Jury finds Michelle Barrientes Vela guilty on 2 counts of tampering with records

Former Precinct 2 constable could face a maximum punishment of up to 10 years in prison

SAN ANTONIO – A Bexar County jury on Thursday found former Precinct 2 Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela guilty on two felony counts of tampering with records.

The jury deliberated for four hours before reaching its decision in the nearly two-week long public corruption trial.

Barrientes Vela is eligible for probation. She could face a maximum punishment of up to 10 years in prison.

Barrientes Vela requested for Judge Velia Meza to decide her sentence. The court will reconvene on Sept. 12 to begin the sentencing phase. Until then, Barrientes Vela will be allowed to remain free.

Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales thanked the jury for their service and for staying “focused on this complex case.”

“Their verdicts show that anyone who breaks the law will be held accountable,” Gonzales said in a statement. “I also want to thank our team who has worked tirelessly on this case for more than three years. Our witnesses, from those who worked with the former constable and Texas Ranger Brad Freeman, also deserve credit for standing with the facts and the truth from the very beginning.”

Barrientes Vela still faces multiple counts of official oppression in a separate case that has not yet been set for trial.

The charges were included in a wide sweeping January 2020 indictment of Barrientes Vela and her former captain, Marc D. Garcia, covering her tumultuous 33 months in office.

The indictment, among other allegations regarding her time in office, accuses Barrientes Vela of presenting Rodriguez Park security cash logs that she knew were false.

WATCH: Highlights from Day 8 of the Michelle Barrientes Vela trial

During closing arguments Thursday morning, prosecutor Oscar Salinas asked the jury to ignore the “noise” surrounding the high-profile case.

Salinas called the defense arguments an “insult to the intelligence” of the jury.

“The defendant concealed records after being given a grand jury summons,” said Salinas, who added that Barrientes Vela then made fake documents and provided them to the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office.

Defense attorney Jason Goss told the jury a guilty verdict would be the jury telling the public that its okay to lodge this type of investigation against anyone in the community.

“They set a trap and they didn’t get anything,” said Goss, repeating comments he made during opening arguments last week.

Defense attorney Nico LaHood during closing arguments described the state’s presentation as a “bumpy waltz,” as he harped on Freeman’s investigation and reminded the jury that the secret FBI recording device worn by former Precinct 2 clerk Susan Tristan did not result in any incriminating evidence being gathered against Barrientes Vela.

“Be careful of the world you help create because you may have to live in it someday,” LaHood told the jury.

During her portion of closing arguments, prosecutor Dawn McCraw said Barrientes Vela’s attorneys were so critical of her and Freeman because they didn’t want the jury to look at the person on trial.

“Disparaging Ranger Freeman and me is incredibly insulting,” said McCraw, who touched on her 32 years as a prosecutor.

After the trial McCraw said it was one of the hardest cases she had done during her career.

“It was hard fought and we are so thankful that they saw the facts and held her accountable,” said McCraw.

“We presented our case, the facts were on our side, the evidence was on our side,” Salinas said after the trial.

Barrientes Vela stepped down in late 2019 after triggering the state’s resign-to-run law.

McCraw said its quite possible Barrientes Vela will avoid jail time when sentenced later this month since the ex-constable had no previous criminal history.

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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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