Characteristics: Parricide - Decapitation - Believing the children were possessed by evil spirits
Number of victims: 3
Date of murders: March 11, 2003
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: 1979
Victims profile: Julissa Quezada, 3; John Esthefan Rubio, 1; and Mary Jane Rubio, 2 months (her children)
Method of murder: Smothering, stabbing and decapitating
Location: Brownsville, Cameron County, Texas, USA
Status: Pleaded guilty. Sentenced to 3 concurrent life prison sentences on June 30, 2005
Mom gets life for her kids' decapitation deaths
The Houston Chronicle
June 30, 2005
In Brownsville, a woman pleaded guilty to 3 counts of capital murder today in the decapitation deaths of her 3 young children, getting 3 concurrent life prison sentences instead of the death penalty.
Angela Camacho, 25, will be eligible for parole in 40 years. Her attorneys failed to prove she was mentally retarded and therefore ineligible for the death penalty, but the plea agreement spared her. Had she been convicted and sentenced to death, she would have become the 1st Mexican national female on Texas' death row.
Camacho and 24-year-old John Allen Rubio, her common-law husband, were accused of strangling and decapitating her 2 daughters, 3-year-old Julissa Quezada and 2-month-old Mary Jane Rubio, in 2003. The couple allegedly washed themselves afterward and had sex before decapitating their 1-year-old son, John Esthefan Rubio.
A relative called police, who found the girls stuffed in a trash bag and the boy on a bed. Rubio and Camacho told police they thought the children were possessed.
Camacho answered state District Judge Benjamin Uresti's questions in Spanish as he accepted her guilty plea.
"I hope that God will touch your heart and that you ask for forgiveness," Uresti said. "Good luck to you."
Alberto Pullen, one of Camacho's attorneys, said she would face deportation if released from prison. He said she wants to stay in the U.S.
Rubio was convicted and sentenced to death in 2003 after he requested the death penalty. Rubio has since decided to fight the sentence. In February, he was found competent to choose his attorney for the appeal.
According to evidence during Rubio's trial, he had inhaled so much spray paint that he had damaged his brain and might have been psychotic.
Camacho's case was tied up for more than 2 years due to issues of her mental health.
Camacho competent to stand trial, defense says
Hearing scheduled to determine mother’s mental capacit
By Angeles Negrete Lares - The Brownsville Herald
May 7, 2004
More than a year after being charged with the decapitation deaths of her three children, Angela Camacho is competent to stand trial, defense attorneys said Thursday.
“Angela is getting better,” said Ernesto Gamez, one of Camacho’s attorneys. “Our psychiatrist Dr. David Moron has had her on medication for a year now, and she is now, in his opinion, competent to stand trial.”
Moron was not available for comment. He originally diagnosed Camacho as incompetent last year, stating in a letter dated May 5, 2003, to Judge Ben Euresti that Camacho “is currently experiencing a severe depression with psychotic features.”
But a steady intake of Lexapro and Risperdal — an antidepressant and antipsychotic, respectively — has improved her condition, Gamez said.
“Without (Camacho’s) current medicine, she is not quite all there,” Gamez said. “We’re talking about a lady that is hallucinating and has seen her children appear in her jail cell; (she’s) seeing ghosts.”
Camacho, 24, was slated to appear in a competency hearing tentatively scheduled for May 17, but Gamez said plans have likely changed.
“There probably won’t be a competency hearing because she is now ready to go to trial,” Gamez said.
“(Camacho has a) functional and rational understanding about the charges against her, and she can assist me in her defense.”
According to court documents, Camacho is scheduled to appear in a retardation hearing — also known as an Atkins motion — on May 17 so a judge can rule on her mental state. If she’s found retarded, Camacho could avoid the death penalty since a Supreme Court decision in 2002 deemed it “cruel and unusual” punishment to execute mentally retarded individuals.
A competency hearing was to determine whether Camacho is stable enough to assist in her own defense. Now that medication has improved her condition, Gamez said he hopes the Atkins motion proves her retardation and saves her from the death penalty.
Defense claims Camacho has scored below the retardation line in four IQ tests. The first test was administrated on March 14, 2003 — three days after the killings were discovered — and the last test was on March 5, 2004. A score below 70 on an IQ test marks the legal line for retardation.
A retardation ruling in the Atkins motion would be monumental, said Alberto Pullen, Camacho’s other defense attorney.
“It would be the first case in the history of the United States that the death penalty against a Mexican national would be avoided,” Pullen said.
The Atkins motion is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on May 17 at the 107th state District Court, according to court documents. Prosecutors, defense lawyers and Camacho are expected to attend, Pullen said.
Camacho and common-law-husband John Allen Rubio, 23, are accused of killing and beheading their three children Julissa Angela Quezada, 3, John Esthefan Rubio, 1, and 2-month-old Mary Jane Rubio in March 2003 in their filth-ridden downtown apartment.
Rubio was convicted in November and sentenced to death for the killings. His lawyers have appealed the sentence.
Mother bares other motive in kids' deaths
By Mariano Castillo - MySanAntonio.com
October 28, 2003
It was financial desperation, not insanity, that led to the suffocation, stabbing and decapitations of three small children, their mother told police.
Her second statement contradicted a confession she gave the night before, hours after Angela Camacho and her common-law husband, John Allen Rubio, were arrested when the children’s bodies were found.
Two written statements and a videotaped statement by Camacho on March 11 and 12 were presented Tuesday in Rubio’s capital murder trial over the objections of defense lawyers.
Rubio and Camacho, both 23, are charged in the deaths of Julissa Quezada, 3; John Stephan Rubio, 1; and Mary Jane Rubio, 2 months.
The two are being tried separately.
In her first confession to police, Camacho said that days before the murders, the children began acting strange and crying a lot.
“We felt someone had put some type of spell on our children,” she said.
Just as Rubio told police in statements already entered in evidence, Camacho said the children were killed because they appeared to be possessed as the result of witchcraft.
She said the concerned parents rubbed an egg on Julissa and dropped it in a container of water to check for proof of a curse.
“The way the egg floated told us something has happened to Julissa,” she said.
The practice is common in faith healing when treating a person afflicted with mal ojo, or “evil eye.”
The following morning, Camacho recanted her statement.
“It was not true,” she told detectives Samuel Lucio and Thomas Clipper on March 12.
“The real reason we killed the children was because of money problems,” Camacho said.
The financial pressures mounting on the impoverished family became so great on the day the rent was due, they decided to kill the children, she said.
“Better for the children to die rather than suffer,” she said Rubio told her.
The day before the killings, the family received a letter informing them that they would stop receiving food stamps because Julissa’s Social Security number did not match her birth certificate. They also were slated to lose Medicaid benefits.
The decision to kill the children was made together, but it was Rubio’s idea to decapitate them, Camacho said in the video statement, which was played for jurors.
Defense attorneys questioned Camacho’s truthfulness because of the conflicting statements and asked if Camacho was aware of her rights when she spoke to police.
A trial date for Camacho has not been set, pending a determination of her competence.
