Mom gets life for
her kids' decapitation deaths
The Houston Chronicle
June 30, 2005
In Brownsville, a
woman pleaded guilty to 3 counts of capital murder today in the
decapitation deaths of her 3 young children, getting 3 concurrent
life prison sentences instead of the death penalty.
Angela Camacho, 25, will be eligible for parole
in 40 years. Her attorneys failed to prove she was mentally
retarded and therefore ineligible for the death penalty, but the
plea agreement spared her. Had she been convicted and sentenced to
death, she would have become the 1st Mexican national female on
Texas' death row.
Camacho and 24-year-old John Allen Rubio, her
common-law husband, were accused of strangling and decapitating
her 2 daughters, 3-year-old Julissa Quezada and 2-month-old Mary
Jane Rubio, in 2003. The couple allegedly washed themselves
afterward and had sex before decapitating their 1-year-old son,
John Esthefan Rubio.
A relative called police, who found the girls
stuffed in a trash bag and the boy on a bed. Rubio and Camacho
told police they thought the children were possessed.
Camacho answered state District Judge Benjamin
Uresti's questions in Spanish as he accepted her guilty plea.
"I hope that God will touch your heart and that
you ask for forgiveness," Uresti said. "Good luck to you."
Alberto Pullen, one of Camacho's attorneys,
said she would face deportation if released from prison. He said
she wants to stay in the U.S.
Rubio was convicted and sentenced to death in
2003 after he requested the death penalty. Rubio has since decided
to fight the sentence. In February, he was found competent to
choose his attorney for the appeal.
According to evidence during Rubio's trial, he
had inhaled so much spray paint that he had damaged his brain and
might have been psychotic.
Camacho's case was tied up for more than 2
years due to issues of her mental health.
Camacho competent to stand trial, defense says
Hearing scheduled to determine mother’s mental capacit
Angeles Negrete Lares - The Brownsville Herald
More than a year after being charged with the decapitation deaths
of her three children, Angela Camacho is competent to stand trial,
defense attorneys said Thursday.
“Angela is getting better,” said Ernesto Gamez, one of Camacho’s
attorneys. “Our psychiatrist Dr. David Moron has had her on
medication for a year now, and she is now, in his opinion,
competent to stand trial.”
Moron was not available for comment. He originally diagnosed
Camacho as incompetent last year, stating in a letter dated May 5,
2003, to Judge Ben Euresti that Camacho “is currently experiencing
a severe depression with psychotic features.”
a steady intake of Lexapro and Risperdal — an antidepressant and
antipsychotic, respectively — has improved her condition, Gamez
“Without (Camacho’s) current medicine, she is not quite all
there,” Gamez said. “We’re talking about a lady that is
hallucinating and has seen her children appear in her jail cell;
(she’s) seeing ghosts.”
Camacho, 24, was slated to appear in a competency hearing
tentatively scheduled for May 17, but Gamez said plans have likely
“There probably won’t be a competency hearing because she is now
ready to go to trial,” Gamez said.
“(Camacho has a) functional and rational understanding about the
charges against her, and she can assist me in her defense.”
According to court documents, Camacho is scheduled to appear in a
retardation hearing — also known as an Atkins motion — on May 17
so a judge can rule on her mental state. If she’s found retarded,
Camacho could avoid the death penalty since a Supreme Court
decision in 2002 deemed it “cruel and unusual” punishment to
execute mentally retarded individuals.
competency hearing was to determine whether Camacho is stable
enough to assist in her own defense. Now that medication has
improved her condition, Gamez said he hopes the Atkins motion
proves her retardation and saves her from the death penalty.
Defense claims Camacho has scored below the retardation line in
four IQ tests. The first test was administrated on March 14, 2003
— three days after the killings were discovered — and the last
test was on March 5, 2004. A score below 70 on an IQ test marks
the legal line for retardation.
retardation ruling in the Atkins motion would be monumental, said
Alberto Pullen, Camacho’s other defense attorney.
would be the first case in the history of the United States that
the death penalty against a Mexican national would be avoided,”
Atkins motion is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on May 17 at the 107th
state District Court, according to court documents. Prosecutors,
defense lawyers and Camacho are expected to attend, Pullen said.
Camacho and common-law-husband John Allen Rubio, 23, are accused
of killing and beheading their three children Julissa Angela
Quezada, 3, John Esthefan Rubio, 1, and 2-month-old Mary Jane
Rubio in March 2003 in their filth-ridden downtown apartment.
Rubio was convicted in November and sentenced to death for the
His lawyers have appealed the sentence.
Mother bares other motive in kids' deaths
By Mariano Castillo - MySanAntonio.com
October 28, 2003
It was financial desperation, not insanity,
that led to the suffocation, stabbing and decapitations of three
small children, their mother told police.
Her second statement contradicted a confession
she gave the night before, hours after Angela Camacho and her
common-law husband, John Allen Rubio, were arrested when the
children’s bodies were found.
