SAN ANTONIO – The prosecution rested its case Wednesday afternoon in the public corruption trial of Michelle Barrientes Vela, capping off seven days of testimony that ranged from methodical to explosive and included a mistrial nearly being declared.
Attorneys for Barrientes Vela indicated they will rest their case on Thursday morning, which sets the stage for closing arguments and deliberations to take place that same day in Judge Velia Meza’s courtoom.
Barrientes Vela, whose scandal-plagued 33 months in office was hampered by allegations of criminal wrongdoing and mistreatment of the public and her own deputies, is accused of tampering with security records from Rodriguez Park.
She faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
Defense attorney Nico LaHood on Wednesday continued his aggressive cross-examination of Texas Ranger Bradley Freeman, whose utterance Tuesday that he believed Barrientes Vela had committed official oppression nearly led to a mistrial being declared by Meza.
Barrientes Vela faces multiple counts of official oppression, but those charges are not part of this trial, and Meza has repeatedly stated that allegations of wrongdoing against Barrientes Vela not related to her tampering charges are off limits.
Meza denied the defense’s motion for mistrial late Tuesday afternoon but directed her staff to begin contempt of court proceedings against Freeman.
Those will take place at a later date, Meza said.
LaHood took aim Wednesday at Freeman’s failure to request cash logs specifically in any of the multiple grand jury subpoenas issued to Barrientes Vela in the summer of 2019.
LaHood also questioned whether Freeman properly scrutinized the star witness in the state’s case: former Precinct 2 clerk Susan Tristan.
“We trusted that Susan would tell us if there was anything on the recording that we needed to know. We trusted her. We felt that she was being honest,” said Freeman, when describing tapes made by a covert FBI recording device worn by Tristan at work for several days in the summer of 2019.
LaHood responded, “That’s amazing.”
Freeman confirmed he never listened to the full contents of the recordings and instead had done “spot listening” of them.
Tristan did not record Barrientes Vela saying anything incriminating while Tristan wore the device.
Barrientes Vela’s attorneys attempted to cast Tristan in a negative light for much of Wednesday, describing her as a clerk who had gotten into trouble for shredding security records from the same West Side park and as someone who was on her way out.
Tristan resigned from Precinct 2 in late September 2019, a day after the Rangers and FBI raided Barrientes Vela’s Northwest Side offices, and accepted a similar position in the Seattle area.
After LaHood argued that Freeman’s 94-page report on Barrientes Vela did not include “evidence of innocence,” prosecutor Dawn McCraw pointed out that law enforcement reports are about evidence of wrongdoing and how that evidence comes together.
The prosecution rested its case around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The defense can begin presenting its case around 10:30 a.m. Thursday, but indicated Wednesday afternoon that it plans to instead rest its case.