The state’s criminal case against Albert Mendez, Jr. began on Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 2, 2011, in the 32nd Judicial District Court with Judge Glen Harrison presiding. Mendez was previously indicted on charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child, indecency with a child by contact, and indecency with a child by exposure.
Mendez pled not guilty to all of the charges which stemmed from an alleged incident involving Mendez and his step-daughter — who was nine years old at the time, which occurred on Jan. 17, 2010 at Mendez’s residence at 702 W. New Mexico in Sweetwater.
The jury selection for the trial spanned the entire morning and most of the afternoon on Tuesday. The process gradually whittled down the almost-crowded courtroom down to the 10-man, 2-woman jury.
Both the prosecution and defense presented their opening arguments; two testimonies were also heard before court came to recess for the day.
In opening arguments, 32nd Judicial District Attorney Ann Reed noted that the jurors would hear an eyewitness account of the incident from Anna Mendez, wife of Albert Mendez, Jr., and the steps she took following the event. The state would also present information gained from a SANE exam (Sexual Assault Nurse Examination) — along with those involved with the piece of evidence such as medical personnel and law enforcement.
Reed further explained that new technology regarding DNA would find a male match consistent with Mendez and asked the jury to find him guilty to all three counts.
Mendez’s defense lawyer Jeff Propst argued that Anna Mendez sought to control her husband and was brought to rage when she was unable to do so. On the night of the 17th before the alleged incident, Mendez had gone to the Azteca Bar and Nightclub which upset Anna Mendez. Following an argument, according to Propst, Mendez went to bed and later awoke to find members of the Sweetwater Police Department (SPD) arresting him.
Propst called Anna Mendez a “habitual liar,” noting that the claim against Albert Mendez hasn’t been made since the night in question and added that Anna Mendez told a new story each time to various SPD personnel and nurses from Sweetwater and Abilene. Discounting the state’s physical evidence by bringing in an analyst, Propst urged the jury to find Albert Mendez, Jr. not guilty.
SPD Sergeant Matt Counts and SPD Lieutenant Randy Hanes were the only two called to testify on Tuesday afternoon.
Sgt. Counts recounted the night in question, stating he went to the Mendez residence between 2:00 and 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 17, 2010 as backup following a report of a child being molested. SPD officer Brian Davis dealt with Albert Mendez, while Sgt. Counts met with Anna Mendez — who he stated was very upset and was hard to understand as a result of her crying.
Anna Mendez shared with Sgt. Counts that she found her young daughter and husband in a compromising position under a blanket in the living room area. During Anna’s statement, Sgt. Counts had to assist Officer Davis with Mendez but came back to get the rest of her account. Sgt. Counts also recollected that the child was crying and curled up in a blanket while the situation following the allegation unfolded.
A few other children were in the room, which Sgt. Counts believed to be asleep as he arrived yet they began to move around due to the commotion. While one officer was asked to take the child and Anna Mendez to the emergency room and as Davis took Mendez to SPD headquarters, Sgt. Counts looked over the crime scene.
The state then presented its first exhibit, a picture of the scene of the crime, and showed it to the jury. After collecting the evidence from the scene — two hairs and some t-shirts, Sgt. Counts booked it at the police department and had no further involvement in the case.
Propst questioned the training of Sgt. Counts and the accuracy of his report, with Counts noting that while he does get important items, they are not verbatim accounts. The defense questioned why the child was not talked to in which Sgt. Counts responded that it seemed as if she didn’t want to talk.
Sgt. Counts also noted that he was unaware if the hairs had been tested. However, with the residence being a small house, the defense speculated if the child heard her mother’s story due to her “hysterical yet quiet” emotional state, and Counts was questioned again as to why again as to why he did not speak with the child.
SPD Lt. Randy Hanes then took the stand for a brief moment, in which the SANE kit was presented as the state’s second exhibit. As Lt. Hanes is one who oversees the SPD evidence room and its procedures, he testified that the kit was placed in the evidence room in January but was pulled out in May to be delivered to a Lubbock office for further review.
The SANE kit, according to Hanes, was left in Lubbock unopened. Before recess was called for the day, Hanes also testified that he had never met the child and Anna Mendez before.