ANGLETON, Texas — A southeast Texas man says that despite his acquittal for the shooting death of the drunken driver who caused a crash that killed his two sons, there are no winners.
“This was a loss for everybody,” said a visibly relieved David Barajas, who cried and hugged his wife, Cindy, after the verdict was read.
Prosecutors had alleged that Barajas killed 20-year-old Jose Banda in a fit of rage after Banda plowed into Barajas and his sons while they were pushing a truck on a rural Southeast Texas road near their home because it had run out of gas. Twelve-year-old David Jr. and 11-year-old Caleb were killed.
Authorities said that after the accident, Barajas, 32, went to his home about 100 yards from the crash site near Alvin, got a gun and returned to shoot Banda.
Defense attorney Sam Cammack said Barajas didn’t kill Banda and that he was only focused on saving his sons. The gun used to kill Banda wasn’t found and there was little physical evidence linking Barajas to the killing.
The jury deliberated for about three hours Aug. 27 before acquitting Barajas of murder.
After the verdict, Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne insisted that investigators had correctly zeroed in on Barajas and that the actual killer wasn’t still at large, as Cammack had suggested at trial.
“What the state’s perspective is and will always be is that if you or I or anyone we know had a horrible collision and killed another human being, that you get the fair review of the criminal justice system, not a roadside execution,” Yenne told reporters.
Banda could have been sentenced to up to life in prison, if he had been convicted.
Legal experts said prosecutors also likely had to overcome jury sympathy for Barajas, who had the support of many residents of Alvin, which is about 30 miles southeast of Houston.
Further complicating their case was that there were no witnesses who identified Barajas as the shooter, and gunshot residue tests done on Barajas came back negative.
While both sides differed on who might have been responsible for Banda’s death, they agreed that this was a tragedy for everyone involved.
“Three sons were lost that day. The state has compassion for every single one of them, the Barajas children and the Banda son,” Yenne said.
Barajas said he is hoping to move forward and get closure with regard to his sons’ deaths. But he also said that he is praying for Banda’s family. “They lost a son, too,” Barajas said.
Banda’s family did not speak with reporters after the verdict. Felicia Leija, Banda’s common-law wife, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
During the trial, investigators testified that a bullet fragment found in Banda’s car could have come from a .357-caliber gun, and that ammunition for such a gun was found in Barajas’ home.
A forensic scientist testified blood found on the driver’s side door and driver’s arm rest of Banda’s car was consistent with that of Barajas.
Cammack spent most of his closing argument earlier Wednesday trying to knock down the prosecution’s evidence. He said tests showed the bullet fragment found in Banda’s car could have also come from another weapon besides a .357-caliber gun.
He said the blood found on Banda’s car that came from Barajas was spilled when Barajas was attacked by Banda’s cousin and half brother, who witnessed the crash but later told investigators they fled the scene.
Cammack also suggested that Banda’s cousin or half brother could have been responsible for the shooting. Banda’s cousin and half brother testified they did not shoot Banda. Cammack also told jurors that a search of Barajas’ home failed to find any evidence that directly linked him to the crime scene.
The defense attorney also used 911 calls to create a timeline that suggested Barajas would not have had enough time to shoot Banda. Only three defense witnesses were called during the trial, which lasted a little over a week.
(JUAN A. LOZANO)