SAN ANTONIO – The latest halt to jury trials continues to leave thousands of cases on hold, which is causing overcrowding problems at the Bexar County Jail and leaving families frustrated as as their loved one waits for their day in court.
Mariesol Benavidez has been closely following the case of her niece, D’Lanny Chairez, who is charged with tampering with evidence in the death of her 18-month-old James Chairez.
“Justice isn’t being served for James and he doesn’t deserve that, we don’t deserve that,” Benavidez said.
Chairez’s trial, which was expected to take place in early January, was reset for Feb. 17 and will be reset again as in-person trials are on hold until at least March 1.
The latest COVID-19 surge forced local administrative judge Rosie Alvarado to prolong the latest suspension of in-person jury trials.
While the Chairez case is a more recent example, some cases — like that of Emond Johnson, who is accused of arson and the murder of San Antonio Firefighter Scott Deem — date back to 2017 or earlier.
According to Alvardo, there are 3,300 civil cases on hold across 14 civil district courts and, as of last November, there were about 30,000 criminal cases in the 23 county and criminal district courts on hold.
The backlog is also causing overcrowding issues, which Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar recently addressed at the latest Commissioner’s Court meeting.
“I’d love to see us try to do some creative stuff to get the system moving again,” Salazar said to county commissioners.
An option that has been suggested by Salazar was to move jury selections or trials to the Freeman Coliseum or AT&T Center, which is a move similar to what Harris County has done as their jury service is being done at the NRG Stadium.
Alvardo said that back in 2020 members of the judiciary did tour the AT&T Center and Freeman Coliseum twice, but in the end, funding was needed for the move for logistics such as staffing and proper security.
“The judiciary, we’re all for it, but it has been a matter of funding, which frankly, it’s out of our hands,” Alvardo said.
It was discovered that back in 2020, no formal request was ever made to the commissioner’s court about funding for such a move.
At the last commissioner’s court meeting, Judge Nelson Wolff and other commissioners did acknowledge the problem but said that even if a move was to be made to either the Freeman Coliseum or AT&T Center, it would have to wait until after the rodeo is concluded.
In the meantime, Benavidez and other families continue to wait for justice to be served.
“Every time I hear, reset, reset, it’s like you take a little bit more from me, it’s hard,” Benavidez said.