2011-01-05 / Front Page

Court of Criminal Appeals refuses to hear Barnhart’s case

By Paul Whitworth

Eliseo “Cheyo” Barnhart Eliseo “Cheyo” Barnhart Former Willacy County Judge Eliseo “ Cheyo” Barnhart is running out of options in his efforts to overturn a Kingsville trial court’s criminal convictions on two counts of aggravated perjury, a third degree felony.

Barnhart, then 56, was a Justice of the Peace in February 2006 and also a candidate for Willacy County Judge in the Democratic Primary that Spring.

His troubles began when he got an after hours phone call from a secretary working parttime in the office he shared with other justices of the peace. Andrea Espinosa, a temporary worker answering phones, called Barnhart telling him that she had left her purse behind at the office.

Barnhart met Espinosa at the office and she later claimed that he pinned her to the wall while groping her breasts and that he exposed himself to her, while kissing her against her will.

In May, 2006 a grand jury found no probable cause to indict Barnhart for indecency.

Andrea Espinosa Andrea Espinosa But five months after Barnhart denied to a grand jury that he fondled and kissed Espinosa in his office, he admitted to both, according to a Texas Ranger, who testified at the judge’s perjury trial in Kingsville.

On Sept. 11, 2006, Barnhart gave a statement to Texas Ranger Rolando Castaneda that he hadn’t told the truth earlier because he wanted to come clean with his wife first.

Barnhart admitted to the groping and the kiss, but has continued to deny exposing himself and told the Texas Ranger that Espinosa asked him to touch her.

The problem for Barnhart was that he gave a statement to Texas Ranger Victor Escalon on Aug. 30, 2006 in which he admitted touching Espinosa’s shoulders and that he became aroused, something he denied in his statement to Castaneda.

Conflicting statements to the two Rangers is what led to Barnhart’s grand jury indictment for aggravated perjury. The second perjury indictment came from a disposition Barnhart gave in August, 2006 in a lawsuit Espinosa filed against him, when he denied ever kissing a woman other than his wife.

Following Espinosa’s allegations against Judge Barnhart, he was elected Willacy County Judge in November, 2006. Barnhart didn’t have much time to enjoy his political victory, however, with two counts of aggravated perjury hanging over his head.

Barnhart’s trial was removed from Willacy County on a change of venue to Kleberg County and he was subsequently tried in district court at Kingsville.

It was there, in August, 2008, that Barnhart was convicted, not of attempted sexual assault alleged by Espinosa, but for two counts of lying to the Rangers - or aggravated perjury.

Barnhart was sentenced to five years community supervision, fines of $2,500 on each of the two counts and 30 days in county jail. His attorney, Dale Robertson, of Brownsville, filed an appeal to the Thirteenth Court of Appeals on August 26, 2008 in Case #13-08-00511-CR.

His petition for a review by the Texas Supreme Court was refused on December 8, 2010.

Barnhart said Tuesday evening, “I don’t feel good about this. I’m very disappointed. This has been very expensive, not only the appeal but also the criminal trial. I’m broke. It is more than likely that I’ll just end it here.”

Patty Fowler, a clerk at the Thirteenth Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi, said that her office is waiting for the court papers to be returned.

At that point, Barnhart will turn himself in to serve 30 days in county jail, in Raymondville, or in Kingsville, whichever the court orders.

Return to top

Click here for digital edition
2011-01-05 digital edition