Since Camacho told officers she was a special education student, a slow learner and a high school dropout, defense lawyer Nat Perez asked police Detectives Chris Ortiz and Alberto Luis De Leon why those facts did not raise red flags for them.
Perez’s objection was overruled and jurors heard Camacho’s statements.
Jurors are to finish viewing the video when the trial resumes today.
Autopsies Show that Headless Kids in Brownsville Were First Smothered
Lubbock, TX, Avalanche-Journal
March 16, 2003
BROWNSVILLE (AP) — Autopsies show that three South Texas children were smothered, then stabbed several times before their heads were severed.
The children's parents, 23-year-old Angela Camacho and her 22-year-old common-law husband John Allen Rubio, have confessed to killing the three together, Brownsville Police Chief Carlos Garcia said.
Camacho and Rubio are charged with capital murder and are being held without bail in single cells on suicide watch in Cameron County Jail, Sheriff Conrado Cantu told The Brownsville Herald in Saturday's editions.
Justice of the Peace Tony Torres announced autopsy results Friday. The bodies of 2-month-old Mary Jane Rubio, 1-year-old John Esthefan Rubio and 3-year-old Julisa Angela Quezada were taken to Guerra Funeral Home.
Public viewing was to begin at noon Saturday. Funeral services will begin at 2 p.m. Sunday in the funeral home's Chapel of the Holy Spirit.
On Friday, family members cried softly in a private viewing at the tiny caskets. Pink and blue flowers and animals were piled in front of the funeral home.
Dr. Marguerite DeWitt, who completed the children's autopsies Thursday at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen, told Torres that the children died of asphyxiation and that the decapitated bodies had several stab wounds.
Police officers identified three knives Tuesday that possibly were used in the slayings.
The children's father, according to a relative, had recently reported hearing family members' voices coming from the youths and that the devil had been speaking to him.
Investigators scouring the family's dilapidated apartment Tuesday night told Torres that the children's mother held their bodies while Rubio severed their heads.
Law officers found the little girls' bodies Tuesday bundled in trash bags, and the boy's headless and washed body lying naked at the foot of their bed after an acquaintance summoned police.
Officers said Rubio fathered the two youngest children while Camacho was mother of all three. Rubio, a former Porter High School student, and Camacho, a Mexican national, were transferred from Brownsville Municipal Jail to county jail facilities early Friday.
The sheriff said Mexican Consulate authorities called Friday morning to contact Camacho, who is from Matamoros. But she refused to speak with them. Meanwhile, court-appointed attorney Bruce Tharpe met Friday morning with Camacho and Rubio.
Tharpe on Friday afternoon filed motions to reconsider the couple's no-bond status and to conduct an examining trial.
County Court-at-law Judge Janet Leal said Friday that she signed two separate search warrants this week — one to search the property and another to sift through the defendants' bloody clothes and belongings.
John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho
The phrase ‘perfect storm’ was first coined by William Makepeace Thacheray in his novel “Vanity Fair” in 1847. This phrase commonly refers to an event or series of events where rare and powerful forces collide to dramatically aggravate an existing situation with disastrous results.
When John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho of Brownsville, Texas met in 2001 it began a chain of events that ended with an event that would rock not only the city of Brownsville, but the entire state of Texas. And given all the wackiness that goes on in Texas, that’s saying a lot.
Angela Camacho was born in Mexico and illegally immigrated to the United States. She settled in Brownsville and had a child with one man and then became pregnant again by another. When she was about one month along in her second pregnancy, she met John Allen Rubio.
According to Rubio’s confession, he did not care that she had children with different men, he accepted them as his own referring to Julissa Angela Quesada as his daughter and when Angela Camacho gave birth to a son, he named the boy after himself.
Less than a year later, Angela Camacho became pregnant again and gave birth to daughter Mary Jane. The blended family moved into a ramshackle apartment which had once been a cement block grocery store in Brownsville.
John Allen Rubio grew up in Brownsville surrounded by superstition, dysfunction, drug abuse and alcoholism. According to Rubio, both his mother and grandmother were practitioners of witchcraft, as well as long term drug users, alcoholics and prostitutes.
He told investigators that his mother began pimping him out at a young age, so he followed in the family tradition of being a prostitute, at his mother’s suggestion. It beat flipping burgers at McDonald’s.
John Allen Rubio had a few run ins with the law over minor drug charges and was diagnosed with some emotional problems, none of which prohibited him from completing his high school education and participating in the ROTC program.
But according to friends and associates, John Allen Rubio had a nasty habit – huffing; Inhaling the fumes from spray paint, solvents or other common household chemicals in order to get a quick, but often lethal, high. Long term users of inhalants often suffer from severe depression, mood changes, weight loss, lack of coordination, irritability and in some cases permanent brain damage and death.
Angela Camacho was not known to use drugs or inhalants, but she was also not considered to be the sharpest knife in the drawer. She was a follower who usually went along with what ever someone told her to do. The one thing that they both shared was being born into and raised in abject poverty.
During John Allen Rubio’s first trial, Lorena, a transvestite and prostitute who was born Jose Manuel Hernandez, testified that on the morning of March 11, 2003, she stopped by the apartment that she shared with Rubio and Angela Camacho. When Rubio opened the door, Lorena became concerned because it was obvious to her that Rubio had been hitting the spray paint hot and heavy.
When she tried to enter the apartment, John Allen Rubio stopped her saying, “my old lady tried to kill herself last night. Right now, we are going to kill everyone.” Lorena told the court she became concerned and scolded Rubio, telling him that he shouldn’t talk like that around the kids. Rubio pushed Lorena out of the doorway and slammed the door.
Lorena pounded on the door and demanded to be let in, but Rubio refused. Lorena recalled for the court that she was frightened of John Allen Rubio because when he was under the influence he was often volatile. Hernandez left the apartment, fearing that Rubio might attack her.
Around 7:00 p.m. that night, Officer Efrain Cervantes was responding to a domestic disturbance call at another address when a terrified young man and woman flagged his patrol down. The couple, Maria Elena Alvarez and Jose Luis Rubio (the younger brother of John) were hysterical.
Officer Cervantes stated in his report that Maria started screaming in Spanish:
“The babies are dead.”
While Jose yelled:
“They have no heads.”
Officer Cervantes asked the young couple to get into his patrol car and take him to the scene so he could try and figure out what the hell was going on. While in route, both of the witnesses kept crying that:
“They have no heads.”
“They have NO HEADS.”
The couple directed Officer Cervantes to a run down apartment building where the young man took the officer to the door of the Rubio apartment. When John Allen Rubio answered the door, Officer Cervantes asked him what was going on. Rubio invited him into the apartment and just kept muttering, “the kids.”
Officer Cervantes observed that the apartment was filthy with dirty clothes and garbage strewn throughout the front room. He saw Angela Camacho sitting on what appeared to be a futon and staring at the floor. Rubio went to the futon and sat next to Angela. When John Allen Rubio’s brother yelled at him, “tell him,” Rubio looked at Officer Cervantes and said, “the kids are in the back room.”
