Day 1

All eyes are on the city of Mission, as it seems as if the whole town showed up in their support for either mayoral candidate as they both claim voter fraud was evident during the June 9 runoff election. The trial commenced this week in the contested Mission mayoral election at the Hidalgo County Courthouse, before the 93rd District Court. Former Mission mayor of twenty years, Norberto “Beto” Salinas contested the results of the June 9 runoff election, which current mayor Armando “Doc” O’Caña won by 157 votes.

Although Salinas initially accepted defeat, he filed a lawsuit only after several witnesses claimed bribery, mail-ballot harvesting, and illegal voting occurred during the runoff election. However, O’Caña’s camp counters that Salinas’ is guilty of such allegations.

On Monday morning, attorney Rick Salinas announced the Texas Attorney General’s Office was also investigating the allegations of illegal activity during the June 9 runoff election, after receiving complaints.

Unfortunately, and to the chagrin of Salinas—who is also Norberto’s son—O’Caña was unable to attend the trial due to his brother’s untimely death the night before. O’Caña’s attorney, Gilberto Hinojosa—former Cameron County Judge and current chairman of the Texas Democratic Party—said he would have the mayor in by Wednesday, further frustrating Salinas as they intended to call him as the first witness.

The master court was overflowing Monday afternoon, as visiting Judge J. Bonner Dorsey swore in over 40 witnesses.

Salinas called five witnesses to testify while Hinojosa sparred with him over evidence and witnesses. Hinojosa stated Salinas designated over 700 witnesses, scrutinizing the list as each witness approached the stand.

Two witnesses testified on mail-ballot harvesting.

The first witness, Jesusa Marin, stated she and her husband’s mail-in ballots were taken by two women who said they’d “take care of it.” Salinas showed two photos of women from O’Caña’s campaign, and Marin identified them as the women who took her mail-in ballots. She also testified she believed those women visited two of her elderly neighbors for the same purpose. Following this incident, Marin stated she cancelled their ballots, and voted at the polls.

Once at the polling place, Hinojosa then argued that a politiquera named Lupita Ramirez, illegally assisted Marin. But Salinas countered she requested the assistance, calling it legal. She voted for “Beto” Salinas.

92-year-old Maria Muñoz, was the second to testify. Her testimony was discredited however after she could not remember a statement she gave months ago about a woman who took her mail-ballot. A recording was produced with her voice, but she claimed she could not identify her voice and it had changed over the years.

The most credible witness of the day was Samuel Tijerina, sales manager of Mercedes-Benz in San Juan. He testified that Veronica O’Caña paid cash to rent a Mercedes luxury-travel style van during early voting, and was late returning the van. Tijerina believes the van was used to “shuttle voters” to the polls.

The day ended at a climax with the last witness, Samuel Deckard, to which Hinojosa immediately objected, stating he was a convicted felon. Deckard’s testimony on accepting a bribe, called for the court to read him his fifth amendment rights. Judge Dorsey warned of the potential consequences his statement could have against him, prompting Deckard to change his mind saying, “I’m not going to do this.”

Day 2

Tuesday morning, after speaking with his attorney, Deckard testified he was bribed to vote for O’Caña during both elections. According to his affidavit, he was paid $10 in May and $20 in June to vote. In May, he states he was transported in a white Mercedes van by the O’Caña campaign and was coached to ask for assistance from Cynthia Pacheco, the District Office manager for Democrat State Rep. Sergio Muñoz (Mission). He also states he voted inside the van and afterwards Pacheco told the driver, “Yes, they voted. You can pay them.”

In June, Deckard ignored a bribe sent to him via Facebook messenger. Then Jesus Rodriguez, the driver, showed up at his house looking for him and his wife. This time they offered $20 per vote, plus $60-80 more if he found three more voters. Deckard also described how they instructed everyone to turn off their phones upon entering the van.

He stated he was instructed not to discuss about the payoffs with anyone. He also states they were driven across Mission picking up people, taking them to the polls at Mission City Hall. Hinojosa’s defense focused on Deckard’s character pointing to his list of convictions to discredit his testimony, claiming he believed Deckard is on drugs.

It appears Salinas’ prediction the trial would last two weeks could be accurate, as both attorneys continuously bicker over evidence and witnesses, in addition to O’Caña’s absence. With over 700 witnesses on the list, and over 140 subpoenas issued, Hinojosa states, “This is going to be a circus.”

Miriam Cepeda

Miriam Cepeda is the Rio Grande Valley Bureau Chief for Texas Scorecard. A second-generation Mexican American, she is both fluent in English and Spanish and has been influential in grassroots organizing and conservative engagement within Hispanic communities. If you don’t find her “Trumping”, you can find her saving animals, running her dog, hiking the Andes, or volunteering with the U.S. National Park Service.