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6 Investigates examines cases in which Nueces County DA doesn't pursue charges

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Posted at 2:09 PM, Jun 14, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-15 08:54:41-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Micaela Sudell and Erica Larracuente were shot and killed at the Windrush apartment complex on May 14.

Jason Edward Lara has been charged with capital murder in their deaths, but according to Nueces County Community Supervision and Correction Department (CSCD) Director William Schull, their homicides didn’t have to happen.

When 6 Investigates looked into Lara's past, it found he was already on probation, and court documents show he continuously violated the conditions of that probation. It's important to note that while Lara is charged with capital murder, he has not been convicted.

Shull said his office asked the district attorney’s office to revoke Lara's probation twice in an eight-month period: once in July 2021, and again in March 2022 -- two months before he was charged with murder.

"In the back of your mind, you probably think ‘Well, if they would've went with our allegations and proved them up and the person would've been in prison could these two lives have been saved?’” Shull said. “It's possible."

Now there are questions about whether inaction by the DA's Office cost two women their lives.

"It's sad, because it clearly could've been avoided," said William Schull, director Nueces County Community Supervision and Correction Department (CSCD).

Police accused Lara of stealing a vehicle in May of last year and dragging the woman who tried to stop him. The DA has taken no action on that case yet.

In March, another motion was filed to revoke his probation because he hadn't reported to his probation officer for six months. During this hearing, 117th District Court Judge Sandra Watts placed him on "Zero Tolerance," which means not reporting to his probation officer, taking drug tests, or paying fees, would have consequences. That was just two months before Lara was arrested for capital murder.

6 Investigates asked District Attorney Mark Gonzalez and First Assistant DA Angelica Hernandez for an on-camera interview, which they declined. We also sent a list of questions but have received no response.

"With that aggravated robbery, you have to have an indictment because the indictment is what gets it into court so that it can get prosecuted as an aggravated robbery," said San Antonio-based criminal defense attorney and St. Mary’s University law professor Jason Goss.

Documents show Nueces County CSCD filed a motion to revoke (MTR) Lara's community supervision a month after the aggravated robbery, but the Nueces County District Attorney's office abandoned that new charge.

"The reason why you want to make sure that you're on top of those is because the people that are committing those types of offenses are going to be the people who are committing violent offenses like capital murder," Goss said.

"It just raises all the red flags, and now two women are dead," said Sharon Sedwick, a victim advocate. "Our district attorney, our legal system has an obligation to the public to serve and protect.”

6 Investigates’ reporting revealed a dozen other instances in which the DA's office has abandoned charges over the last two years, despite the CSCD filing motions to revoke. Shull said his department’s job is to let the courts become aware of the violations -- the district attorney’s job is to prove the violations.

"At times they can do a better job at it, sure," Shull said.

Some of those abandoned charges involve domestic violence, arson, assault, forgery, and drunk driving.

"You know they're short-staffed, they're way behind because of COVID and they inherited a large caseload, which they did," Shull said. "COVID didn't help, one of the judges said it best, it'll be years before they catch up."

In May, the DA's office declined to prosecute one such motion to revoke. Probation reported the offender had committed more than 150 violations. While on probation after at least his third driving-while-intoxicated conviction, alcohol was detected on his breath in five separate instances while attempting to operate his vehicle.

That decision to not prosecute came just one month after the DA's office prosecuted Brandon Portillo, who was found guilty in the intoxication manslaughter of Corpus Christi Police Officer Alan McCollum. He was also found guilty on two counts of intoxication assault for injuring two other CCPD officers in that same accident.

Goss said the backlog should never be resolved by letting go of, or not prosecuting, the most violent offenders in the community.

"Violent crimes with victims should always be Number One on the list and should never be let go because of COVID or anything else," he said.

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