Officer Cervantes made his way through the garbage to the back bedroom. He said that the hallway had a very strong odor of bleach. When he looked into the bedroom, at first he thought that a doll had been thrown on the bed, until he realized that it was the nude body of a small child. And indeed, he had no head.
“I just saw the jagged marks around the neck and then I realized that that couldn’t be a doll or anything.”
Frantically, Officer Cervantes reported the murder-decapitation and requested immediate assistance. No shit. I mean if I saw the dead body of a naked baby missing it’s head, I think that I would be screaming for the fucking Marines to land.
Officer Cervantes stormed back into the front room of the apartment and yelled at Rubio, “What happened?” John Allen Rubio just sighed deeply, stood up, put his hands together and said, “arrest me.”
Not a problem asshole.
Showing what I believe to be considerable restraint, Officer Cervantes calmly ordered everyone out of the apartment and placed John Allen Rubio in handcuffs for his own protection.
What investigators found inside the Rubio apartment defied even the most horrific slasher film Hollywood ever produced. Police Chief Carlos Garcia said:
“They lived in very poor conditions. There’s clothes, trash, all sorts of things thrown all over. Very poor, very trashy … in the worst conditions that anyone could live in the United States.”
Garbage littered the apartment; bags, toys, shopping carts, empty water bottles and clothes were piled into every nook and cranny, leaving little room for police to navigate the crime scene. Brownsville Police Department Investigator Chris Ortiz said about entering the bedroom for the first time:
“I wasn’t sure if it was a human being until I touched it.”
Baby John’s body was lying at the foot of the bed, devoid of blood. Officer Cervantes said:
“We go back to where the baby boy was found. And at that point the house was in disarray. It was dirty everything was dirty and dingy. But there was a plastic bag that I hadn’t seen the first time I walked in. It was at the entry of the doorway, towards the foot of the bed and that bag was like shiny a black trash bag. It looked like a brand new bag like it had just been placed there. It felt round. This has got to be the baby’s head. And I kind of reached over there and I was able to get to the bag, and it opened. I mean, I opened the bag and I could see that there were two other bodies in there, headless as well.”
Think this poor man has had nightmares about what he saw?
The bodies of 3-year old Julissa Angela Quesada and 2-month old Mary Jane Rubio were found stuffed inside a garbage bag, hidden behind the crib. The children’s heads were found inside of a separate garbage bag.
Investigators described the bloody scene as “horrific.” There were numerous blood pools and stains in the kitchen and on the floors. A bucket full of bloody water. Bloody knives in the kitchen and bedroom. Other Detectives found the bloody clothing that both John Rubio and Angela Camacho were wearing at the time of the murders soaking in the bathroom. As they continued to collected evidence from the scene, everyone began asking the same question, “why?” Dear God, WHY?
When John Allen Rubio was interviewed by police, he calmly and coherently explained the events that transpired on the evening of March 10 and 11, 2003. He said it began with the children’s hamsters. He became convinced that the hamsters were possessed by demons. He went to the cage where they were kept and he said that they were growling because evil spirits had entered them. So he smashed their heads with a hammer.
While John Allen Rubio was pouring bleach on the bodies, 3-year old Julissa saw what he was doing and began screaming. I don’t know about you, but if I saw the man I considered to be my father killing my pets, I would probably begin screaming too.
John Allen Rubio said that, “she started talking in like, demonized — like, she was looking at me, like, weird,” he said. He claimed that Julissa was possessed by the spirit of his grandmother. Julissa began growling and screaming at him claiming that she was Grandma who had come back from limbo and stolen Julissa’s soul. He believed that all of the children were possessed by demons.
“Julissa … my daughter … was telling me that she came from limbo. Julissa started to laugh in an evil way and started making growling sounds to me. The other two babies … started to talk and say things like three witches. They were talking to each other…”
John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho became terrified of their children and Angela began screaming for him to kill them. Rubio said that he began choking Julissa, but she wouldn’t die. So Angela ran into the kitchen and retrieved some knives. He said that Julissa was shaking and yelling at him, “you are killing me.”
Julissa kept trying to manipulate his mind with bad magic. That was when he threw her on the floor and began stabbing her. But she kept trying to get away from him because her magic was too strong. Julissa looked at Angela Camacho and said, “Mom, please make Dad stop.” Angela then held the child down with John Allen Rubio grabbed a machete and cut her head off because of course that is the only way to stop a possessed 3-year old.
John Allen Rubio said that after he cut her head off, Julissa bled all over the place with blood gushing out of her. Angela Camacho then picked Julissa’s body up and took it into the kitchen where she washed all of the blood off. She filled a bucket with cold water and placed the severed head into the bucket. Julissa’s autopsy showed that she had 12 stab wounds on her face and neck with an additional 21 stab wounds across her chest. He then nailed the back door shut to prevent any evil spirts from coming in or leaving.
John Allen Rubio then turned his sights on 2-month old Mary Jane. According to Rubio, she was practically foaming at the mouth, growling and spitting at him. Sounds like something out of the 1974 horror film, ‘It’s Alive.’ He grabbed her and began choking her really hard, but the little witch just would not die.
Rubio said that he thought that he had stabbed her in the head (he had stabbed her with enough force to break one of the vertebra in her neck) but he wasn’t sure. She was so strong and powerful that he had no choice but to cut her head off. He tried the first time but the knife wasn’t sharp enough. He couldn’t find the machete because he believed the witches had made it disappear. So John Allen Rubio grabbed her head and “with my hands ripped her head off from her body.
It was very hard but I managed to pull her head off.”
OK friends and neighbors, let’s remember that this is a 2-month old infant he is talking about. Two fucking months old and the bastard rips her head off of her body. That is a serious ‘WTF.’ Angela Camacho took Mary Jane’s body into the kitchen and washed it off. Then tossed her head into the bucket along with Julissa’s.
Even though John Allen Rubio admitted he was getting tired (of course the asshole is going to be tired – takes a lot of Wheaties to decapitate two defenseless children) but he had to deal with little Johnny.
Now there is some confusion and conflicting reports as to when John Allen Rubio killed Johnny, so I am taking this straight from his written confession. Rubio said that when he confronted 1-year old Johnny, he could just feel the evil oozing out of the child. About the only thing that little Johnny wasn’t doing was spitting pea soup all over the place.
John Allen Rubio said that Johnny was the strongest of the three children and possessed the strength of Satan himself. He explained that Johnny was trying to cast spells and spewing incantations at him and Angela. He said that it took him and Angela Camacho both to hold the child down.
John Allen Rubio tried sprinkling the baby with water, but it had no effect. I guess he thought Satan wouldn’t know the difference between tap water and Holy water. He says that he never stabbed Johnny, although the police video of the crime scene clearly shows stab wounds to the 1-year old’s body. The video shows that Johnny was stabbed multiple times, including just below his testicles on his right leg.
