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Eleazar Hinojosa
December 17, 1990
Austin, Texas

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Austin American-Statesman
(Austin, Texas)
October 14, 2004

Man indicted in 1990 cab driver homicides
Suspect linked to taxis through fingerprints, police say

By Tony Plohetski


Thursday, October 14, 2004

Eleazar Hinojosa's first fare of the night was his last.

He began his shift Dec. 17, 1990, by picking up a man on Ventura Drive in Southeast Austin. Three gunshots to the head later, the 57-year-old Roy's Taxi driver lay dead behind the wheel.

The killer struck again two days later. Police found the body of 41-year-old John Parrish, a driver for Yellow Checker Cab, in the trunk of his taxi. He too had been shot three times in the head at point-blank range.

Prosecutors took the wrong man to court three years later, and the case languished for another decade -- until this week.

A Travis County grand jury on Tuesday indicted Alberto Garcia, a 39-year-old incarcerated bank robber, on charges of capital murder. His bail has been set at $2 million.

Police stumbled onto Garcia, linking him to both taxis and the crimes, officers said Wednesday. They used a computer database and fingerprint analysis.

His motive, investigators say, was robbery.

Coming back-to-back within days before Christmas, the killings shook the community.

Representatives from the city's major cab companies warned their drivers about picking up fares in dicey parts of town and preached other safety precautions.

They held news conferences to ask for information and offered a reward of more than $4,000.

Several months later, police charged Paul Mitchell Vallejo with Hinojosa's death after witnesses picked him from a police lineup.

Holes in the case emerged during the 1993 trial.

An investigator testified that he opposed the arrest because of a lack of evidence; prosecutors acknowledged that Vallejo's prints didn't match those taken from inside the cabs or from any other evidence.

Vallejo, whom the jury found not guilty, was given a 35-year prison term that year on an unrelated burglary charge.

Maria Hinojosa, Eleazar's daughter, said Wednesday that she was not disappointed by the verdict favoring Vallejo. She has always thought her father's killer eventually would be found.

"I never gave up hope," she said through tears.

According to 1990 newspaper accounts, Hinojosa's cab skidded about 30 feet off the road and into a house in the 3000 block of Catalina Drive about 7:15 p.m. Dec. 17. Neighbors reported hearing a shot just before that a short distance away and seeing a passenger bolt from the back seat.

Two days later, police found Parrish's body about 3 p.m. at the Silvercreek Apartments on South First Street. Maintenance workers had seen blood dripping from the trunk of the cab.

The drivers' funerals resembled those of fallen police officers, with lengthy processionals winding through the city, nearly 50 taxis each.

Austin police Sgt. John Neff, who works in the department's cold case unit, said Wednesday that detectives reopened the case earlier this year after investigators began adding fingerprints from crime scenes into a new database that is filled with finger- and palm prints from people arrested across the country.

Neff said investigators also have other evidence linking Garcia to the scenes, but he declined to elaborate.

"His name never came up during the investigation," Neff said. "Without the technology, this case may not have been solved."

Garcia, who authorities said spent the 1990s in Florida and Oregon, is serving time in federal prison for an August 2000 bank robbery in Austin.

Darla Davis, an assistant Travis County district attorney, said the grand jury interviewed three of Garcia's associates before handing up the indictment.

"We are very confident we have found the right man," Davis said.

Families of both victims said police called them in July about reopening the case. Investigators called again several months later to say they had a suspect.

Then on Tuesday night, officers phoned with news of the indictment.

Parrish's aunt, Jo Helton of Smithville, was with his 79-year-old mother when she got the word.

"The Lord takes care of a lot of things like this in due time," Helton said. "A person will pay for what he has done. I feel that justice will come to pass."

Garcia's indictment closes the 12th and 13th murder cases for the department's cold case unit, which was organized in 1999 to review the city's infamous yogurt shop quadruple homicide.

Still, some 130 homicides remain unsolved.

Parrish's sister, Connie Clark of Fayette County, understands what it's like for the families still waiting for justice.

