‘Justice system does not protect victims’: Woman says prosecutors weren’t ready for trial in harassment case

DA’s office to take critical look at case’s history to ensure ‘victims’ voices are heard’

SAN ANTONIO – A San Antonio woman said the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office was unprepared for trial this spring, allowing her ex-husband to be quickly found not guilty of harassment.

“To put yourself out there and go after something that’s right even when it’s painful, to make yourself vulnerable is really hard. And honestly, one of my first thoughts were, ‘If this can happen to me, how many other women is it happening to?’ That their cases just don’t get taken seriously,” said Dr. Melissa Graham.

A DA official defended the handling of the case, pointing to schedule demands on the prosecutor and the case going to trial at its first setting, while acknowledging that the agency will take a “critical look” at the case’s history.

“You are dead. You’re (expletive) dead.”

Graham, now retired, was a staff psychologist for the San Antonio Police Department and the San Antonio Fire Department. She filed five SAPD reports against Juan Hernandez Barrios between March 2022 and last December, public records show.

The couple, who formerly divorced in October, were estranged and living separately when Graham began reporting Hernandez Barrios’ behavior to police.

Many of the disputes centered on who should be awarded the Northwest Side home they lived in, according to SAPD records.

In August, after previously reporting Hernandez Barrios to SAPD multiple times, Graham recorded a lengthy phone call between her and her then-husband, in which he made sexually graphic comments about her minor children and said he wanted her soul.

“You are dead. You’re (expletive) dead. Your daughter is going to get (expletive). You know your son is going to become (expletive) gay. He’s going to get (expletive) in the (expletive) (expletive),” said Hernandez Barrios in the Aug. 2 call.

“I want your (expletive) soul. I want your (expletive) kids. I want your (expletive) soul. I want everything of you. (Expletive) you! (Expletive) them! (Expletive) everything! (Expletive) you! (Expletive) you!” said Hernandez Barrios in the recording.

“It just progressively escalated. Screaming obscenities. It was terrible,” Graham told KSAT.

A partial transcript of Juan Hernandez Barrios' phone call with Dr. Melissa Graham in August 2023. (KSAT)

SAPD investigators obtained a copy of the audio recordings and issued an arrest warrant for Hernandez Barrios for misdemeanor harassment days later, court records show.

He was taken into custody and formally charged in September, according to court records.

Previously, in March 2022, Hernandez Barrios was accused of calling Graham 30 times in the middle of the night and making comments that frightened her and her children, an SAPD incident report states.

Hernandez Barrios was also accused of activating the couple’s robotic vacuum during the same incident, the report states.

A May 2023 San Antonio police report accused Hernandez Barrios of defecating in a toilet without flushing, urinating on the floor and rummaging through items throughout the home he once shared with Graham. (KSAT)

In May 2023, an SAPD officer accompanied Hernandez Barrios as he inventoried the home.

While the officer waited outside the residence, Hernandez Barrios defecated in a toilet without flushing, urinated in a toilet without flushing and on the floor and rummaged through items throughout the home, an SAPD incident report states.

Hernandez Barrios, a medically retired veteran of the United States Army, was only charged in connection with the August phone call, law enforcement records show.

Graham met prosecutor five minutes before trial got underway

Graham told KSAT she had no communication with the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office until a victim advocate called her a few days before Hernandez Barrios’ trial to let her know the case was set for the following Monday.

“(I) finally met the prosecutor five minutes before I was to show up in court. He told me he had just listened to the tapes on Sunday,” said Graham.

An attorney for Hernandez Barrios, Jasmin Olguin of the LaHood Norton Law Group, was able to get the recordings excluded as evidence after arguing that the case had been charged incorrectly.

The charging instrument alleged that Hernandez Barrios committed harassment by calling Graham and not hanging up the phone, thus not allowing the connection to end.

But this manner of committing the offense of harassment is no longer possible and has not been used in charging paperwork for decades, an attorney from LaHood Norton pointed out to KSAT.

Since the charging instrument did not state that Hernandez Barrios had threatened Graham or said inappropriate things to her, the prosecution could not describe what was on the recordings or play them in court, the attorney said.

“Which effectively ended my complaint,” said Graham.

The judge assigned to the case issued a directed verdict of not guilty, court records show.

This type of verdict is infrequently used but is issued when a judge determines there is not sufficient evidence for a jury to reach a different conclusion.

“The justice system does not protect victims, not in this city,” Graham told KSAT.

Asked for comment, DA spokesman Pete Gallego released the following statement to KSAT:

“We work hard to do justice by the victims of domestic violence and strive to continually improve while also contending with court schedules and many other dynamic changes. In this case, we had contact with the complainant on three occasions: first, within a month of the defendant’s arrest, again five days after that, and we then reached out prior to the case’s first trial setting to discuss the possibility of trial testimony. Trial schedule demands prevented the prosecutors from meeting with the victim in person before the day of the first trial setting. Typically, the oldest cases on a docket proceed to trial first. This case proceeded to trial on its very first trial setting. Because of this, we did not meet in person before this setting. We regret that this scheduling issue caused the complainant to feel the case was not prepared. We apologize she was left with that impression. That is not the case; the prosecutor reviewed all the evidence submitted by law enforcement in preparing for trial, including the police reports and audio that formed the substance of this case. Unfortunately, we were not successful in prosecuting this particular case based on the admissible evidence. As with any trial proceeding, the ultimate result is out of our hands. Even so, we are taking a critical look at the history of this case and working to ensure that our work is thorough and diligent across our caseload so that victims’ voices are heard.”

Hernandez Barrios has not been charged with domestic violence.

Reached for comment, Graham called Gallego’s statement, “BS.”

“Apparently they did not take it seriously and the DA was competently inept,” said Graham in a written response to Gallego’s statement, pointing out that she had no contact with the DA’s office until the victim advocate called her in late March and that Graham was not afforded the opportunity to give prosecutors the proper context of what Hernandez Barrios had done.

Graham told KSAT the DA’s office should have made more effort to reach her ahead of trial to get her side of what happened, should have researched how to properly charge her ex and should have pushed for the county court judge to listen to the recordings prior to ruling on whether or not to toss them out as evidence.

Dr. Melissa Graham. (KSAT)

Separately, in November, after Hernandez Barrios’ arrest, a Bexar County Civil District Court judge denied Graham’s request for a protective order, court records show.

“I apologize for the stuff that I said.”

An attorney for Hernandez Barrios told KSAT that Graham could have simply ended the call and that she appeared to be “egging on” her then-husband, which would have made the harassment claim difficult to prove if the trial had been allowed to play out.

Hernandez Barrios spoke with KSAT at length in front of the home he once shared with Graham.

Juan Hernandez Barrios (right) speaks with KSAT's Dillon Collier. (KSAT)

“One phone call that I regret and I mean, I apologize for the stuff that I said. I was intoxicated. But I didn’t mean any harm,” said Hernandez Barrios, who added that his comments were made following years of pent-up frustration.

“I told her (expletive) off. I told her all these things. I did,” said Hernandez Barrios.

“(But) I didn’t do anything wrong. It was fair,” said Hernandez Barrios, when asked about the outcome of the case.

There is a long list of resources on the KSAT Domestic Violence webpage.

Read more reporting on the KSAT Investigates page.

About the Authors

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Joshua Saunders is an Emmy award-winning photographer/editor who has worked in the San Antonio market for the past 20 years. Joshua works in the Defenders unit, covering crime and corruption throughout the city.

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