John Allen Rubio says that he used a larger, sharper kitchen knife to cut off Johnny’s head. Angela, ever the dutiful mother, took Johnny’s body into the kitchen, washed it and dunked his head into the bucket with his sister’s heads. Rubio said that he and Angela Camacho then began trying to clean up the mess. They tried soaking up the blood soaked into the carpet and wipe down the walls.
He placed Julissa and Mary Jane’s bodies into a plastic bag and hid it behind the crib while placing their heads in a separate bag and tossing it under the bed. But John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho were tired. So they took a shower together to wash all of the blood off of them.
He said that after the shower, the two of them went into the front room to relax. Did they call the police? A Priest? Anyone? Nope, nope and nope. With their children’s bodies lying in the next room, John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho fucked. Rubio told Angela, “we should make love for the last time because we were going to jail.”
John Allen Rubio sounds like a really deranged individual to me; someone so nuts that he has absolutely no idea of what he has done and that it was wrong. He told Angela Camacho that he thought they should dispose of the bodies in the backyard of his grandmother’s house because she was a witch and could control their evil power. I wonder if that was the dead grandmother or a living grandmother, as he was never very specific about that little detail.
They then laid in bed the rest of the night and throughout the next day until Rubio’s younger brother came to the apartment. Oh yeah, and according to Rubio, his brother and his brother’s girlfriend were both possessed by evil spirits as well. Good thing they were not helpless babies or their heads would have ended up in a bucket too.
So John Allen Rubio butchered three innocent children because they were evil. He told them that he “did what is right to save the world and that he has supernatural powers.” Sounds unfathomable, but unfortunately not that rare. It’s the old “The Devil Made Me Do It” defense.
And what about Angela Camacho? Initially, she somewhat corroborated Rubio’s fairy tale. She told investigators that the children had been sick with a fever for several days before the murders, and that they were scared and had refused to eat.
She said the day before the murders, a woman they saw while riding the bus gave Johnny a piece of candy. John Allen Rubio believed the woman had cast a spell on the children, making them sick. Rubio then demanded that Angela Camacho break an egg in a glass of water, and the way in which the egg yolk floated told them that someone had done something bad to Julissa.
The night before the murders, Angela Camacho said that John Allen Rubio’s mother came to the apartment and they all discussed using witchcraft to help the children. She admitted to holding all of the children down while Rubio stabbed and decapitated them. She said of the infant:
“Mary Jane started staring right at my eyes, real bad, like with anger, and evil at the same time.”
But when investigators questioned her a second time, she told a slightly different story. She started the interview by saying:
“I would like to start saying that yesterday I told the detectives that witchcraft was the reason that John and I killed our children. That was not true. The reason that we decided to kill the children was because of money problems.”
Angela Camacho told investigators that the family had no money for rent and that their welfare and food stamp benefits were about to end because Julissa’s social security number did not match the one on her birth certificate. They were facing eviction from the rat trap that they called home and none of John Allen Rubio’s relatives were going to let them stay with them.
Angela Camacho said that she and Rubio discussed the dire straits that the family was in and decided that it would be “better for the children to die than to suffer.” When John Allen Rubio told her that he wanted to cut their heads off, Angela asked him why. She said that he told her:
“Because . . . we had no money. No way to take care of them. It is better that they go with God.”
Yeah, that really answer the question of “why do you want to cut off their heads?” Angela Camacho said again that they killed the girls first, and about two hours later they decided to kill Johnny because they did not want him to suffer alone.
They had planned to put the bodies in a shopping cart and bury them at the city cemetery then escape into Mexico and start over. When investigators asked Angela Camacho why she would go along with such a heinous and appalling plan she said:
“because we were afraid. I didn’t want to lose my husband again, since he had gone to jail before. I was afraid because I had never been in jail before.”
When asked if she thought that they were going to go to jail, Angela Camacho said, “Yes, because we did something wrong.”
So this cum bucket helped murder and decapitate her children because she didn’t want to lose her man. Just makes me sick.
John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho were charged with three counts of capital murder making both of them eligible for the death penalty. I’m sure that all of you are aware that a death penalty conviction in the state of Texas usually means that before too long, you gonna die. Texas has tried to put in an express lane to the needle, cutting the time that inmates sit on death row.
Motions were made and granted to try Angela Camacho and John Allen Rubio separately. The problem was that Mexico had a slight problem with Texas attempting to execute one of their native daughters and filed complaints not only with Texas but with the Federal government. Texas spent two years trying to determine if Angela was legally competent to stand trial in a capital case and in the end, the courts ruled that she was.
Given the heinous nature of the crimes and the fact that she confessed, Angela decided that maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t worth standing by her man after all. In July of 2005, Angela Camacho pled guilty to three counts of murder.
Angela Camacho was sentenced to three concurrent life prison sentences instead of the death penalty, but will be eligible for parole in 40 years. If she is ever granted parole, she will be immediately deported back to Mexico. Angela has stated that she prefers to stay in prison in the United States, even if it is in Texas.
John Allen Rubio, however, was not in such a confessing mood. He and his attorneys insisted on going to trial, claiming that Rubio (wait for it…….) was innocent by reason of insanity. SHOCKING! And just in case Rubio wasn’t insane, his attorneys also proposed that he was so far under the influence of spray paint fumes that he didn’t know what he was doing or appreciate the seriousness of the situation.
During his first trial, John Allen Rubio testified that he used an array of drugs, including marijuana, spray-paint and “roaches” or flunitrazepam — a medication commonly referred to as the “date-rape drug,” which induces “memory impairment, drowsiness, visual disturbances, dizziness, confusion,” among other effects, states the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Web site.
John Allen Rubio testified that from the moment he first saw Angela, he would do anything to “make her happy, until the last moment of my life.” I guess that included butchering her children because she asked him to. He insisted that the whole thing was Angela’s idea. The jury didn’t buy his excuses, convicted him and sentenced him to die.
Unfortunately, there was a slight procedural error committed during John Allen Rubio’s trial. Angela Camacho refused to testify against Rubio. So prosecutors admitted into evidence her video taped and written confessions. But according to the Texas Supreme Court this was a big no-no. Seems that every accused has the right to confront all witnesses in their trial. And since Angela would not testify, Texas must now start the whole thing over.
Now the fun part – because they had to start over, that included proving that John Allen Rubio was sane. Of course Rubio’s defense team presented expert after expert during the competency hearing to try and convince the judge that Rubio was crazy for Coco Puffs.
My favorite was Jolie Brams, a forensic psychologist who stated that John Allen Rubio suffers from a delusional disorder. She testified that Rubio also suffers from a learning disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and of low intelligence. She said this could impact his ability to consult with his attorneys. Basically, she is saying that Rubio is to stupid to kill. Right. Sure Doc, whatever you say.
There is only one itsy, bitsy, teeny tiny problem with that. While Rubio has been in prison, it seems that John Allen Rubio has become the “go to” guy in filling out forms and requests for fellow inmates. He has also been reading law books, law dictionaries and researching specific legal cases. It seems that other inmates wanted to meet Rubio so he could provide them with legal advice.
