Laredo judge rejects application for exhumation of corpse in case of death penalty

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During Wednesday’s hearing on Samuel Enrique Lopez’s death penalty, 21st District Court judge Oscar J. Hale Jr. denied the defense’s motion for the exhumation of a body.

Hale noted that Lopez’s constitutional rights were not denied based on the fact that Dr. Corinne Stern of Webb County Medical Examiner and the evidence of the State of Defense were presented.

On April 21, Lopez’s attorney Kimberly Gonzalez filed a motion for the resolution of a corpse, stating that the defense team had concluded that the findings of coroner Dr. Corinne Stern of Webb County are flawed and unreliable.

The motion adds that the defense attorney hired a doctor who is an expert in forensic pathology to review the autopsy and alleged results of Dr. Check star. Defense attorneys said they learned during their investigation into the autopsy that Stern “made false and unreliable results from previous autopsies.”

In the state’s response, prosecutors add that the defense does not make a clear case for the need for a justification for an exhumation.

“The proposed expert does not support the exhumation request with evidence: there is no affidavit, no report or other expert evidence to support the request,” said the prosecutor.

Instead, the defense’s motion is supported by the defense’s mere allegation, along with a record of an Alabama indictment dating back to 2007 in which Stern made an autopsy mistake in a unrelated Lopez case.

“The defendant has provided no evidence that his proposed witness is qualified to conduct a forensic pathological examination of the deceased,” the response said. “He has also not proven that such an investigation is even possible, since the death of the victim occurred 13 months ago.”

Hale also noted that the defense showed no need for exhumation or that an effective defense was imperative.

The prosecutors add that they cannot prove that the exhumation is compulsory in the circumstances and is necessary for the administration of justice.

The federal ordinance states that the removal of remains is only permitted for compelling reasons and must be carried out under the supervision of an authorized representative.

“The defendant must rather prove that the planned exhumation is the only practicable way to obtain the evidence he is looking for,” the response said.

Lopez was arrested in April 2020 in connection with the death of Zayra Marlen Fuentes, 33; Lesly Sarahy Hernandez, 18; Pedro Cruz, 12; and Julian Saracho, 2.

Lopez is charged with two murders, one for harming a child and one for aggravated sexual assault. Webb District Attorney Isidro Alaniz is calling for the death penalty.

A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for June 3 in the 406th District Court.

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