"It's been a long time coming," Clark said. "You begin to wonder if it will ever end."; 445-3605


Austin American-Statesman
(Austin, Texas)
October 13, 2004

Suspect indicted in 1990 taxi slayings
Fingerprint database gave new life to cold case.


Wednesday, October 13, 2004

A Travis County grand jury has indicted a 39-year-old man in connection with the shooting deaths of two Austin cab drivers in December 1990.

Alberto Garcia, who was charged with capital murder on Tuesday in the deaths of Eleazar Hinojosa, 57, and John Parrish, 41, is currently incarcerated for a bank robbery committed in Austin in 2000.

The two slayings - the first on Dec. 17, 1990, the second two days later - were linked at the time by physical evidence. Police believe robbery was the motive in both cases.

Police arrested a suspect in 1991. However, that person was acquitted by a jury in 1993.

An Austin police investigator submitted fingerprints from the crime scene into a newly available database earlier this year, which returned a hit on Garcia.

Austin Cold Case detectives and the district attorney's office then launched an investigation that connected Garcia to both homicides. Physical evidence, police say, also connects Garcia to both crime scenes.


The Daily Texan
(Austin, Texas)
October 15, 2004

Case solved after 14 years
By Andrew Tran

Residents on Catalina Drive heard gun shots the night of Dec. 17, 1990, before a taxi cab careened 30 feet off the road and into a house. Neighbors reported to police they glimpsed a passenger exit the back of the vehicle, leaving officers to find the driver, 57-year-old Eleazar Hinojsa, dead from three gun shot wounds to the head at point-blank range.

Two days later, police investigated an abandoned cab at Silvercreek Apartments on South First Street at the request of maintenance workers who had noticed blood dripping from the trunk. Its contents revealed the body of 41-year-old John Parrish, a driver for American Yellow Checker Cab, who had also been shot three times in the head.

Fourteen years later, Austin police believe they have found the killer: 39-year-old Alberto Garcia.

In February of 2004, latent print examiners submitted unidentified old fingerprints from the 1990 taxi cab murders into their database and matched them with the fingerprints of Garcia, who had been incarcerated in a federal prison in 2000 for bank robbery.

By submitting old evidence to new technology, investigators have a better chance of solving crimes than they did before, said Sgt. John Neff, who supervises the Austin Police Department's cold case unit.

"Mr. Garcia was never mentioned as a suspect back then, and if not for this system and the fingerprint match we received earlier this year, this case may have never been solved," Neff said.

Authorities believe the motive was robbery. Garcia, who remains in Three Rivers federal prison in south Central Texas, was indicted by a Travis County grand jury on capital murder charges Tuesday.

"It's kind of a shame that somebody would kill another individual for any reason, but for just the amount of money that a taxi driver might be carrying with him makes it even more of a sad situation," Neff said.

Several months after the murders, police charged a different suspect, Mitchell Vallejo, for the death of Hinojosa. However, he was acquitted in 1993 for lack of evidence.

Hinojosa's eldest daughter, Maria Hinojosa, said she welcomed closure of the pending case.

"I think I'll be able to go to his grave site now and say 'Dad, We love you and everything's all right now," she said.

Parrish's sister said she hopes some answers will finally be revealed.

"We're just going to take this one day at a time," she said.

Neff said investigators have hard evidence and witness testimony present in Garcia's trial.

Police were able to start with a fingerprint and were able to identify its owner, connect ballistic evidence, DNA evidence and other physical evidence Neff wouldn't discuss.

Neff said although he has had contact with Garcia, the suspect was "not cooperative." A trial date has not yet been set.

Richard Velasquez, whose father started Roy's Taxi 73 years ago, said he remembers Hinojosa as a good man.

"It was devastating. We've never had that happen before in all our years," Velasquez said.

He recalled that period of time was difficult for taxi drivers.

"Back then it was crazy," he said. "There were just so many killings within a short period of time."

All American Yellow Checker taxis now have security cameras that take photographs of all passengers, said general manager Jim Connolly.

