2008-10-29 / Front Page

Guerra indicts state jail operator for murder in 2001 inmate death

Attorney: "He's (Guerra) done great harm to our client"
ROBERT WILCOX Reporter

Attorney: "He's (Guerra) done great harm to our client"

Willacy County District Attorney Juan Angel "Johnny" Guerra leaked a sealed murder indictment to national media on Friday morning, that alleges GEO Corp. (Wackenhut) intentionally and knowingly caused the death of Willacy State Jail inmate Gregorio De La Rosa, Jr. in 2001.

Florida-based GEO Corp. is now the subject of a 3-count criminal murder and manslaughter indictment that Guerra presented to a Willacy County grand jury in August. Guerra made the indictment public before GEO Corp. was officially served, according to court officials.

De La Rosa, 33, was beaten to death on April 26, 2001 with socks laden with padlocks by fellow inmates, just a few days prior to his scheduled release date. He was serving a 6-month sentence for possession of controlled substances, and died the next day at Valley Baptist Medical Center.

Later in 2001, Pedro de Jesus Equia of Brownsville and Daniel Sanchez of Mathis were sentenced to 20-year prison sentences in De La Rosa's death.

His family sued GEO Corp., which acquired Wackenhut Corrections Corp. in 2002, for the alleged wrongful death in 2006. The family was awarded $47.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages, the largest known personal injury award in the Rio Grande Valley.

Last week, Guerra faxed a copy of the indictment at 10:16 a.m. on Friday to several media outlets and a private prison watchdog organization Private Corrections Institute. The Associated Press published a short story about the murder indictment Friday afternoon.

The case has been under appeal since a Willacy County jury's verdict in September of 2006.

This week, Rodriguez and co-counsels Craig Smith of Corpus Christi and Albert Garcia of Harlingen, made three motions in the civil damages case on Monday, citing concerns over a $60 million appellate insurance bond. See related story on page 11 of this issue.

GEO Corp. has retained for mer U.S. Attorney Tony Canales of Corpus Christi to represent them in the criminal murder and manslaughter case filed by Guerra.

"This case has absolutely no merit - I just filed a motion to dismiss the indictment," Canales said. "The corporation will get a summons in 20 days. No one gets arrested, and there is no bond."

Canales asked Judge Lopez for a hearing later on Monday, and advised Guerra who said he would attend at 1:30 p.m.

Attorney David Oliviera of Brownsville joined Canales at the hearing. Guerra did not show, and Judge Lopez asked the court bailiff to find Guerra.

Guerra finally appeared, and told Judge Lopez, "I'm not ready to proceed."

Judge Lopez told Guerra, "I asked you earlier if you would be ready to proceed, and you said yes." Guerra then asked for a five minute recess.

Oliviera objected, and said, "Mr. Guerra prepared this indictment, so he should know all about it."

"He's (Guerra) done great harm to our client," Oliviera said. "He waited 7-1/2 years to indict them (GEO Corp.) - Why?"

Guerra reappeared with a motion to recuse (prevent) Judge Lopez from hearing the criminal case.

Lopez informed Canales and Oliviera that she now has to forward the recusal matter to Presiding District Judge J. Manuel Banales of Corpus Christi.

However, in an Order of Referral late Monday, Judge Lopez wrote to Judge Banales, "I ... considered the Motion to Recuse filed against me ... I hereby DECLINE to recuse myself from this (criminal murder) case."

Judge Banales now needs to rule on Judge Lopez's recommendation to remain on the case.

The filing of criminal charges by Guerra will likely delay the civil case and $47.5 million award, which was filed with the 13th Court of Appeals.

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