Shocking verdicts, surprise plea deals and a court brawl among the top moments in Bexar County courts in 2023

A look back at the top trials and hearings

SAN ANTONIO – It was another busy year at the Cadena-Reeves Justice Center with several high-profile trials and hearings taking place in 2023.

KSAT 12 takes a look back at the year’s biggest moments in court.

Andre McDonald Trial

The highly anticipated Andre McDonald trial took place in January.

The Army Major was accused of the murder of his wife Andreen McDonald.

In a shocking twist, he took the stand and admitted to causing her death and burning her body the next day in an attempt to get rid of evidence. He said that her murder was in self-defense because she had spit on him and hit him during an argument.

The jury deliberated for more than 11 hours and came back with a not-guilty verdict on the murder charge but found him guilty of manslaughter.

He was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the manslaughter charge and an additional five years for tampering with evidence.

Melvin Quinney Exonerated

A San Antonio man wrongfully convicted in 1991 during the so-called Satanic Panic hysteria was officially exonerated in April.

The state exonerated Melvin Quinney of his conviction of indecency with a child.

In 1991, Quinney’s son accused him of being the leader of a Satanic cult and said Quinney had sexually abused him and his sister.

Quinney was found guilty and sentenced to 20 years in prison. He was released in 1999 and was then required to register as a sex offender his entire life.

Quinney’s conviction was vacated, and he no longer has to register as a sex offender.

Guadalupe Contreras mistrial

A trial for Guadalupe Contreras finally took place in 2023 after years of resets.

Contreras is accused of the 2017 murder of his wife Elizabeth Contreras.

The trial started in June and right before closing arguments were to take place, 379th District Court Judge Ron Rangel declared a mistrial.

In the middle of the trial, San Antonio police turned over some evidence to the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office. The defense asked for a mistrial so they could go over the new evidence and the request was granted.

Contreras is expected to have a retrial. His next scheduled court date is in February.

Guadalupe Contreras (KSAT)

Mark Howerton Retrial

It was the retrial we’ve waited for since 2019.

Mark Howerton was accused of the 2017 murder of his girlfriend, Trinity University student Cayley Mandadi.

In 2019, his case ended in a mistrial when the jury couldn’t decide on a verdict.

In June of 2023, his retrial got underway.

This time the jury did reach a verdict. Howerton was found not guilty of murder but guilty of aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury.

He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Mark Howerton is seen at the Bexar County Courthouse on Friday, June 2, 2023. (KSAT)

Emond Johnson plea

Emond Johnson, who was charged with starting a fire that killed San Antonio firefighter Scott Deem in 2017, ended up taking a surprise plea deal right before he was scheduled to go to trial.

Johnson pleaded no contest in the 186th District Court to charges of murder and arson and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

During victim impact statements we heard emotional speeches from Deem’s daughter, Brad Phipps, a fellow firefighter who was seriously injured, and from SAFD Chief Charles Hood.

The sentences will run concurrently and he will be credited for six years of time served in the Bexar County Jail. Johnson will be eligible for parole after he serves half his sentence.

SAFD Chief Hood speaks during the Emond Johnson court hearing. (KSAT)

Nail Salon murder trial

Kiet Nguyen was charged with the 2021 murder of his brother-in-law outside the nail salon they owned.

In a surprise move, as his trial began, Nguyen pleaded guilty in front of the jury.

The trial then immediately moved into the punishment phase.

The defense attorney said the case was about family betrayal and a crime of sudden passion and asked the panel to hand down a lighter sentence.

After several days of testimony, a jury sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

Kiet Nguyen pleaded guilty to the deadly shooting of his brother-in-law, Ryan Vo, outside a North Side nail salon. (Copyright 2023 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

Andrew Elizondo plea deal

The Mother’s Day murder of 6-year-old Saryah Perez in 2021 shocked the community, but another shock came when the man accused of the murder was given a 25-year plea deal.

Andrew Elizondo took the plea in August and stood silently as Perez’s family members gave victim impact statements.

As a part of his plea agreement, Elizondo owes a $5,000 fine and had an additional charge he racked up while incarcerated in 2022 dropped.

Perez’s family said they hope people remember the girl she was and the legacy she left behind.

Sasha Skare trial

Sasha Skare was charged in the 2021 murder of aspiring rapper Martell DeRouren.

In September, her trial took place and the evidence was stacked against her.

There was even a video of her holding the murder weapon.

Skare took the stand in her defense and spoke about the abuse she allegedly endured.

She was found guilty and sentenced to 55 years in prison.

Court Room Brawl

In October, a murder suspect was attacked and beaten in a Bexar County courtroom by family members of the teen he’s accused of killing.

A video of the incident was shared widely and sent to multiple KSAT journalists, though it’s unclear who took the video inside 144th District Court.

According to a statement from the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, family members of shooting victim Ethan Soto attended a hearing for Victor Nathaneal Rivas, who is charged in Soto’s death.

BCSO said after Rivas made a gesture toward Soto’s family members, they jumped a partition in the courtroom and began assaulting Rivas.

Four people were arrested following the incident — two adult males and two juvenile males. They will be charged with assault and disrupting court proceedings, BCSO officials said.

Quentin Phillips trial

The year ended with a trial for one of three men accused in a 2017 drive-by shooting that killed four-year-old De’Earlvion Whitley.

Quentin Phillips was the first of the codefendants to be tried on the murder charge.

It took the jury an hour to find him guilty and almost two hours to sentence him to 70 years in prison.

The other two codefendants are expected to go to trial at some point in 2024.

Quentin Phillips (KSAT)

About the Authors

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.

Misael started at KSAT-TV as a photojournalist in 1987.

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