"It's not to say the possibility [for violence] doesn't still exist, but there are better security measures than before," he said.


American-Statesman (Austin, Texas) September 21, 2007

Death penalty may be sought after all in 1990 murder trial

DA's office puts execution back on table in death of cabdrivers.

By Steven Kreytak AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF Friday, September 21, 2007

This summer, Travis County prosecutors announced in court that District Attorney Ronnie Earle had decided not to seek the death penalty against Alberto Garcia, 42, accused of killing two Austin cabdrivers in 1990.

But after defense lawyers filed a motion last month to have the two murder cases tried separately, Assistant District Attorney Darla Davis put the death penalty back on the table.

Davis said the move is necessary to gain any conviction in the cases, but on Thursday, Garcia's defense lawyers filed a motion accusing the state of "prosecutorial vindictiveness" and claimed that prosecutors have made an arbitrary and unconstitutional use of the death penalty. State District Judge Mike Lynch set a hearing on the motion for Oct. 9.

The pretrial wrangling is the latest development in a case that has taken many turns since December 1990, when drivers Eleazar Hinojosa, 57, and John Parrish, 41, were found fatally shot in their cabs within days of each other. Another man, Paul Mitchell Vallejo, was charged with Hinojosa's death, but he was acquitted at a 1993 trial.

In 2004, Austin police cold case detectives linked the fingerprints of Garcia, at the time in federal prison for bank robbery, to prints from the crime scenes.

He was indicted on a capital murder charge- killing two people in the same scheme and course of conduct - in October 2004.

Later, as he does in all capital murder cases, Earle convened a panel of his top assistants to discuss whether he should seek the death penalty. They said he shouldn't, and Earle agreed.

But then lawyers in the case realized that under state law in 1990, when the crimes were committed, prosecutors could not waive the death penalty in a capital case, as they often do now. So if they were to proceed on the capital murder indictment, the jury in the case would have to be given the option of the death penalty if they convicted Garcia.

Because they did not want to seek the death penalty, prosecutors in July sought and secured two indictments against Garcia on charges of murder, a first-degree felony.

Last month, prosecutors filed a notice that they would try both murder cases at the same time. Garcia's lawyers responded by filing a motion for severance, essentially demanding two trials. Under state law, when a defendant asks for two trials in such a case, he must get them, lawyers said.

Davis said that if the severance were granted, the state would go to trial not on either murder charge but on the original capital murder indictment.

"The death penalty is supposed to be imposed in situations where the state has decided carefully to seek it," Linda Icenhauer-Ramirez, one of Garcia's lawyers, said outside court Thursday.

Earle referred questions on the case to Davis, who said later Thursday that the decision is Garcia's: Either go to trial on a capital murder count and face a possible death sentence or be tried in two murder cases and face up to life in prison.

Davis said that because of the nature of the evidence, which she would not describe, "we have to try these murders in the same trial, and the only way to do that at this point is to proceed on the indictment in which the law requires the jury to be the ones to decide between life and death."

University of Houston Law Professor David Dow, who specializes in capital cases, said that prosecutors often use the death penalty as a tool to extract concessions from defendants.

"Perhaps morally objectionable," he said, "but it's legally permissible."

Dow noted that it appears to be a smart move for prosecutors to want to try the two murder cases together, assuming that Garcia left either fingerprints or DNA in both cabs.

In a separated case, Dow said, Garcia could argue that he was in the cab as a customer before the driver was killed. If he tried to argue that that happened twice, it might be too big a coincidence for a jury to dismiss, Dow said.

University of Texas law professor Rob Owen, co-director of the school's Capital Punishment Clinic, said that changing course in the pursuit of the death penalty could erode public confidence in Earle's office.

"The public trusts the district attorney's office to be exceedingly judicious in their use of the death penalty and only to seek the death penalty when it's clear that no other punishment will protect the public," Owen said. "It's very troubling ... that the state is using the death penalty here for bargaining leverage."

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