Day three of the Albert Mendez, Jr. trial continued on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011, in the 32nd Judicial District Court on the counts of sexual assault of a child, indecency of a child by contact and indecency of a child by exposure against Mendez following an incident with his step daughter on Jan. 17, 2010 at his residence in Sweetwater.
The day was full of testimonies — including Mendez taking the stand himself during the afternoon block of the trial.
Shortly after 9 a.m., Naomi McDonald — a forensic scientist at the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) crime lab office in Lubbock, took the stand. Presented with the SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examination) kit by 32nd Judicial District Attorney Ann Reed, McDonald discussed the lab’s process upon receiving the kit and the variety of items found.
In this particular case, McDonald expected not to find any semen, which came back as a negative find as a result of digital contact. A swab taken from the victim's panties, however, found a minor profile which initially was not enough to determine who it belonged to. Upon receiving Mendez’s DNA sample, the find in the victim's panties was used in another test which targets male DNA.
The comparisons of both tests stated that Mendez could not be excluded. Two pieces of evidence, the worksheets from both tests, were explained by McDonald as to the findings. However, it was noted for the second test that while Mendez could be a contributor, a male relation such as a son could also be considered. McDonald stated also that several safeguards are in place to ensure correctness of the entire process, noting that at least two reviews of the results are made before being signed off.
Jeff Propst, Mendez’s attorney, reiterated that the DNA could be from a son as the same Y chromosome is passed down, yet questioned why testing was not done on the vaginal swab in the SANE kit. McDonald said that she chose the sample which would produce the best findings. However, the transfer of DNA, namely on the victim's panties, was discussed in that many factors can come into play. The state also acknowledged the possibility of DNA transfer.
The defense then called up their first witness, Dr. Michael Spence, who runs a consulting firm for forensic biology and DNA in New Mexico. Dr. Spence was qualified to testify as a result of his professional experience. The transferability of DNA was also discussed and while Dr. Spence did agree somewhat to McDonald’s report and findings, he offered his conclusions on the test results in that he would have made sure to run a test on the vaginal swab.
Dr. Spence also concluded that after reading the reports, the determination of Mendez is questionable due to the lack of uncertainty in McDonald’s reports. The DNA found proved it could be from Mendez but Dr. Spence said it also proved it could be from the paternal line. The quantity of the findings was questioned as well, with Dr. Spence stressing the fact of the very small measurements of DNA found, which is enough for a profile.
Dr. Spence stated as well that the tests tell very little as to whether Mendez did anything inappropriate to the victim. The state also asked about his thoughts on the analysis done by McDonald, stating that while she did perform her job correctly, more thorough testing could have been done such as the testing for male DNA on the vaginal swab.
After the lunchtime recess, Mendez took the stand for the defense. He gave his own account to the events on Jan. 17, 2010 — following a cookout of playing with his family and drinking, he went with a friend, Chris Adames to the Azteca Bar in Sweetwater.
Mendez stated that his wife, Anna Mendez, was upset that he was going to the bar but he stated that her anger also stemmed from switching parental roles with his wife, following an accident at work that left him unable to work and stay at home with their children while she had to find employment.
Mendez claimed that he left the bar between 1-1:30 a.m. and was dropped off at his house on New Mexico Street by Adames. He sat on the loveseat and had disrobed to only his pants and socks, stating he was greeted angrily by Anna Mendez.
She went back to her bedroom and Mendez watched television until he rearranged his two sleeping daughters on the couch, picking up the victim in the process. The victim eventually woke up and sat next to Mendez with her head on his shoulder and both of them fell asleep.
When questioned as to why the victim would move next to Mendez, he stated that she always followed him around and helped him as needed and was like a father figure to the girl. Anna Mendez came in the living room yelling at the girl and Mendez, separating them. Mendez went to bed, stating he didn't want to get into an argument with his wife.
According to Mendez, the next thing he remembered was waking up to Sweetwater Police Department (SPD) personnel taking him to jail, stating he was given his charge upon arrival to headquarters. He was interrogated — believing it to be three days after he was incarcerated, and eventually gave his statement. When asked if he had touched the victim before, he said no.
