EDDIE M. HERRERA, Appellant
THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee
Appeal from the 183rd District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Case No. 1454506
consists of Justices Higley, Bland, and Brown.
Herrera and J.G. (pseudonymously referred to as
"Jessica") attended Jessica's high school prom
together and spent that night in a nearby hotel room. By the
next morning, Jessica was dead. As part of the investigation
of her death, her bodily fluids were tested for alcohol and
narcotics and an autopsy was performed. The toxicology tests
revealed large amounts of alcohol as well as Hydrocodone in
her system. The autopsy revealed significant injuries to
Jessica's neck that would have required a large degree of
force to achieve, including large hemorrhages in multiple
layers of muscle tissue in both the front and the back of her
police investigation led to charges against Herrera. Based on
evidence of significant injuries to Jessica's neck and
his statement to investigators that he squeezed Jessica's
neck the night of the prom during sexual intercourse, he was
charged with first-degree felony aggravated assault with a
deadly weapon (his hands) on an individual with whom he had a
dating relationship. A jury convicted Herrera and assessed
punishment at 25 years' confinement.
issues, Herrera contends that the evidence was insufficient
to support his conviction and that the trial court erred by
charging the jury under an erroneous mens rea standard.
was a 17-year-old high school senior when she invited
18-year-old Herrera, whom she had known for several years, to
her high school prom. Without telling Jessica's mother,
Herrera's mother, Melissa Martinez, helped the pair
secure a hotel room, narcotics, and alcohol for prom night,
and then Martinez presented Jessica's mother with a cover
story for the young couple. When Martinez did not return
Jessica home on time, Jessica's mother repeatedly tried
to call Jessica, Herrera, and Martinez, but none responded.
In the middle of the night, Jessica's mother contacted
9:00 a.m. the next morning, Martinez called for emergency
assistance in the pair's hotel room, reporting to the
emergency operator that Jessica was cold and not breathing.
The emergency dispatcher instructed Martinez to perform CPR
on Jessica. The Houston Fire Department arrived within
minutes to find that Jessica was dead.
Sergeant M. Miller arrived at the hotel, he noted that
Jessica's clothing appeared as though it had been put on
haphazardly and "[d]idn't look like she had put [it]
on herself." According to Miller, there were no signs of
a struggle in the hotel room and neighboring occupants did
not hear screams or anything that indicated a struggle.
Oliphant with the Houston Police Department Crime Scene Unit
investigated the scene. He testified that he found an empty
bottle of Crown Royal in the trash and another half-empty
bottle repackaged in the Crown Royal box inside Jessica's
bag. Oliphant also found prescription bottles in the room.
hotel, Miller spoke with Herrera and his mother together and
then individually. Herrera gave Miller an overview of the
night. According to Herrera, he and Jessica checked into the
hotel, went to the prom for a couple hours, went back to the
room, had sexual intercourse, and went to sleep. When he woke
up the next morning, he found Jessica dead. Miller asked
Martinez and Herrera to be interviewed in the homicide
questioning at the homicide division offices later that day,
Herrera told Miller that he woke up around 7:00 a.m., saw
Jessica's dead body, and called his mother in a panic.
Martinez, who was already near the hotel, arrived quickly.
Herrera and his mother dressed Jessica's naked body, then
Martinez called 9-1-1. The emergency call was placed around
9:10 a.m.-two hours after Herrera found Jessica and called
indicated to the investigators that Jessica had brought all
the alcohol as well as any Hydrocodone she consumed that
night. During a break in the questioning, though,
investigators allowed Martinez and Herrera time to talk
between themselves in the interview room. That portion of the
videotape, along with the remainder of the interview, was
played to the jury. During their conversation, Martinez told
Herrera to be truthful about her providing the Hydrocodone
and alcohol. From that point on, Herrera told the police that
he and his mother were involved in bringing the alcohol and
Hydrocodone to the hotel room.
further questioning, Herrera told the investigators that he
and Jessica had consensual intercourse in the hotel room
after the prom, but he made no mention of placing any
pressure on her neck during the encounter.
testified that at no point during the interview did Herrera
become emotional or show any signs of being upset.
Haden-Pinneri, a medical examiner for the Harris County
Institute of Forensic Sciences, performed an autopsy on
Jessica's body the day after she was found. In her
external examination of Jessica, she found bruises on her
neck, face, and legs. In her internal examination of
Jessica's body, Pinneri found extensive injuries to
Jessica's neck, anal trauma, and petechiae in
Jessica's eyes, which Pinneri explained are burst blood
vessels that can be markers of "potential asphyxia or an
absence or reduction of blood flow that goes to the
brain" and are often seen in cases involving
neck-compression injuries. She further testified that these
petechial hemorrhages are not typical of drug overdose deaths
absent an unusual post-death body position, which Jessica did
presence of petechiae led Pinneri to closely examine
Jessica's neck for evidence of compression. There she
found multiple hemorrhages in multiple layers of muscle
tissue in both the front and back of Jessica's neck.
According to Pinneri, it would have required "a directed
forceful squeeze, multiple places, multiple times" to
cause that level of hemorrhaging; it could not have resulted
from "a light touch" or "someone simply
grabbing the front of the neck."
advised the police of her findings. Because Herrera's
earlier statement was inconsistent with the extensive neck
injuries seen during the autopsy, the investigators
interviewed Herrera again.
questioned Herrera about Jessica's neck injuries. Herrera
explained that Jessica had asked him to "choke her a
little bit" during sex and that he put his right hand
around her neck only "once" while he was facing her
and for "no more than a few minutes." Herrera
stated that, after sex, he and Jessica had an extended
discussion, took photos on Snapchat, and then fell asleep.
Miller had Herrera demonstrate his hand placement and the
amount of pressure he had applied. At trial, Miller described
Herrera as using "very mild pressure."
the interview, Miller provided Pinneri with an audio
recording of Herrera's remarks. According to Pinneri,
none of Jessica's injuries were consistent with someone
"simply grabbing the front of the neck" or the
consensual sexual encounter Herrera described. Pinneri
testified that she would not expect that someone "would
be up chatting, taking photographs and talking about future
plans after sustaining that degree of neck trauma."
According to Pinneri, the neck injuries would likely have
caused Jessica to lose consciousness.
was interviewed again. He said that Jessica had placed his
hands on her neck and then he "squeezed her neck."
He maintained that this was part of their consensual
intercourse. During this interview, Herrera no longer
indicated that they had a conversation or took pictures after
the sexual encounter; instead, he said that he did not
remember if she spoke at all and that he immediately passed
out. Herrera told the investigators that, when he woke up the
next morning, Jessica was in the same position she had been
in when the intercourse ended.
the interview, Herrera was indicted for felony aggravated
assault. A jury convicted Herrera and assessed punishment at