I’m not sure about Texas, but it doesn’t seem to me that any inmate would want some whack job giving them legal advice or helping them fill out forms. Most inmates are pretty savvy when it comes to determining who is floating with a full deck.
But Brams stuck to her guns stating that if John Allen Rubio had actually done the legal reading and researching, he “still cannot comprehend legal documents you claimed he is reading.” Just makes you want to smack her doesn’t it? Maybe she wouldn’t mind if Rubio did a little babysitting for her.
In the end, the court determined that John Allen Rubio was as sane as you or me and the trial could proceed. It is scheduled to begin in July. This time, Angela Camacho will be testifying against him. Texas is again seeking the death penalty.
John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho are now pointing the finger of blame at each other, saying that it was the others idea to kill the children. Neither is accepting responsibility.
And yes, John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho had previously been referred to the state child protective agency because the children were found to be malnourished and needed medical attention, but the parents weren’t accused of physical abuse. CPS said it had counseled the couple before concluding three months before the deaths that the couple was making progress in providing a home.
Yup, John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho provided them a home alright. Three tiny caskets for the rest of eternity.
Now I know that there is a lot of occultism within the Mexican culture. Hell, I’m only one generation removed from paying the Ferryman. I have my own superstitions that have been handed down from one generation to another.
Like throwing a pinch of salt over your shoulder if you spill the shaker, planting lavender by your front door for luck and hanging wind chimes near your doors to ward off evil spirits. And I’m not saying that possession by evil spirits isn’t possible.
I just don’t see evil spirits using three babies. I mean how far could some evil entity go in the body of a 2-month old. The poor little thing can’t even hold up it’s head yet. Can’t wreck a lot of havoc when you wear a diaper and drink from a bottle.
I also don’t believe that John Rubio is nuts. I think that Angela Camacho may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer but that she was more terrified of being without a man in her life than keeping her children alive with their heads attached. Whether or not Rubio is insane does not excuse his behavior in my opinion.
Maybe John Allen Rubio was hallucinating when he killed the children because of the amount of shit that he inhaled. But when the police arrived, he did not appear to be under the influence of anything. I think that he was just sick and tired of taking care of the kids. He wanted to take Angela Camacho and go frolic in Mexico free of the responsibility of three innocent young lives.
Sure, John Allen Rubio had it tough growing up. His mother was an abusive alcoholic who supported her family by prostitution, probably in front of her children. He was poor, really, really poor. He didn’t have any resources and he had shacked up with an illegal alien. But plenty of people without any money don’t chop off their kids heads.
I believe Angela Camacho told the truth when she said they killed them because they were destitute. And she would have done or said anything that Rubio wanted. I think that John Allen Rubio epitomizes the need for capital punishment. I just wish that he didn’t get off so easy with just a needle in his arm.
John Allen Rubio should suffer, suffer as Julissa, Mary Jane and Johnny suffered. They died in terror and pain. I hope and pray that Texas holds Rubio responsible for his actions and that he pisses himself as they drag his sorry ass to the death chamber. Maybe the Ferryman could just drop him off at the gates of hell, which is exactly where he belongs.
In the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
John Allen Rubio, Appellant,
The State of Texas
Appeal from Cameron County
Womack, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Price, Johnson, Holcomb, and Cochran, JJ., joined. Keller, P.J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Keasler and Hervey, JJ., joined. Meyers, J., dissented.
The appellant was indicted on four counts of capital murder (1) related to the killing and decapitation of his three children: Julissa Quesada (age 3), John E. Rubio (age 14 months), and Mary Jane Rubio (age 2 months). The appellant pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity (2) to all four counts. The jury found the appellant guilty, and rendered a verdict on the issue of punishment that required the trial court to sentence the appellant to death. (3) In the appeal to this court, required by statute, (4) the appellant raises twelve points of error. We will reverse.
I. Did the trial court err by admitting Camacho's statements?
In his first point of error, the appellant argues the trial court erred during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial by admitting the statements of Maria Angela Camacho, the appellant's common-law wife and alleged accomplice in the murders for which he was being tried. Camacho invoked her Fifth Amendment right to not testify in open court, and the state offered three statements she made to the police regarding the murders, two written statements and one oral statement recorded on videotape. Over the appellant's objection, the trial court admitted all three statements. The written statements were read to the jury by the Brownsville Police Department detectives who originally took the statements. The videotaped statement was played for the jury, who also received a written transcript. The appellant was never able to cross-examine Camacho, either at the time she made the statements or during the trial.
At the time of the appellant's trial, the admissibility of out-of-court statements against a defendant where the declarant was unavailable for cross-examination was governed by Ohio v. Roberts. (5) Under Roberts, such a statement was admissible so long as it bore adequate "indicia of reliability" or otherwise fell within a "firmly rooted hearsay exception." (6)
Since the time of the appellant's trial, however, the Supreme Court overruled Roberts by announcing its opinion in Crawford v. Washington. (7) Under Crawford, non-testimonial hearsay evidence would still be admissible under a scheme like that in Roberts, but the Court made clear that, "Where testimonial evidence is at issue, . . . the Sixth Amendment demands what the common law required: unavailability and prior opportunity for cross-examination." (8) Although the Court declined to define specifically what is encompassed by the term "testimonial," they did say that at a minimum it includes "police interrogations," because they are one of "the modern practices with closest kinship to the abuses at which the Confrontation Clause was directed." (9)
The trial court in this case held Camacho's statements to be sufficiently reliable, and so they were admitted. The State does not dispute that Camacho's statements were given during a police interrogation and therefore testimonial in nature. The State also acknowledges that Camacho had invoked her Fifth Amendment right at trial and was therefore unavailable to testify. The State does not concede that the trial court erred in admitting Camacho's statements under the law in effect at the time. But the State does concede the Supreme Court's holding that new rules of criminal procedure are to be "applied retroactively to all cases, state or federal, pending on direct review or not yet final," (10) and that Crawford came into effect while the appellant's case was pending on direct appeal.
Accordingly, we hold that the trial court erred in admitting Camacho's statements. We will now turn to the issue of prejudice.
II. Did the trial court's error prejudice the appellant's case?
The erroneous admission of Camacho's statements does not automatically merit reversal. Rather, any Confrontation Clause violation, once proven, is subject to harmless error analysis. (11) In other words, this Court will reverse the conviction unless we determine beyond a reasonable doubt that the error did not contribute to the appellant's conviction. (12) If there is a reasonable likelihood that the error materially affected the jury's deliberations, then the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. (13)
An appellate court should not focus on the propriety of the outcome of the trial. (14) Instead, we calculate the probable impact of the error on the jury, in light of all other evidence available. (15) Evidence of the defendant's guilt should be considered, but that is only one factor in the analysis. (16) The question, ultimately, is whether the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the error complained of did not contribute to the verdict obtained. (17)
In the instant case, the appellant pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to all four counts in the capital murder indictment. He did not contest that he committed the acts which killed the children. Therefore, the only real issue in contention at the guilt-innocence phase was the appellant's state of mind. The primary evidence relevant to that issue came in the form of statements the appellant and Camacho made to the police. We will now turn to those.
