Criminal District Attorney Jennifer Tharp and the Comal County justice system are eating away at a backlog of cases that had piled up during the pandemic.
Recently Tharp announced recent dispositions through pleas and jury verdicts that resulted in prison sentences in district courts.
On March 4, the day after a jury found Stephen Charles Hernandez guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a child under the age of 14 and sexual assault of a child, stemming from incidents in late 2015 and early 2016, he was sentenced to life in prison.
Hernandez, 60, of Canyon Lake, did not take testify during his four-day trial in Judge Stephanie Bascon’s 466th District Court. Because both charges carried enhancements due to a previous out-of-state conviction, Bascon sentenced him to two consecutive life sentences.
“These types of cases are difficult, and our office is grateful to the jury for their time and thoughtful deliberation in returning a just verdict for the victim. We are also thankful to the victim who made the brave decision to come forward to report and face Hernandez in court,” Tharp said. “Thanks to her tremendous courage, Stephen Hernandez will never have the opportunity to prey on or abuse another child again.”
On Feb. 19, Adrian Garza Jr., 23, of New Braunfels, received a 12-year sentence after four felony convictions related to a 2020 hit-and-run that injured two Corpus Christi women. The jury found Garza innocent on two second-degree felony aggravated assault charges in the indictment after he admitted driving his pickup truck into the women before leaving them injured in a hotel parking lot in the early morning hours of June 1, 2020.
Garza was found guilty of leaving the scene of an accident involving serious bodily injury, assault of a peace officer, harassment of a public servant and obstruction and/or retaliation. Tharp, who with Mark Long prosecuted for the state, presented evidence from a 2019 incident in which Garza ran over two individuals following a fight in the parking lot of Conway’s.
Two others received 10-year sentences for their roles in the shooting of a Guadalupe County man on May 22, 2019. Chelsea Marie Williams-Wallace, 24, and Christopher Salos Amador, 23, both of New Braunfels, were sentenced after entering guilty pleas in two courts.
Their charges stemmed from the early morning shooting of a 34-year-old Guadalupe County man in the 500 block of Ventura Drive in New Braunfels. The victim, who suffered a non life-threatening gunshot wound to his arm, was later released from a San Antonio-area hospital.
Both defendants were charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and possession of a controlled substance, penalty group 2, under 1 gram, with Amador also charged with unlawfully possessing a firearm. Williams-Wallace was sentenced in Judge Bruce Boyer’s 22nd District Court, with Amador sentenced in Bascon’s court.
Tharp credited juries, judges and staffers Sammy McCrary, Jessica Frazier, Jacqueline Doyer, Lauren Cole, Daniel Floyd and Jennifer Barry for their work in cases that also included:
• Fredis Rivas, 35, of New Braunfels pled guilty to two counts of Indecency with a Child by Contact. He was subsequently sentenced to 20 years in prison on each charge with each count to run consecutively. Judge Gary Steel, of the 274th District Court, presided over the court and District Attorney Jennifer Tharp prosecuted the case on behalf of the State of Texas.
• Cesar Carlos Cueva, 30, of New Braunfels, pled guilty to possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance, penalty group 1, between 200 and 400 grams (methamphetamine) and unlawful possession of a firearm. Cueva, enhanced as a repeat offender, was sentenced to 30 years in prison by Judge Steel.
• Michael Pihota, 38, of Cibolo, pled guilty to aggregated theft between $150,000 and $300,000 and attempted theft. As a habitual offender with history that included engaging in organized crime and manufacturing and/or possessing a controlled substance with intent to deliver, Pihota was sentenced to 26 years in prison by Judge Steel.
• Norman Yoes, 58, of Tatum, pled guilty to unlawful possession of a firearm and was sentenced to 25 years in prison by Judge Bruce Boyer. Yoes was enhanced as a habitual offender with past criminal history of forgery, unauthorized use of a vehicle, using and carrying a firearm during a drug trafficking offense, and theft between $20,000 and $100,000.
• Enoch Castillo-Quiroz, 40, of New Braunfels, pled guilty to possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, penalty group 1, between 4 and 200 grams; as a repeat offender he was sentenced to 20 years in prison by Judge Dib Waldrip.
• Toni Ritter, 28, of Marion, pled guilty to possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, penalty group 1, between 4 and 200 grams (methamphetamine), tampering with physical evidence, two counts of possession of a controlled substance, penalty group 1, under 1 gram, and as a repeat offender was sentenced to 17 years in prison by Judge Gary Steel.
• Raul Sarabia, 56, of San Antonio, pled guilty to aggravated kidnapping and evading arrest with a motor vehicle and was sentenced to 15 years in prison by Judge Waldrip.
• Jason Hess, 46, of New Braunfels, pled guilty to possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, penalty group 1, between 4 and 200 grams (methamphetamine) and as a repeat offender was sentenced to 15 years in prison by Judge Stephanie Bascon.