Hundreds of jurors skip out on capital murder case leading to new delay

by Meghann Garcia, managing editor

The jury selection process in the state’s capital murder case against Sabrina Vielma came to a halt Thursday after 75 percent of summoned jurors failed to appear. Vielma faces the death penalty for the Dec. 11, 2011, death of her 4-year-old son Davaughn Rodriguez.

Visiting Judge Stephen Ables told the crowd of 124 potential jurors that 500 people were asked to appear. Before hearing potential jurors who asked to be excused for various reasons, Ables said the court hoped to leave for the day with 125 potential jurors eligible to return Friday.

Instead, after listening to excuses and taking a brief recess, Ables announced at about 11:30 a.m. that everyone would be dismissed because too many of the summoned people failed to appear. The judge said a turnout of 215-220 people is needed to select a jury.

When the session began at 9 a.m., Ables explained juror guidelines as well as exemption criteria. The judge then called on jurors who wished to be excused from service. With an average of 12 people seated on each row, approximately half of the people gathered individually visited with the judge.

Previously, Ables said that jurors asked to return would be given a questionnaire to fill out and present Friday. Attorneys would conduct voir dire privately with each potential juror; court activity was to begin in January 2018 after the upcoming holidays.

Now, the court will come up with another timeline in the six-year-old murder case. Next time, Ables said, the court may summon 1,000 people.

Summons are randomly generated using voter registration rolls and driver’s license records.

Vielma sat quietly at the defense table as jurors waited to speak to the judge. She is currently a resident of the Uvalde County Jail, where she was remanded after violating terms of pre-trial release.

Vielma was first arrested in April of 2012 for injury to a child causing serious bodily injury. She was living in Austin then but surrendered to police when a warrant was issued for her arrest.

Months previously, Vielma rushed her young son’s body into Uvalde Memorial Hospital, saying she found him lifeless on the floor of their home. The green-eyed boy, who was described by his grandfather as a happy little boy who loved school, had been dead for several hours, according to investigators.

Davaughn, who was a student at Dalton Early Childhood Center, died as a result of blunt force trauma. The Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the case a homicide.

Vielma was booked into the Uvalde County Jail on April 25, 2012, on the injury to a child charge. She was released on April 27, 2012, after posting a $250,000 surety bond.

Vielma was indicted on a capital murder charge in August of 2013. She surrendered to law enforcement and was again released on bond.

Delays in the trial have long been attributed to additional DNA testing, first by the prosecution and then by the defense.

In January of 2014, Cel’ves Cook, whom police identified as Vielma’s boyfriend at the time of Davaughn’s death, was apprehended in Jasper. While Cook was found during an unrelated warrant roundup, officers discovered during processing he was wanted in Uvalde County for capital murder.

Cook also faces the death penalty. The Uvalde County Jail was Cook’s home from the time of his arrest until Sept. 23, 2016, when he was released on personal recognizance. According to the district attorney’s office, Cook was diagnosed with a medical condition that would have caused a financial hardship for Uvalde County.

Terms of Cook’s release included continued medical treatment, weekly check-ins with a judicial officer, and scheduled inspections and searches. Cook is not permitted to use social media or the internet, and he must not be in contact with Vielma.

Vielma was arrested on Nov. 6, 2016, for driving with an expired driver’s license. She was again released after posting bond and agreeing to wear an ankle monitor. Her freedom was revoked in May of 2017 when she was arrested on a warrant for tampering with evidence and hindering the apprehension of a known felon.

Before the jury selection process failed Thursday, Vielma’s trial was scheduled to begin in January of 2018. Cook’s trial is tentatively set for March of 2018, but it likely will not take place before Vielma’s trial has concluded.


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