The Appellant's Statement
In his own videotaped statement to the police, which was also admitted at trial, the appellant freely admitted to having killed his children.
The appellant said he met Camacho when they were living in the same apartment complex in 2000 or 2001. He used to inhale spray paint with Camacho's then-live-in boyfriend and, after seeing her physically abused by him, she and the appellant became romantically involved. Camacho eventually left her former boyfriend and moved in with the appellant.
Camacho brought her child Julissa with her, who at the time was less than a year old. Camacho was also pregnant with John, who was born eight or nine months later. Although it was unclear who John's father was, the appellant and Camacho decided to name John after the appellant and give him the appellant's surname. Shortly after John was born, Camacho became pregnant again, and gave birth to Mary Jane in January of 2003.
During this time the appellant held a number of low-wage retail jobs, and the family moved several times, including time spent in friends' houses and sometimes living on the streets. Eventually they moved into a home they shared with the appellant's mother and one other person.
The appellant said Child Protective Services took custody of Julissa and John at one point during this time, after finding the appellant was abusing spray paint in front of the children. This incident inspired him to find a job so he could get the children back, because he "adored" them and "would do anything for" them. CPS returned the children after three or four months - after the appellant got a job - but continued to visit the home to check on the children and to test the appellant for illegal drug use. Those tests, the appellant claimed, never yielded a positive result for illegal drugs.
The appellant said CPS stopped making home visits after he got a job at Golden Corral. He lost this job in December of 2002, a month before Mary Jane was born. During that time, in order to make money to pay rent and provide for the children, the appellant did some odd jobs but also prostituted himself. He learned how to be a prostitute from his mother, who had encouraged him to do so.
With the money the appellant made through prostitution, he was able to pay the rent when it came due on January 11th and February 11th of 2003, but he did not have enough money for the March 11th payment. He had $175 in a wallet, but it was stolen from his house. He asked his brother if the family could move into his brother's house, but his brother refused. He asked his brother's girlfriend Beva to loan him the money, but she too refused. Around this time, the family found out the food stamp benefits for the children were being cut off because of a problem with the children's paperwork. Because of the various money problems the family was experiencing, the appellant decided to take the children to a local homeless shelter. This was the day before the children were murdered.
That same evening, the appellant's mother came to the front door of the house. The appellant had recently thrown his mother out of the house because she had not paid her share of the rent. The appellant let his mother inside the house because she was now acting very nicely towards him, but once inside, she began to act strangely. She was pacing back and forth, alternatively smiling at him and acting angry towards him, and talking to herself. She left after less than an hour. Shortly after that, the appellant heard another knock at the door. This time it was Lorena, a male transvestite prostitute who was the other tenant in the house with the appellant and his family. Lorena was with a friend. They stayed approximately twenty minutes, talking amongst themselves, then left. It was now close to midnight.
Camacho and the children were still awake, watching television in the bedroom. Because the appellant's head was hurting, he turned off the television and turned on the radio to listen to Christian music in order to distract himself. He and the children began to fall asleep, but Camacho woke him up. He then put John into the crib, while the two girls remained sleeping on the bed.
The appellant returned to lay down on the bed and listen to music. As he lay there, he said he suddenly felt weird, as if something bad was going to happen. He began to hear strange, scary noises, and he saw mice running around on the floor, which he had never before seen in that house. He then heard his hamsters fighting with each other, which was also unusual. He kept five to seven hamsters as pets in a cage near his bed. He described what he saw next as being "like a movie, or something I saw on TV." The hamsters would look at him with a nasty expression and then growl. He said this had happened only rarely before, and only when his mother or Lorena were at the house.
The appellant then decided to kill the hamsters, which he did by spraying them with hairspray so they would choke. He brought the cage into the front room of the house. Some were still alive, so he put bleach on them, and then took them out one at a time and smashed their heads with a hammer. He then flushed them down the toilet.
Julissa, hearing the appellant killing the hamsters, awoke and came into the front room. She then started to act strangely:
[The appellant]: And she started talking in like, demonized - like, she was looking at me, like, weird.
[Police detective]: Give me an example of what she was saying.
A: Like (descriptive sound). She was, like, acting weird, like - I don't know. I can't do it like she did.
Q: She was only making sounds; she wasn't saying anything?
A: She was making sounds, and then she was, like - and she doesn't know English. I was, like (speaking Spanish).
Q: Who were you talking to?
A: To her. She was two people in one. Camacho had awoken by this point and was watching the scene herself. The appellant asked Julissa who she was, because she was acting like someone else, and she told the appellant she was his grandmother. He began to speak with Julissa as if she was his grandmother, and Julissa would respond:
[The appellant]: ...so I asked her, "Is it you, Grandma?" She said, "Yes." "What did you do with my daughter?" She goes, "She's right there," like she was inside my other girl, like Mary Jane. I said, "What do you mean? That's Mary Jane, that's not you." "No." I said to her, like, she was trying to give me - like tell me, but she couldn't say it, like, "Yo es ella, y ella es yo."
[Police detective]: What she was trying to tell you, was that she was -
A: She was in her body -
Q: That your grandmother was in Julissa's body?
Q: And Julissa's body was in -
A: In Mary Jane's body.
Q: - Mary Jane's body?
A: Uh-huh. The appellant seemed to resign himself to the fact that his grandmother was possessing his daughter's body, although it was "a little weird." He went into the kitchen to make something to eat, but he started to feel woozy, so he went back into the front room. He then saw Julissa cutting the tape off of an electrical outlet, which the appellant had put over the outlet to prevent the children from hurting themselves. He said it appeared to him that Julissa was cutting the tape with a pair of scissors, and then trying to give the scissors to John so that he could stick them in the outlet and electrocute himself. The appellant had taken John out of his crib at some point earlier.
The appellant said he believed his grandmother's spirit, possessing Julissa's body, was attempting to harm John. He shook Julissa and blew in her face, in an attempt to cast the grandmother out. He then put John back in his crib and began to choke Julissa. He thought he had succeeded in casting out the grandmother's spirit, but in fact Julissa either passed out or died because the appellant was choking her. He then called to her and she revived, but began to say that she wanted to harm the children, to make them and him suffer.
Camacho had entered the room at some point while the appellant was choking Julissa. After Julissa revived and spoke, the appellant asked Camacho to hold Julissa down while he choked her. He said Camacho did so, but that Julissa "didn't want to die." He then told Camacho to go to the kitchen and bring him a knife, which she did, returning with two knives. The appellant then stabbed Julissa several times in the chest. He then turned her over and stabbed her in the back of the head because he wanted to remove her brain. He said Camacho was holding down Julissa's feet and legs but turning her head away to avoid seeing what was happening. Over the next five to ten minutes, the appellant cut off Julissa's head with the kitchen knife. He said Julissa's lips were still moving and talking, and this scared him so he separated the head from the body. He eventually put Julissa's body in the kitchen sink so he could wash it.