Two written statements and a videotaped
statement by Camacho on March 11 and 12 were presented Tuesday in
Rubio’s capital murder trial over the objections of defense
Rubio and Camacho, both 23, are charged in the
deaths of Julissa Quezada, 3; John Stephan Rubio, 1; and Mary Jane
Rubio, 2 months.
The two are being tried separately.
In her first confession to police, Camacho said
that days before the murders, the children began acting strange
and crying a lot.
“We felt someone had put some type of spell on
our children,” she said.
Just as Rubio told police in statements already
entered in evidence, Camacho said the children were killed because
they appeared to be possessed as the result of witchcraft.
She said the concerned parents rubbed an egg on
Julissa and dropped it in a container of water to check for proof
of a curse.
“The way the egg floated told us something has
happened to Julissa,” she said.
The practice is common in faith healing when
treating a person afflicted with mal ojo, or “evil eye.”
The following morning, Camacho recanted her
“It was not true,” she told detectives Samuel
Lucio and Thomas Clipper on March 12.
“The real reason we killed the children was
because of money problems,” Camacho said.
The financial pressures mounting on the
impoverished family became so great on the day the rent was due,
they decided to kill the children, she said.
“Better for the children to die rather than
suffer,” she said Rubio told her.
The day before the killings, the family
received a letter informing them that they would stop receiving
food stamps because Julissa’s Social Security number did not match
her birth certificate. They also were slated to lose Medicaid
The decision to kill the children was made
together, but it was Rubio’s idea to decapitate them, Camacho said
in the video statement, which was played for jurors.
Defense attorneys questioned Camacho’s
truthfulness because of the conflicting statements and asked if
Camacho was aware of her rights when she spoke to police.
A trial date for Camacho has not been set,
pending a determination of her competence.
Since Camacho told officers she was a special
education student, a slow learner and a high school dropout,
defense lawyer Nat Perez asked police Detectives Chris Ortiz and
Alberto Luis De Leon why those facts did not raise red flags for
Perez’s objection was overruled and jurors
heard Camacho’s statements.
Jurors are to finish viewing the video when the
trial resumes today.
that Headless Kids in Brownsville Were First Smothered
Lubbock, TX, Avalanche-Journal
March 16, 2003
BROWNSVILLE (AP) — Autopsies show that three
South Texas children were smothered, then stabbed several times
before their heads were severed.
The children's parents, 23-year-old Angela
Camacho and her 22-year-old common-law husband John Allen Rubio,
have confessed to killing the three together, Brownsville Police
Chief Carlos Garcia said.
Camacho and Rubio are charged with capital
murder and are being held without bail in single cells on suicide
watch in Cameron County Jail, Sheriff Conrado Cantu told The
Brownsville Herald in Saturday's editions.
Justice of the Peace Tony Torres announced
autopsy results Friday. The bodies of 2-month-old Mary Jane Rubio,
1-year-old John Esthefan Rubio and 3-year-old Julisa Angela
Quezada were taken to Guerra Funeral Home.
Public viewing was to begin at noon Saturday.
Funeral services will begin at 2 p.m. Sunday in the funeral home's
Chapel of the Holy Spirit.
On Friday, family members cried softly in a
private viewing at the tiny caskets. Pink and blue flowers and
animals were piled in front of the funeral home.
Dr. Marguerite DeWitt, who completed the
children's autopsies Thursday at Valley Baptist Medical Center in
Harlingen, told Torres that the children died of asphyxiation and
that the decapitated bodies had several stab wounds.
Police officers identified three knives Tuesday
that possibly were used in the slayings.
The children's father, according to a relative,
had recently reported hearing family members' voices coming from
the youths and that the devil had been speaking to him.
Investigators scouring the family's dilapidated
apartment Tuesday night told Torres that the children's mother
held their bodies while Rubio severed their heads.
Law officers found the little girls' bodies
Tuesday bundled in trash bags, and the boy's headless and washed
body lying naked at the foot of their bed after an acquaintance
Officers said Rubio fathered the two youngest
children while Camacho was mother of all three. Rubio, a former
Porter High School student, and Camacho, a Mexican national, were
transferred from Brownsville Municipal Jail to county jail
facilities early Friday.
The sheriff said Mexican Consulate authorities
called Friday morning to contact Camacho, who is from Matamoros.
But she refused to speak with them. Meanwhile, court-appointed
attorney Bruce Tharpe met Friday morning with Camacho and Rubio.
Tharpe on Friday afternoon filed motions to
reconsider the couple's no-bond status and to conduct an examining
County Court-at-law Judge Janet Leal said
Friday that she signed two separate search warrants this week —
one to search the property and another to sift through the
defendants' bloody clothes and belongings.
John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho
The phrase ‘perfect storm’ was first coined by
William Makepeace Thacheray in his novel “Vanity Fair” in 1847.
This phrase commonly refers to an event or series of events where
rare and powerful forces collide to dramatically aggravate an
existing situation with disastrous results.