He didn't remember if he was interrogated by SPD Detective Lance Richburg, but remembered trying to tell the detective that the victim was lying and that his wife was involved because of past lying episodes. He also stated that he attempted to tell Richburg of another incident brought up by the defense, of when Mendez was beat up by his wife's brothers following a night of drinking and passing out. Mendez stated that not only was Anna Mendez upset about his behavior but also wanted to see Mendez's phone, which he threw outside.
Mendez said the interrogation became emotional when asked if he was sure he didn't do anything to the victim because he believed in his heart and mind that he would never do anything to her and would "rather kill himself" than hurt her.
Mendez lives with his wife Anna now and when asked why, he said it was for the sake of his youngest child, a four-year-old son. He began to cry on the stand, telling that he couldn't live without his son and a divorce would separate them based on the charges from this case.
Defense attorney Propst asked if Mendez would ever touch the victim inappropriately, simply stating no; DA Reed also brought up the claim with Mendez saying he would never hurt or touch the girl inappropriately.
The state showed Mendez photos from the scene of the alleged crime and asked about the timeline on the night of Jan. 17 from when he came home from the Azteca bar. He also discussed his life post-incident, explaining he moved to live with his mother, brother and on the family ranch briefly before moving to Decatur for 11 months for a work opportunity as a carpenter.
After the project in Decatur, he moved back to Sweetwater in March, moving back in with Anna Mendez in the middle of the month though they talked approximately eight months before. However, Mendez said he only talked to her for the sake of contacting his son.
When asked about his interrogation, Mendez stated that Detective Richburg seemed as if he didn't want to hear Mendez's account. But, the state questioned, if he couldn't remember some statements he made to the detective, then how would he be able to remember others.
The state also asked if the victim had been lying about the incident for the past year and a half, with Mendez stating she was capable of doing so. Mendez also claimed that he lived with the victim for three years prior to Jan. 17 and has only seen her as a result of the trial. Additionally, since moving in with his wife, Mendez said they have never discussed the case, following the advisement of his attorney.
Following Mendez’s questions from both sides, the defense brought three of Mendez’s family members to the stand to ask about his safe and moral treatment of children. All three members said Mendez had a good reputation with children.
Rhonda Garza now resides in Houston and is an adult niece to Mendez, in which he lived with Garza and her family two times as a child. Melinda Mendez from Sweetwater is Mendez’s sister-in-law, in which Mendez also lived with her and her husband for some time with her daughter and two sons.
Mendez’s brother and Melinda’s husband, Cornelio Mendez, was called by Anna Mendez following the Jan. 17 incident and eventually took her children from the house at her request. The state asked few questions to the witnesses as to Mendez’s reputation with children, but did ask Cornelio Mendez about his role on the night of the alleged sexual assault.
The defense then rested their case, yet the state called up SPD Detective Lance Richburg back onto the stand. Based on Mendez’s testimony, the state asked if Richburg offered the Miranda rights to Mendez during the interrogation in which Richburg said he did and Mendez waived them. Some of Mendez’s statements made to Richburg were also pondered by the state.
One issue addressed was whether Richburg cut off Mendez as he spoke. Richburg said that as he tried to get direct answers from Mendez and could not, he made attempts to redirect the question. Both the state and defense questioned Richburg about the matter, and the defense requested for the interrogation video to be shown to the jury. A short recess was held as both sides and Richburg viewed the tape, but at the last minute the defense withdrew its request.
Coming back from recess, the defense asked again about cutting off Mendez during the interrogation, and while Richburg stuck to his claim of attempting to redirect the question, he did note that he would interrupt Mendez at some times. He also noted that Mendez never spoke of moving the victim, but Mendez asked Richburg of his possible punishments.
Around 3:50 p.m., the state then rested its case along with the defense. Judge Glen Harrison, who is presiding over the case, called for recess until the morning to allow both sides to prepare closing statements and arguments, which would be presented Friday morning along with the formal charge. Following the statements, the jury will then begin to deliberate for its verdict.