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Melgar v. State

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

January 7, 2020

SANDRA JEAN MELGAR, Appellant
v.
THE STATE OF TEXAS, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 178th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 1435566.

          Panel consists of Justices Christopher, Spain, and Poissant.

          OPINION

          Tracy Christopher, Justice.

         Appellant raises two issues in this appeal from her conviction for murder. In the first issue, she argues that she is entitled to an acquittal because the evidence is legally insufficient to support the conviction. And in the second issue, she argues that, even if the evidence were sufficient to support the conviction, she is entitled to a new trial because the jury engaged in misconduct by conducting experiments during deliberations. For reasons explained more fully below, we overrule both of these issues and affirm the trial court's judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         The Discovery of the Body.

         The complainant in this case is Jaime Melgar, who was appellant's husband of thirty-two years. At the time of his death, Jaime and appellant were empty-nesters, living in a suburban home with just four small dogs.

         Jaime had planned to host a holiday dinner for his brother and his brother's family. When these relatives arrived at Jaime's home on the scheduled date of the dinner, the front door was locked and no one was answering. Jaime's brother checked the backdoor, but it was also locked and nothing could be heard from the inside. The brother then went to the attached two-car garage, where the garage door on the right-hand side had been left open. Inside the garage, the brother found a closed but unlocked door leading into the kitchen. The brother went through that interior door, unlocked the front door for his family, and then heard cries for help coming from within the home.

         The brother followed the cries to the en suite master bathroom, where he found a chair wedged under the handle of a closet door. The brother removed the chair, opened the closet, and found appellant lying on the floor. She was wearing a bathrobe, her ankles were bound, and her wrists were tied behind her back. The brother was unable to remove the ties with his bare hands, but at appellant's direction, he retrieved scissors from the bathroom and cut through the bindings, which had been made from a scarf and other stretchy material.

         As the brother was freeing appellant, his family discovered Jaime in the closet of the master bedroom. His body was naked and cold. He had a knotted rope loosely wrapped around his chest, and telephone cords tied around his ankles. He was also covered in blood, with gash marks across his neck and torso.

         Police and EMS were dispatched to the scene, having been told that one person was dead and another person was injured following a home invasion or burglary. But when the first responders arrived, they did not encounter the traditional hallmarks of a home invasion or burglary. There were no signs of forced entry. All of the doors and windows were intact. Also, no personal property appeared to be missing. Valuables were untouched and in plain view, and dresser drawers were only slightly opened, their contents undisturbed.

         A deputy constable found appellant in the bathroom crying, but because she did not have any tears, the constable suspected that appellant may have been acting. When the constable asked appellant what had happened, appellant responded that the last thing she remembered was that she was taking a bath with Jaime and that Jaime had gotten out of the tub to check on the dogs because they were barking. Appellant added that she commonly has blackouts and seizures, and that she had no memory of the previous night.

         Appellant was examined by a paramedic at the scene, who found no injuries on appellant's face, head, neck, or wrists. Appellant still complained of a bump on her head, but she declined to be transported to the hospital to receive additional medical attention. She agreed to go to police headquarters instead and to give a recorded statement to investigators.

         The Recorded Statement.

         Appellant told investigators that she and Jaime had gone out for dinner the night before to celebrate their anniversary, and that they had stopped at a store on their way home to pick up some drinks. Upon arriving home, they parked their car inside the garage on the left-hand side. According to appellant, the garage door on the right-hand side must have been closed, otherwise she would have noticed it.

         Appellant said that she went inside, started the Jacuzzi tub, and mixed some drinks for herself and Jaime. Then they got into the tub, where they stayed for a long time (some two hours, she estimated) talking about their daughter and their plans for the future.

         Appellant said that they heard their dogs barking outside at some point, and that Jaime got out of the tub to call the dogs back inside. Appellant claimed that she remained in the tub for the next fifteen minutes, and when Jaime failed to return, she went to her closet to put on some clothes and lotion. She said that she remembered nothing after that point until she woke up several hours later.

         Appellant believed that she must have had a seizure during a home invasion because she did not remember hearing any screams or struggles or sounds of any kind. She explained that she had been experiencing frequent seizures lately, at least once a month, with auras happening "all the time." She claimed that her last seizure had occurred just a month earlier.

         The investigators were troubled by appellant's demeanor. She was slow to answer their questions, and her answers tended to be evasive. She was covering her face and avoiding eye contact. And she was not displaying much emotion. Even when she sounded as though she were crying, she did not have any tears.

         The investigators told appellant point blank that her story was not adding up. They asked her to explain why she had bruising on both of her upper arms. Appellant offered several explanations. She said that she is always bruised because she suffers from a chronic illness and takes many medications. She also said that she falls sometimes and bruises easily. She added that Jaime was not a violent man and that he never abused her. She suggested that some of the bruising may have been caused earlier that night when she left the tub to use the toilet and Jaime grabbed her arm to prevent her from slipping.

         The investigators also asked appellant for her best understanding of how Jaime had died. Appellant said that Jaime did not have any known enemies, but she briefly offered some theories. She mentioned that Jaime had been driving slowly the night before and that he had likely angered a tailgater as they were heading home from the store. But appellant ultimately dismissed the tailgater as a possible suspect, saying that the tailgater had turned one way at an intersection, whereas she and Jaime had turned the opposite way.

         Appellant also mentioned that she and Jaime owned rental properties and that there was a history of conflict with one of their tenants. But appellant dismissed the tenant as a suspect too, saying that she did ...


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