When John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho of
Brownsville, Texas met in 2001 it began a chain of events that
ended with an event that would rock not only the city of
Brownsville, but the entire state of Texas. And given all the
wackiness that goes on in Texas, that’s saying a lot.
Angela Camacho was born in Mexico and illegally
immigrated to the United States. She settled in Brownsville and
had a child with one man and then became pregnant again by
another. When she was about one month along in her second
pregnancy, she met John Allen Rubio.
According to Rubio’s confession, he did not
care that she had children with different men, he accepted them as
his own referring to Julissa Angela Quesada as his daughter and
when Angela Camacho gave birth to a son, he named the boy after
Less than a year later, Angela Camacho became
pregnant again and gave birth to daughter Mary Jane. The blended
family moved into a ramshackle apartment which had once been a
cement block grocery store in Brownsville.
John Allen Rubio grew up in Brownsville
surrounded by superstition, dysfunction, drug abuse and
alcoholism. According to Rubio, both his mother and grandmother
were practitioners of witchcraft, as well as long term drug users,
alcoholics and prostitutes.
He told investigators that his mother began
pimping him out at a young age, so he followed in the family
tradition of being a prostitute, at his mother’s suggestion. It
beat flipping burgers at McDonald’s.
John Allen Rubio had a few run ins with the law
over minor drug charges and was diagnosed with some emotional
problems, none of which prohibited him from completing his high
school education and participating in the ROTC program.
But according to friends and associates, John
Allen Rubio had a nasty habit – huffing; Inhaling the fumes from
spray paint, solvents or other common household chemicals in order
to get a quick, but often lethal, high. Long term users of
inhalants often suffer from severe depression, mood changes,
weight loss, lack of coordination, irritability and in some cases
permanent brain damage and death.
Angela Camacho was not known to use drugs or
inhalants, but she was also not considered to be the sharpest
knife in the drawer. She was a follower who usually went along
with what ever someone told her to do. The one thing that they
both shared was being born into and raised in abject poverty.
During John Allen Rubio’s first trial, Lorena,
a transvestite and prostitute who was born Jose Manuel Hernandez,
testified that on the morning of March 11, 2003, she stopped by
the apartment that she shared with Rubio and Angela Camacho. When
Rubio opened the door, Lorena became concerned because it was
obvious to her that Rubio had been hitting the spray paint hot and
When she tried to enter the apartment, John
Allen Rubio stopped her saying, “my old lady tried to kill herself
last night. Right now, we are going to kill everyone.” Lorena told
the court she became concerned and scolded Rubio, telling him that
he shouldn’t talk like that around the kids. Rubio pushed Lorena
out of the doorway and slammed the door.
Lorena pounded on the door and demanded to be
let in, but Rubio refused. Lorena recalled for the court that she
was frightened of John Allen Rubio because when he was under the
influence he was often volatile. Hernandez left the apartment,
fearing that Rubio might attack her.
Around 7:00 p.m. that night, Officer Efrain
Cervantes was responding to a domestic disturbance call at another
address when a terrified young man and woman flagged his patrol
down. The couple, Maria Elena Alvarez and Jose Luis Rubio (the
younger brother of John) were hysterical.
Officer Cervantes stated in his report that
Maria started screaming in Spanish:
“The babies are dead.”
While Jose yelled:
“They have no heads.”
Officer Cervantes asked the young couple to get
into his patrol car and take him to the scene so he could try and
figure out what the hell was going on. While in route, both of the
witnesses kept crying that:
“They have no heads.”
“They have NO HEADS.”
The couple directed Officer Cervantes to a run
down apartment building where the young man took the officer to
the door of the Rubio apartment. When John Allen Rubio answered
the door, Officer Cervantes asked him what was going on. Rubio
invited him into the apartment and just kept muttering, “the
Officer Cervantes observed that the apartment
was filthy with dirty clothes and garbage strewn throughout the
front room. He saw Angela Camacho sitting on what appeared to be a
futon and staring at the floor. Rubio went to the futon and sat
next to Angela. When John Allen Rubio’s brother yelled at him,
“tell him,” Rubio looked at Officer Cervantes and said, “the kids
are in the back room.”
Officer Cervantes made his way through the
garbage to the back bedroom. He said that the hallway had a very
strong odor of bleach. When he looked into the bedroom, at first
he thought that a doll had been thrown on the bed, until he
realized that it was the nude body of a small child. And indeed,
he had no head.
“I just saw the jagged marks around the neck
and then I realized that that couldn’t be a doll or anything.”
Frantically, Officer Cervantes reported the
murder-decapitation and requested immediate assistance. No shit. I
mean if I saw the dead body of a naked baby missing it’s head, I
think that I would be screaming for the fucking Marines to land.
Officer Cervantes stormed back into the front
room of the apartment and yelled at Rubio, “What happened?” John
Allen Rubio just sighed deeply, stood up, put his hands together
and said, “arrest me.”
Not a problem asshole.
