Editor’s note: This free newsletter was sent to subscribers last week. Get the next one when subscribers do by signing up for the Open Court newsletter here.
Hi and welcome to the first edition of the Open Court newsletter. I’m KSAT journalist Erica Hernandez. I’m writing this free newsletter every other week and when big news breaks. We’re calling it Open Court because I will give you the best access to the biggest cases happening in San Antonio and beyond.
Over the past 14 months, courts in Bexar County had to shut down like most everything else because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Slowly but surely the courts are opening back up. This week, the first in-person jury trial is expected to take place since early 2020.
It will start as a trickle, with only one trial taking place at a time. Soon, though, it will become evident that court hearings and trials — like many other things — have forever changed.
On the Docket
Here’s a look at trials we can expect this summer. Dates are subject to change because of potential delays or plea bargains being reached.
- Jose Baldomero Flores: accused of murders in 2005 and 2011, facing two capital murder charges and arson — trial set for June 1.
- Jessica Briones: mother accused of killing her 4-year-old daughter; facing a charge of intentional injury to a child — trial set for June 24.
- Otis McKane: accused of killing SAPD Det. Benjamin Marconi; charged with capital murder of a police officer — trial set for July 12.
- Edmond Johnson: accused of starting the fire that killed SAFD firefighter Scott Deems; facing multiple charges including arson and murder — trial set for July 30.
- Andre McDonald: accused of killing his wife Andreen McDonald; facing tampering with evidence and murder charges — trial set for Aug. 30.
Get to Know
County Court Judge Yolanda Huff making great strides with mental health court
After 22 years as a defense attorney, County Court 12 Judge Yolanda Huff made the switch and was elected in 2018. She took the oath of office in Jan. 2019.
Huff was appointed to preside over the mental health specialty court in Bexar County. The mental health specialty court evaluates defendants for true mental illness and substance abuse issues with the goal of keeping them from cycling in and out of jail and provide additional resources.
Her latest mental health graduation ceremony had 99% participation, compared to about 10% percent with the first ceremony she attended.
“Even in the middle of a pandemic, almost everyone participated,” Huff said. “I was so happy and proud of all the participants.”
Huff got her law degree at St. Mary’s University and undergraduate degree at the University of Texas at Austin.
When not in her courtroom, Huff enjoys time with her family and traveling to local, state and national parks.
After living in North Carolina and Austin for part of her life, Huff and her family have made the Alamo City their home and enjoy the unity of San Antonio.
“I love living here because of the big town, but little town atmosphere,” Huff said.
There are often terms used in a courtroom that sound more like legal jargon than natural language. Even after years of covering court proceedings, I sometimes have to look up words to refresh my memory or make sure I fully understand what’s happening. In each newsletter, I will include a different word or phrase in this legal glossary section so that we can build our knowledge and understanding of the courtroom together.
Peremptory Challenge: During the jury selection process, each side (defense and prosecution) is able to remove a certain number of members from the jury pool without stating a reason through a peremptory challenge. In Texas, the number ranges from three to 15, depending on the venue and level of charge.
For more about jury selection and how important it is read: ‘It’s the most important part of a case’: Lawyers break down the art of picking a perfect jury.
I have some big shoes to fill. This week, Paul Venema will be retiring after over 40 years in the news business. For most of those years, Paul covered the criminal justice system and, of course, a story from time to time with his good friend Willie Nelson.
Like many, I grew up watching Paul on KSAT 12 (he hates when anyone says that lol). He is the true definition of an amazing journalist, and one I and many others admire and aspire to be like. I was truly honored to work alongside him and to be able to call him a friend.
San Antonio will miss his legendary reports and all his colleagues will miss his presence at the courthouse and in the newsroom. We join all the KSAT family in wishing him a very much deserved and happy retirement.
For more on local coverage, visit the Courts page: