Jury trials resume again, plus get to know Judge Frank Castro

The Open Court newsletter brings you the biggest stories in the criminal justice system in San Antonio, Bexar County and beyond

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It has been a while since an in-person jury trial has taken place and that is finally changing this week.

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The surge in COVID cases from the Omicron variant caused the courts to close to trials again back in December.

On Monday morning, courts reopened to in-person jury trials. If all goes as planned, this spring and the entire year is shaping up to be busy for the criminal justice system.

As of right now, there is no contingency plan if another surge in cases does happen. It’s a topic we’ve discussed with county officials over the past couple of months. There were even ideas being thrown around to use a bigger facility — like the Freeman Coliseum — to handle jury selection, as an option if cases were to spike again.

But for now, nothing has been approved or presented to the Commissioner’s Court.

As of last November, there was about a 30,000 case backlog among all county and district courts. Here’s hoping a contingency plan won’t be needed.

READ NEXT → 5 incumbent judges lose their seats during March primary election

The Docket

Here’s a look at trials and court proceedings we can expect in the coming weeks. These dates are subject to change and could be rescheduled.

March 14 - Jury selection is expected to begin for the trial of D’Lanny Chairez. Chairez is charged with tampering with evidence in the death of her son James Chairez. The trial could begin as early as Tuesday, March 15.

March 14 - A hearing is set for Jessica Briones, who is charged with the murder of her child. This hearing is to possibly set a new trial date as it has been rescheduled several times due to the pandemic.

March 21 - A trial could begin in the capital murder trial of Larry Leroy Moore. Moore is accused of the 1987 murder of a San Antonio woman. More than 30 years after the crime was committed he was charged in this cold case.

Get to know Judge Frank Castro

Judge Frank Castro. (Courtesy)

A native of Corpus Christi, 399th Criminal District Court Judge Frank Castro grew up visiting San Antonio regularly. His grandparents lived in the Alamo City, for one.

He soon made San Antonio his home after going to law school at St. Mary’s University.

Before being elected as a judge in 2016, Castro was a prosecutor, a personal injury and criminal defense attorney.

Since becoming judge, Castro has presided on some high-profile cases, including that of the Genene Jones, known as the “Killer Nurse.”

“It was difficult to see the emotional pain and suffering the family members have experienced and are still experiencing,” Castro told KSAT.

He will soon preside in another high-profile trial: Andre McDonald, who is accused and charged in the murder of his wife Andreen McDonald.

This year, Castro added a new role as he was selected to be a co-judge of the Felony Veterans Court, which is designed to address the needs of veterans who are in the criminal justice system.

“I am honored to have this opportunity to help veterans in this treatment court,” Castro said.

When he’s not in the courtroom, Castro enjoys being a volunteer coach for his kids’ soccer teams.

“In addition, I love spending time with family and friends at our place in Horseshoe Bay (Lake LBJ), with the majority of that time spent on the jet ski and boat,” Castro said.

And if you ever see him eating a taco it’s probably a barbacoa taco, he said, but no word if he’s having a Big Red on the side.

Legal Glossary

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 them. In each newsletter, I include a different word or phrase so we can build our knowledge and understanding of the courtroom together.

Motion for continuance: If you ever hear this in a courtroom or in our court coverage it is a lawyer asking a judge to change the date of a court hearing or trial to a later date. The judge could either grant this or deny it and not make a change.

Closing Argument

The March primary election is over and we now know who will be facing each other in the upcoming May runoffs and general election in Nov. There are more than 20 judicial races to be decided.

In upcoming newsletters, we will be taking a closer look at some of these races and hopefully be hearing from the candidates. If there are any questions you want to ask any of the judicial candidates, please send me an email (ehernandez@ksat.com).

Thanks for reading,

Erica Hernandez

About the Author

Erica Hernandez is an Emmy award-winning journalist with 15 years of experience in the broadcast news business. Erica has covered a wide array of stories all over Central and South Texas. She's currently the court reporter and cohost of the podcast Texas Crime Stories.

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