Showing what I believe to be considerable
restraint, Officer Cervantes calmly ordered everyone out of the
apartment and placed John Allen Rubio in handcuffs for his own
What investigators found inside the Rubio
apartment defied even the most horrific slasher film Hollywood
ever produced. Police Chief Carlos Garcia said:
“They lived in very poor conditions. There’s
clothes, trash, all sorts of things thrown all over. Very poor,
very trashy … in the worst conditions that anyone could live in
the United States.”
Garbage littered the apartment; bags, toys,
shopping carts, empty water bottles and clothes were piled into
every nook and cranny, leaving little room for police to navigate
the crime scene. Brownsville Police Department Investigator Chris
Ortiz said about entering the bedroom for the first time:
“I wasn’t sure if it was a human being until
I touched it.”
Baby John’s body was lying at the foot of the
bed, devoid of blood. Officer Cervantes said:
“We go back to where the baby boy was found.
And at that point the house was in disarray. It was dirty
everything was dirty and dingy. But there was a plastic bag that
I hadn’t seen the first time I walked in. It was at the entry of
the doorway, towards the foot of the bed and that bag was like
shiny a black trash bag. It looked like a brand new bag like it
had just been placed there. It felt round. This has got to be
the baby’s head. And I kind of reached over there and I was able
to get to the bag, and it opened. I mean, I opened the bag and I
could see that there were two other bodies in there, headless as
Think this poor man has had nightmares about
what he saw?
The bodies of 3-year old Julissa Angela Quesada
and 2-month old Mary Jane Rubio were found stuffed inside a
garbage bag, hidden behind the crib. The children’s heads were
found inside of a separate garbage bag.
Investigators described the bloody scene as
“horrific.” There were numerous blood pools and stains in the
kitchen and on the floors. A bucket full of bloody water. Bloody
knives in the kitchen and bedroom. Other Detectives found the
bloody clothing that both John Rubio and Angela Camacho were
wearing at the time of the murders soaking in the bathroom. As
they continued to collected evidence from the scene, everyone
began asking the same question, “why?” Dear God, WHY?
When John Allen Rubio was interviewed by
police, he calmly and coherently explained the events that
transpired on the evening of March 10 and 11, 2003. He said it
began with the children’s hamsters. He became convinced that the
hamsters were possessed by demons. He went to the cage where they
were kept and he said that they were growling because evil spirits
had entered them. So he smashed their heads with a hammer.
While John Allen Rubio was pouring bleach on
the bodies, 3-year old Julissa saw what he was doing and began
screaming. I don’t know about you, but if I saw the man I
considered to be my father killing my pets, I would probably begin
John Allen Rubio said that, “she started
talking in like, demonized — like, she was looking at me, like,
weird,” he said. He claimed that Julissa was possessed by the
spirit of his grandmother. Julissa began growling and screaming at
him claiming that she was Grandma who had come back from limbo and
stolen Julissa’s soul. He believed that all of the children were
possessed by demons.
“Julissa … my daughter … was telling me that
she came from limbo. Julissa started to laugh in an evil way and
started making growling sounds to me. The other two babies …
started to talk and say things like three witches. They were
talking to each other…”
John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho became
terrified of their children and Angela began screaming for him to
kill them. Rubio said that he began choking Julissa, but she
wouldn’t die. So Angela ran into the kitchen and retrieved some
knives. He said that Julissa was shaking and yelling at him, “you
are killing me.”
Julissa kept trying to manipulate his mind with
bad magic. That was when he threw her on the floor and began
stabbing her. But she kept trying to get away from him because her
magic was too strong. Julissa looked at Angela Camacho and said,
“Mom, please make Dad stop.” Angela then held the child down with
John Allen Rubio grabbed a machete and cut her head off because of
course that is the only way to stop a possessed 3-year old.
John Allen Rubio said that after he cut her
head off, Julissa bled all over the place with blood gushing out
of her. Angela Camacho then picked Julissa’s body up and took it
into the kitchen where she washed all of the blood off. She filled
a bucket with cold water and placed the severed head into the
bucket. Julissa’s autopsy showed that she had 12 stab wounds on
her face and neck with an additional 21 stab wounds across her
chest. He then nailed the back door shut to prevent any evil
spirts from coming in or leaving.
John Allen Rubio then turned his sights on
2-month old Mary Jane. According to Rubio, she was practically
foaming at the mouth, growling and spitting at him. Sounds like
something out of the 1974 horror film, ‘It’s Alive.’ He grabbed
her and began choking her really hard, but the little witch just
would not die.
Rubio said that he thought that he had stabbed
her in the head (he had stabbed her with enough force to break one
of the vertebra in her neck) but he wasn’t sure. She was so strong
and powerful that he had no choice but to cut her head off. He
tried the first time but the knife wasn’t sharp enough. He
couldn’t find the machete because he believed the witches had made
it disappear. So John Allen Rubio grabbed her head and “with my
hands ripped her head off from her body.
