was set for trial, requiring Montgomery County prosecutor Warren Diepraam to propose to the court the use of SKYPE to obtain Taylor’s testimony. Judge Lisa Michalk found that this circumstance was an extraordinary situation and that Rivera’s rights would still be protected in deciding to allow the unique presentation of evidence. Diepraam stated that although the SKYPE testimony was fairly simple in and of itself, getting the witness to the military computer presented some unusual challenges due to recent rocket attacks at Taylor’s compound. After failing to make a connection on Wednesday, Diepraam was able to reach Taylor Friday morning. Ironically, Dr. Sparks Veasey was testifying at the time in his first case as the new Montgomery County Medical Examiner when Diepraam reached Taylor and quickly presented his testimony. Diepraam was able to introduce critical evidence through Taylor’s testimony including DNA, fingerprints, and gunshot residue.
Diepraam stated that “I am pleased with the verdict because this was a very serious case with a lot of complex evidence.” “The jury obviously listened to the evidence, understood it, and reached the appropriate result in a fairly short amount of time.” Diepraam further stated that “it definitely sends a message that Montgomery County is not a place to commit violent crimes because one way or another, our community will respond.”
Rivera, from El Salvador, was accused of shooting Pedro Rodriguez, 44, a Mexican citizen legally in this country, in the back of the head in the early morning of Dec. 20, 2008 after Rivera met Rodriguez and Jaime Gonzalez at a Conroe restaurant a few hours prior to the shooting and asked for a ride home. Gonzalez testified through an interpreter that he and Rodriguez were in Conroe to run errands, after making a bank withdrawal in Madisonville. The three men later went to Rivera’s trailer on North First Street and met Luis Antonio Menendez, Gonzalez testified. When all four left later, Gonzalez drove his vehicle with Rodriguez in the front passenger seat. Rivera sat behind Rodriguez and Menendez sat behind him, Gonzalez testified. According to testimony, Rivera then pulled out a Norinco handgun, pointed it at the back of Rodriguez’s head, and started demanding the victim’s property. Rodriguez asked Rivera “if he was serious,” and then Rivera shot Rodriguez at close range in the back of his head. The bullet came out his nose and entered the dashboard. Gonzalez testified that at that point a car came in the opposite direction and he jumped out of the car as he was being shot at. He was able to find a person to call 911 and he then directed the police to Rivera’s house.
During closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Sylvia Yarborough, stated that Rivera and Menendez planned the robbery to prey on innocent victims from Latin America that they thought would not remain around for long. She called Rivera a cold blooded assassin as she asked the jury to convict Rivera. Yarborough stated that Menendez will be tried next for the Capital Murder of Rodriguez. District Attorney Brett Ligon stated that he was pleased with the unique nature of the SKYPE testimony used in the trial and praised his prosecutors for resorting to SKYPE to find a witness and present his testimony. The case will be appealed by the defense, but the District Attorney feels that his office’s unique approach to prosecution will be affirmed, thereby opening up other avenues for prosecutors to present evidence. Ligon also thanked the members of the Texas National Guard in Austin, specifically Warrant Officer Patricia Pettet, for assisting in locating Taylor.