The appellant then noticed Mary Jane looking at him, and he said to Camacho, "She's next because she's also possessed, they're - all three together." He then choked Mary Jane, and she seemed to die more easily, but she then revived just as Julissa had. Mary Jane began to laugh, and he started laughing with her, which suggested to him that something was wrong. He then decided to decapitate Mary Jane as well. After doing so, he brought her body into the kitchen, where he proceeded to "cleanse" the girls' bodies by pouring water into their throats where they had been cut. (18)
Camacho made three statements to the police, two written and one videotaped, that were all offered and admitted by the State during its case-in-chief at the guilt-innocence phase. As noted above, Camacho invoked her Fifth Amendment rights and was thus unavailable for cross-examination.
Camacho gave the first statement on the evening of March 11, 2003, the same day as the murders. It was read to the jury by Detective Chris Ortiz of the Brownsville Police Department, the same person to whom the statement was made. Her statement largely corroborated the appellant's, although it gave more background information than the appellant's. For example, she told of how the children had been sick with fever for the three days leading up to the murders. She said the day before the murders, a woman they saw while riding the bus gave John a piece of candy. The appellant believed the woman cast a spell on the children, causing them to be sick. When they returned home, the appellant had her break an egg in a glass of water, and the way in which the egg yolk floated told them that someone had done something bad to Julissa. She also mentioned the appellant's mother coming to the house that night, and the appellant and his mother discussing using the powers of witchcraft to help the children.
There was some inconsistency between the appellant's statement and Camacho's, however. For instance, Camacho said the appellant claimed to see possession in both girls simultaneously, and he strangled both girls simultaneously while she held them down. Camacho said, "Mary Jane started staring right at my eyes, real bad, like with anger, and evil at the same time." Camacho also said the appellant killed Mary Jane first, then Julissa, and he did so only by cutting off their heads - she did not mention him stabbing Julissa first. She then tells of killing John in the same manner.
Camacho then said after all three children were killed, she and the appellant took a shower together. The appellant told her he was dying, and so they should make love for the last time, which they did. Afterwards, he told her again he was dying, after which she tried to cut her wrist because she did not want to live without her husband and children. The appellant gradually started to feel better, and so Camacho told him she wanted to bury the children. They gathered the children's bodies, along with the knife they used, into a trash bag for that purpose.
Shortly afterwards, the appellant's brother showed up at the house, discovered what had happened, and called the police. Camacho said when Detective Ortiz asked her at the scene why the floor of her apartment was wet, she told him, "I cleaned the floor before and after we killed the babies." When Ortiz asked her why the door off the kitchen to the outside had been nailed shut, she said the appellant had done so before killing the children "because we didn't want anyone or any bad spirits to come in through that door."
Camacho gave her second statement the following morning, on March 12th, to Detective Thomas Clipper of the Brownsville Police Department, who read it to the jury at trial. In that statement, Camacho said she wanted to tell the detectives the "real reason" her children were killed. She said specifically,
I would like to start saying that yesterday I told the detectives that witchcraft was the reason that John and I killed our children. That was not true. The reason that we decided to kill the children was because of money problems.
Camacho then told of how the family had been having financial difficulties, particularly in paying the rent. Consistent with the appellant's statement, she said the day before the murders, they received notice that the family's food stamp benefits were about to end because Julissa's social security number did not match up with her birth certificate. By the morning of March 11th, with no money for food or clothing for the three children, and upon learning they would not be able to stay with the appellant's brother in the event they were evicted from their apartment, Camacho and the appellant discussed the situation and decided it would be "better for the children to die than to suffer."
Her account of how they killed the children more or less matched up with that of the first statement, except that Camacho said she witnessed the appellant kill the hamsters as well. She said that when the appellant told her he wanted to cut the children's heads off, she asked him why. He replied, "Because . . . we had no money. No way to take care of them. It is better that they go with God." She said again that they killed the girls first, and about two hours later they decided to kill John because they did not want him to suffer alone.
Camacho gave her third statement to Detective Sam Lucio (along with Clipper), on the evening of March 13th. The statement was videotaped, and the tape was played for the jury at trial. The jury also received a transcript of the tape to refer to as they watched. In the third statement, Camacho gave more background on her life and how she and the appellant met, and her story more or less matches with his. She again told of the money problems they were having in the days leading up to the murders, but when asked directly if the appellant had prostituted himself for money during that time she replied, "No."
The detective asked Camacho about the two conflicting prior statements she had given about the murders and asked that she now give a true account. Camacho's answer incorporated both prior motives given. She repeated the story about their difficulties with the rent money just before the murders, and she added that the children were suffering because, among other things, the apartment they lived in apparently had no water or electrical service. Yet she also said the night before the murders, she and the appellant felt "strange" and "weird." She said the appellant killed the hamsters the next morning "because we thought they were bringing evil" and it was contributing to the children's suffering. She again said the appellant nailed the kitchen door shut in order to ward off "bad spirits."
Overall, Camacho spoke often in the third statement of the children's suffering, but it is unclear if she meant they suffered because of the family's financial problems or because they were possessed, as she and the appellant seemed to believe they were:
[The Detective]: Were the children hungry?
[Camacho]: I would give them milk. To Julissa, I would ask her, and she would say that she was not hungry, that she was not hungry. She was unable to talk. She could not talk. She would just do like this, but she would not say anything. She couldn't say anything.
Q: And then what happened?
A: What happened? We decided the best thing to do would be to do what we did, because I would see that the children were suffering a lot.
Q: So they would not suffer?
Q: What type of suffering were the children having?
A: They could not sleep. They would wake up and they would be scared.
Q: Only that night?
A: No. They had been like that for a while.
Q: Was that the first night that things were weird?
A: The first night that things were weird, but there were some days in which the children were like that.
Q: But this is the first time that you thought that there was something strange?
Q: And that's why he killed the hamsters. And then you said that in order for the children not to suffer - was it your idea or his idea?
A: Both of us.
Q: Both of you?
Q: Were you talking about it?
Camacho's account in the third statement of how the children were killed largely matches the other two. She says she did not see the appellant stab Julissa, but also that she was looking away, and she does not deny that he stabbed her. She said that when they were discovered by the appellant's brother, the appellant told him, "that we didn't want to do it, that he didn't want to kill them, that he only wanted the children to be well." She also repeated the story about the interaction with the woman on the bus the day before.
One new detail that Camacho mentioned in the third statement was that she and the appellant planned to "go away" after they buried the children. When asked about it, her answers were the last portion of the statement:
[Police Sergeant]: You said that you were going to go away. Why is it that you said you were going to go away?
[Camacho]: Because we were afraid. I didn't want to lose my husband again, since he had gone to jail before. I was afraid because I had never been in jail before.
Q: You felt like you were going to jail?
A: Yes, because we did something wrong.
Q: And your husband knew that he had done wrong?
A: Yes, we knew.
Q: Both of you knew that you had done wrong. What did you do that was wrong?
A: We did wrong in killing the children, in the way - in that way, with the government. I only thought that the children were not going to suffer anymore. That's the only thing I had in my mind. I didn't have in mind that we were going to jail until the end.
Q: Thank you.