It was very hard but I managed to pull her
OK friends and neighbors, let’s remember that
this is a 2-month old infant he is talking about. Two fucking
months old and the bastard rips her head off of her body. That is
a serious ‘WTF.’ Angela Camacho took Mary Jane’s body into the
kitchen and washed it off. Then tossed her head into the bucket
along with Julissa’s.
Even though John Allen Rubio admitted he was
getting tired (of course the asshole is going to be tired – takes
a lot of Wheaties to decapitate two defenseless children) but he
had to deal with little Johnny.
Now there is some confusion and conflicting
reports as to when John Allen Rubio killed Johnny, so I am taking
this straight from his written confession. Rubio said that when he
confronted 1-year old Johnny, he could just feel the evil oozing
out of the child. About the only thing that little Johnny wasn’t
doing was spitting pea soup all over the place.
John Allen Rubio said that Johnny was the
strongest of the three children and possessed the strength of
Satan himself. He explained that Johnny was trying to cast spells
and spewing incantations at him and Angela. He said that it took
him and Angela Camacho both to hold the child down.
John Allen Rubio tried sprinkling the baby with
water, but it had no effect. I guess he thought Satan wouldn’t
know the difference between tap water and Holy water. He says that
he never stabbed Johnny, although the police video of the crime
scene clearly shows stab wounds to the 1-year old’s body. The
video shows that Johnny was stabbed multiple times, including just
below his testicles on his right leg.
John Allen Rubio says that he used a larger,
sharper kitchen knife to cut off Johnny’s head. Angela, ever the
dutiful mother, took Johnny’s body into the kitchen, washed it and
dunked his head into the bucket with his sister’s heads. Rubio
said that he and Angela Camacho then began trying to clean up the
mess. They tried soaking up the blood soaked into the carpet and
wipe down the walls.
He placed Julissa and Mary Jane’s bodies into a
plastic bag and hid it behind the crib while placing their heads
in a separate bag and tossing it under the bed. But John Allen
Rubio and Angela Camacho were tired. So they took a shower
together to wash all of the blood off of them.
He said that after the shower, the two of them
went into the front room to relax. Did they call the police? A
Priest? Anyone? Nope, nope and nope. With their children’s bodies
lying in the next room, John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho
fucked. Rubio told Angela, “we should make love for the last time
because we were going to jail.”
John Allen Rubio sounds like a really deranged
individual to me; someone so nuts that he has absolutely no idea
of what he has done and that it was wrong. He told Angela Camacho
that he thought they should dispose of the bodies in the backyard
of his grandmother’s house because she was a witch and could
control their evil power. I wonder if that was the dead
grandmother or a living grandmother, as he was never very specific
about that little detail.
They then laid in bed the rest of the night and
throughout the next day until Rubio’s younger brother came to the
apartment. Oh yeah, and according to Rubio, his brother and his
brother’s girlfriend were both possessed by evil spirits as well.
Good thing they were not helpless babies or their heads would have
ended up in a bucket too.
So John Allen Rubio butchered three innocent
children because they were evil. He told them that he “did what is
right to save the world and that he has supernatural powers.”
Sounds unfathomable, but unfortunately not that rare. It’s the old
“The Devil Made Me Do It” defense.
And what about Angela Camacho? Initially, she
somewhat corroborated Rubio’s fairy tale. She told investigators
that the children had been sick with a fever for several days
before the murders, and that they were scared and had refused to
She said the day before the murders, a woman
they saw while riding the bus gave Johnny a piece of candy. John
Allen Rubio believed the woman had cast a spell on the children,
making them sick. Rubio then demanded that Angela Camacho break an
egg in a glass of water, and the way in which the egg yolk floated
told them that someone had done something bad to Julissa.
The night before the murders, Angela Camacho
said that John Allen Rubio’s mother came to the apartment and they
all discussed using witchcraft to help the children. She admitted
to holding all of the children down while Rubio stabbed and
decapitated them. She said of the infant:
“Mary Jane started staring right at my eyes,
real bad, like with anger, and evil at the same time.”
But when investigators questioned her a second
time, she told a slightly different story. She started the
interview by saying:
“I would like to start saying that yesterday
I told the detectives that witchcraft was the reason that John
and I killed our children. That was not true. The reason that we
decided to kill the children was because of money problems.”
Angela Camacho told investigators that the
family had no money for rent and that their welfare and food stamp
benefits were about to end because Julissa’s social security
number did not match the one on her birth certificate. They were
facing eviction from the rat trap that they called home and none
of John Allen Rubio’s relatives were going to let them stay with
Angela Camacho said that she and Rubio
discussed the dire straits that the family was in and decided that
it would be “better for the children to die than to suffer.” When
John Allen Rubio told her that he wanted to cut their heads off,
Angela asked him why. She said that he told her:
“Because . . . we had no money. No way to
take care of them. It is better that they go with God.”
Yeah, that really answer the question of “why
do you want to cut off their heads?” Angela Camacho said again
that they killed the girls first, and about two hours later they
decided to kill Johnny because they did not want him to suffer
They had planned to put the bodies in a
shopping cart and bury them at the city cemetery then escape into
Mexico and start over. When investigators asked Angela Camacho why
she would go along with such a heinous and appalling plan she
“because we were afraid. I didn’t want to
lose my husband again, since he had gone to jail before. I was
afraid because I had never been in jail before.”
When asked if she thought that they were going
to go to jail, Angela Camacho said, “Yes, because we did something
So this cum bucket helped murder and decapitate
her children because she didn’t want to lose her man. Just makes
John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho were
charged with three counts of capital murder making both of them
eligible for the death penalty. I’m sure that all of you are aware
that a death penalty conviction in the state of Texas usually
means that before too long, you gonna die. Texas has tried to put
in an express lane to the needle, cutting the time that inmates
sit on death row.
Motions were made and granted to try Angela
Camacho and John Allen Rubio separately. The problem was that
Mexico had a slight problem with Texas attempting to execute one
of their native daughters and filed complaints not only with Texas
but with the Federal government. Texas spent two years trying to
determine if Angela was legally competent to stand trial in a
capital case and in the end, the courts ruled that she was.
Given the heinous nature of the crimes and the
fact that she confessed, Angela decided that maybe, just maybe, it
wasn’t worth standing by her man after all. In July of 2005,
Angela Camacho pled guilty to three counts of murder.
Angela Camacho was sentenced to three
concurrent life prison sentences instead of the death penalty, but
will be eligible for parole in 40 years. If she is ever granted
parole, she will be immediately deported back to Mexico. Angela
has stated that she prefers to stay in prison in the United
States, even if it is in Texas.
John Allen Rubio, however, was not in such a
confessing mood. He and his attorneys insisted on going to trial,
claiming that Rubio (wait for it…….) was innocent by reason of
insanity. SHOCKING! And just in case Rubio wasn’t insane, his
attorneys also proposed that he was so far under the influence of
spray paint fumes that he didn’t know what he was doing or
appreciate the seriousness of the situation.
During his first trial, John Allen Rubio
testified that he used an array of drugs, including marijuana,
spray-paint and “roaches” or flunitrazepam — a medication commonly
referred to as the “date-rape drug,” which induces “memory
impairment, drowsiness, visual disturbances, dizziness,
confusion,” among other effects, states the U.S. Drug Enforcement
Administration’s Web site.
John Allen Rubio testified that from the moment
he first saw Angela, he would do anything to “make her happy,
until the last moment of my life.” I guess that included
butchering her children because she asked him to. He insisted that
the whole thing was Angela’s idea. The jury didn’t buy his
excuses, convicted him and sentenced him to die.
Unfortunately, there was a slight procedural
error committed during John Allen Rubio’s trial. Angela Camacho
refused to testify against Rubio. So prosecutors admitted into
evidence her video taped and written confessions. But according to
the Texas Supreme Court this was a big no-no. Seems that every
accused has the right to confront all witnesses in their trial.
And since Angela would not testify, Texas must now start the whole
Now the fun part – because they had to start
over, that included proving that John Allen Rubio was sane. Of
course Rubio’s defense team presented expert after expert during
the competency hearing to try and convince the judge that Rubio
was crazy for Coco Puffs.
My favorite was Jolie Brams, a forensic
psychologist who stated that John Allen Rubio suffers from a
delusional disorder. She testified that Rubio also suffers from a
learning disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and
of low intelligence. She said this could impact his ability to
consult with his attorneys. Basically, she is saying that Rubio is
to stupid to kill. Right. Sure Doc, whatever you say.
There is only one itsy, bitsy, teeny tiny
problem with that. While Rubio has been in prison, it seems that
John Allen Rubio has become the “go to” guy in filling out forms
and requests for fellow inmates. He has also been reading law
books, law dictionaries and researching specific legal cases. It
seems that other inmates wanted to meet Rubio so he could provide
them with legal advice.
I’m not sure about Texas, but it doesn’t seem
to me that any inmate would want some whack job giving them legal
advice or helping them fill out forms. Most inmates are pretty
savvy when it comes to determining who is floating with a full
But Brams stuck to her guns stating that if
John Allen Rubio had actually done the legal reading and
researching, he “still cannot comprehend legal documents you
claimed he is reading.” Just makes you want to smack her doesn’t
it? Maybe she wouldn’t mind if Rubio did a little babysitting for
In the end, the court determined that John
Allen Rubio was as sane as you or me and the trial could proceed.
It is scheduled to begin in July. This time, Angela Camacho will
be testifying against him. Texas is again seeking the death
John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho are now
pointing the finger of blame at each other, saying that it was the
others idea to kill the children. Neither is accepting
And yes, John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho
had previously been referred to the state child protective agency
because the children were found to be malnourished and needed
medical attention, but the parents weren’t accused of physical
abuse. CPS said it had counseled the couple before concluding
three months before the deaths that the couple was making progress
in providing a home.