Because Camacho was an accomplice to the murders, and both the appellant's common-law wife as well as the mother of the victims, any testimony she gave at trial was likely to be compelling. That does not foreclose our analysis, however. If the record shows, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Camacho's erroneously admitted statements did not contribute to the guilty verdict, then that constitutional error was harmless.
Here, because the appellant pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, the primary issue to be resolved at trial was the appellant's state of mind when he committed the murders. That is, whether the appellant, at the time of the conduct charged, as a result of severe mental disease or defect, did not know that his conduct was wrong. (19) Of all the witnesses presented by the State, Camacho was in the best position by far to refute the appellant's contention that he was insane. And her statements do precisely that - particularly the second statement, in which she plainly states that the reason they killed the children was not because of witchcraft, but because of money.
Even more troubling, of all the witnesses presented by the State, Camacho had the most incentive to be less than truthful, because she herself was directly involved in the children's murders. In fact, the original capital indictment named Camacho and the appellant as co-defendants, before their causes were later severed. The testimony of accomplices is discussed in Crawford as one of the "core testimonial statements that the Confrontation Clause plainly meant to exclude." (20) In this case, Camacho's statements directly refute the appellant's only real defense. Moreover, she made three statements to the police, all of which contradict each other to some extent. The lack of opportunity for the appellant to cross-examine her, therefore, had a devastating effect on his case.
The State, in its brief, contends the erroneously admitted statements were not so harmful, or at least not harmful enough to merit reversal. The State makes its argument in the context of Shelby v. State, (21) which describes a test for determining harm in Confrontation Clause cases. Although Shelby pre-dates Crawford, we will address the State's arguments in turn.
First, the State contends that Camacho's statement was relatively insignificant, in that it was far outweighed by the other evidence presented, particularly the appellant's own statement in which he admits killing the children. The State submits that, in light of the substantial evidence of the appellant's culpability, Camacho's statement was unnecessary to establish his guilt.
As stated above, however, the issue at trial was not really the appellant's responsibility for the children's deaths. The appellant freely admitted that he killed the children. Instead, the issue was whether the defendant was legally insane. His own statement supported a finding of insanity, in that he spoke extensively of demonic possession and "evil" in the children that caused him to commit the murders. Camacho's second statement directly contradicts that argument, by asserting that she and the appellant killed the children because of money problems. Worse, Camacho says in her third statement that the appellant "knew" that what he had done was "wrong," which directly refutes the legal definition of insanity. Given Camacho's unique position as both accomplice to the crime and direct witness to the appellant's motivations, her specific, detailed testimony obviously had great significance.
The State also dismisses the importance of Camacho's statement as being merely cumulative of other evidence, and corroborated by the appellant's own statement. Yet the record shows this to be true only as to the facts of the murders themselves, namely, the methods employed and the chronology. As to the more important issue - the appellant's motive - there are clear discrepancies between the appellant's statement and those of Camacho. And, even if Camacho's statement matches with the appellant's, that does not change the fact that Camacho herself was facing indictment for capital murder when she spoke with the police. Obviously then, she could have been under some pressure to modify her story, given her own participation in the murders. That is precisely the type of issue the appellant was not able to address on cross-examination.
The State further argues that Camacho's statement was of little importance because the appellant had admitted responsibility for the murders, and the substance of Camacho's statement was shown to be "accurate" by corroborating forensic and DNA evidence. Again, however, Camacho's statement can only be said to be accurate as to the grisly details of the murder itself. It cannot be said that her statement was "accurate" as to the appellant's motives because she gives at least two conflicting motives for the appellant's actions.
The State also argues that any harm caused by not cross-examining Camacho was cured at least in part by the opportunity to cross-examine other State's witnesses, such as the officers who interrogated Camacho and later read her statements to the jury. Even if this were true, it is clear under Crawford that the statements of accomplices are normally particularly harmful. And it is difficult to see how cross-examining the interrogating officers, who can only speculate as to Camacho's motives and influences to testify, would have anywhere near the same effect as cross-examining Camacho herself.
Finally, the State contends the prosecution's case was strong overall, even without Camacho's statements. Again, however, the State focuses on the evidence which proves the appellant's actual participation in the murders, such as his own statement and the physical evidence corroborating his and Camacho's accounts of the murders. That evidence is indeed overwhelming. Yet the crucial evidence to rebut the appellant's contention that he was not guilty by reason of insanity came almost exclusively from one source: Camacho's statements.
Camacho, who was not only at the scene but by her own admission was an accomplice, told the jury (as read by Clipper): "The reason that we decided to kill the children was because of money problems." Later, she told the jury (in her videotaped statement) that she and the appellant "knew" they had "done wrong." No physical evidence presented at trial could corroborate these statements. On the other hand, there were many factors that could have affected the statements' accuracy, including Camacho's own pending prosecution for her involvement in the murders, her state of mind due to the horrific acts in which she had just participated, and her mental competency, given that she was a high school dropout with at least some time spent in special education courses. It is obviously not for this court to say whether Camacho's statements were accurate or not. Yet we can say that her statements likely contributed to the jury's verdict of guilt, such that the error in admitting her statements at trial clearly prejudiced the appellant's case. We sustain point of error one.
Having sustained the appellant's first point of error, we need not address the other eleven. We reverse the verdict of guilt and remand this cause to the trial court.
Delivered: September 12, 2007
1. See Penal Code §19.03(a)(8).
2. See Code Crim. Proc. art. 46.03 §§ 1-3, repealed by Acts 2005, 79th Leg., ch. 831, § 1.
3. See Code Crim. Proc. art. 37.071, § 2(b), (e), (g).
4. Id., § 2(h).
5. 448 U.S. 56 (1980).
6. Id., at 66.
7. 541 U.S. 36 (2004).
8. Id., at 68.
10. Griffith v. Kentucky, 479 U.S. 314, 328 (1987).
11. Crawford, 541 U.S., at 76 (Rehnquist, C.J., concurring); See also, Lilly v. Virginia, 527 U.S. 116, 140 (1999).
12. R. App. Proc. 44.2(a); Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 24 (1967).
13. Satterwhite v. Texas, 486, U.S. 249, 256-57 (1988); Wesbrook v. State, 29 S.W.3d 103, 119 (Tex. Cr. App. 2000).
14. Wesbrook, 29 S.W.3d, at 119.
15. Harris v. State, 790 S.W.2d 568, 586 (Tex. Cr. App. 1989).
16. Motilla v. State, 78 S.W.3d 352, 357 (Tex. Cr. App. 2002).
17. Satterwhite, 486 U.S., at 258-59 (quoting Chapman, 386 U.S., at 24).
18. There was presumably more of the video statement to be shown (i.e., describing John's murder), but there was apparently a dispute over the transcription/translation and ultimately the jury only saw the video up to this point. See Reporter's Record Vols. 22: 278; 23:3-7.
19. Penal Code § 8.01.
20. Crawford, 541 U.S., at 63-4.
21. 819 S.W.2d 544, 546-47 (Tex. Cr. App. 1991).