Yup, John Allen Rubio and Angela Camacho
provided them a home alright. Three tiny caskets for the rest of
Now I know that there is a lot of occultism
within the Mexican culture. Hell, I’m only one generation removed
from paying the Ferryman. I have my own superstitions that have
been handed down from one generation to another.
Like throwing a pinch of salt over your
shoulder if you spill the shaker, planting lavender by your front
door for luck and hanging wind chimes near your doors to ward off
evil spirits. And I’m not saying that possession by evil spirits
I just don’t see evil spirits using three
babies. I mean how far could some evil entity go in the body of a
2-month old. The poor little thing can’t even hold up it’s head
yet. Can’t wreck a lot of havoc when you wear a diaper and drink
from a bottle.
I also don’t believe that John Rubio is nuts. I
think that Angela Camacho may not be the sharpest knife in the
drawer but that she was more terrified of being without a man in
her life than keeping her children alive with their heads
attached. Whether or not Rubio is insane does not excuse his
behavior in my opinion.
Maybe John Allen Rubio was hallucinating when
he killed the children because of the amount of shit that he
inhaled. But when the police arrived, he did not appear to be
under the influence of anything. I think that he was just sick and
tired of taking care of the kids. He wanted to take Angela Camacho
and go frolic in Mexico free of the responsibility of three
innocent young lives.
Sure, John Allen Rubio had it tough growing up.
His mother was an abusive alcoholic who supported her family by
prostitution, probably in front of her children. He was poor,
really, really poor. He didn’t have any resources and he had
shacked up with an illegal alien. But plenty of people without any
money don’t chop off their kids heads.
I believe Angela Camacho told the truth when
she said they killed them because they were destitute. And she
would have done or said anything that Rubio wanted. I think that
John Allen Rubio epitomizes the need for capital punishment. I
just wish that he didn’t get off so easy with just a needle in his
John Allen Rubio should suffer, suffer as
Julissa, Mary Jane and Johnny suffered. They died in terror and
pain. I hope and pray that Texas holds Rubio responsible for his
actions and that he pisses himself as they drag his sorry ass to
the death chamber. Maybe the Ferryman could just drop him off at
the gates of hell, which is exactly where he belongs.
In the Court of Criminal
Appeals of Texas
John Allen Rubio, Appellant,
The State of Texas
Appeal from Cameron County
Womack, J., delivered the opinion of the
Court, in which Price, Johnson, Holcomb, and Cochran, JJ., joined.
Keller, P.J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Keasler and
Hervey, JJ., joined. Meyers, J., dissented.
The appellant was indicted on four counts of
(1) related to the
killing and decapitation of his three children: Julissa Quesada
(age 3), John E. Rubio (age 14 months), and Mary Jane Rubio (age 2
months). The appellant pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity
(2) to all four
counts. The jury found the appellant guilty, and rendered a
verdict on the issue of punishment that required the trial court
to sentence the appellant to death.
(3) In the appeal
to this court, required by statute,
(4) the appellant
raises twelve points of error. We will reverse.
I. Did the
trial court err by admitting Camacho's statements?
In his first point of error, the appellant
argues the trial court erred during the guilt-innocence phase of
the trial by admitting the statements of Maria Angela Camacho, the
appellant's common-law wife and alleged accomplice in the murders
for which he was being tried. Camacho invoked her Fifth Amendment
right to not testify in open court, and the state offered three
statements she made to the police regarding the murders, two
written statements and one oral statement recorded on videotape.
Over the appellant's objection, the trial court admitted all three
statements. The written statements were read to the jury by the
Brownsville Police Department detectives who originally took the
statements. The videotaped statement was played for the jury, who
also received a written transcript. The appellant was never able
to cross-examine Camacho, either at the time she made the
statements or during the trial.
At the time of the appellant's trial, the
admissibility of out-of-court statements against a defendant where
the declarant was unavailable for cross-examination was governed
by Ohio v. Roberts.
Roberts, such a statement was admissible so long as it bore
adequate "indicia of reliability" or otherwise fell within a
"firmly rooted hearsay exception."
Since the time of the appellant's trial,
however, the Supreme Court overruled Roberts by
announcing its opinion in Crawford v. Washington.
Crawford, non-testimonial hearsay evidence would still be
admissible under a scheme like that in Roberts, but the
Court made clear that, "Where testimonial evidence is at issue, .
. . the Sixth Amendment demands what the common law required:
unavailability and prior opportunity for cross-examination."
(8) Although the
Court declined to define specifically what is encompassed by the
term "testimonial," they did say that at a minimum it includes
"police interrogations," because they are one of "the modern
practices with closest kinship to the abuses at which the
Confrontation Clause was directed."
The trial court in this case held Camacho's
statements to be sufficiently reliable, and so they were admitted.
The State does not dispute that Camacho's statements were given
during a police interrogation and therefore testimonial in nature.
The State also acknowledges that Camacho had invoked her Fifth
Amendment right at trial and was therefore unavailable to testify.
The State does not concede that the trial court erred in admitting
Camacho's statements under the law in effect at the time. But the
State does concede the Supreme Court's holding that new rules of
criminal procedure are to be "applied retroactively to all cases,
state or federal, pending on direct review or not yet final,"
(10) and that
Crawford came into effect while the appellant's case was
pending on direct appeal.
Accordingly, we hold that the trial court erred
in admitting Camacho's statements. We will now turn to the issue
II. Did the trial
court's error prejudice the appellant's case?
The erroneous admission of Camacho's statements
does not automatically merit reversal. Rather, any Confrontation
Clause violation, once proven, is subject to harmless error
(11) In other
words, this Court will reverse the conviction unless we determine
beyond a reasonable doubt that the error did not contribute to the
(12) If there is a
reasonable likelihood that the error materially affected the
jury's deliberations, then the error was not harmless beyond a
An appellate court should not focus on the
propriety of the outcome of the trial.
(14) Instead, we
calculate the probable impact of the error on the jury, in light
of all other evidence available.
(15) Evidence of
the defendant's guilt should be considered, but that is only one
factor in the analysis.
(16) The question,
ultimately, is whether the State has proven beyond a reasonable
doubt that the error complained of did not contribute to the
In the instant case, the appellant pleaded not
guilty by reason of insanity to all four counts in the capital
murder indictment. He did not contest that he committed the acts
which killed the children. Therefore, the only real issue in
contention at the guilt-innocence phase was the appellant's state
of mind. The primary evidence relevant to that issue came in the
form of statements the appellant and Camacho made to the police.
We will now turn to those.
In his own videotaped statement to the police,
which was also admitted at trial, the appellant freely admitted to
having killed his children.
The appellant said he met Camacho when they
were living in the same apartment complex in 2000 or 2001. He used
to inhale spray paint with Camacho's then-live-in boyfriend and,
after seeing her physically abused by him, she and the appellant
became romantically involved. Camacho eventually left her former
boyfriend and moved in with the appellant.
Camacho brought her child Julissa with her, who
at the time was less than a year old. Camacho was also pregnant
with John, who was born eight or nine months later. Although it
was unclear who John's father was, the appellant and Camacho
decided to name John after the appellant and give him the
appellant's surname. Shortly after John was born, Camacho became
pregnant again, and gave birth to Mary Jane in January of 2003.
During this time the appellant held a number of
low-wage retail jobs, and the family moved several times,
including time spent in friends' houses and sometimes living on
the streets. Eventually they moved into a home they shared with
the appellant's mother and one other person.
The appellant said Child Protective Services
took custody of Julissa and John at one point during this time,
after finding the appellant was abusing spray paint in front of
the children. This incident inspired him to find a job so he could
get the children back, because he "adored" them and "would do
anything for" them. CPS returned the children after three or four
months - after the appellant got a job - but continued to visit
the home to check on the children and to test the appellant for
illegal drug use. Those tests, the appellant claimed, never
yielded a positive result for illegal drugs.
The appellant said CPS stopped making home
visits after he got a job at Golden Corral. He lost this job in
December of 2002, a month before Mary Jane was born. During that
time, in order to make money to pay rent and provide for the
children, the appellant did some odd jobs but also prostituted
himself. He learned how to be a prostitute from his mother, who
had encouraged him to do so.
With the money the appellant made through
prostitution, he was able to pay the rent when it came due on
January 11th and February 11th of 2003, but he did not have enough
money for the March 11th payment. He had $175 in a wallet, but it
was stolen from his house. He asked his brother if the family
could move into his brother's house, but his brother refused. He
asked his brother's girlfriend Beva to loan him the money, but she
too refused. Around this time, the family found out the food stamp
benefits for the children were being cut off because of a problem
with the children's paperwork. Because of the various money
problems the family was experiencing, the appellant decided to
take the children to a local homeless shelter. This was the day
before the children were murdered.
That same evening, the appellant's mother came
to the front door of the house. The appellant had recently thrown
his mother out of the house because she had not paid her share of
the rent. The appellant let his mother inside the house because
she was now acting very nicely towards him, but once inside, she
began to act strangely. She was pacing back and forth,
alternatively smiling at him and acting angry towards him, and
talking to herself. She left after less than an hour. Shortly
after that, the appellant heard another knock at the door. This
time it was Lorena, a male transvestite prostitute who was the
other tenant in the house with the appellant and his family.
Lorena was with a friend. They stayed approximately twenty
minutes, talking amongst themselves, then left. It was now close
Camacho and the children were still awake,
watching television in the bedroom. Because the appellant's head
was hurting, he turned off the television and turned on the radio
to listen to Christian music in order to distract himself. He and
the children began to fall asleep, but Camacho woke him up. He
then put John into the crib, while the two girls remained sleeping
on the bed.
The appellant returned to lay down on the bed
and listen to music. As he lay there, he said he suddenly felt
weird, as if something bad was going to happen. He began to hear
strange, scary noises, and he saw mice running around on the
floor, which he had never before seen in that house. He then heard
his hamsters fighting with each other, which was also unusual. He
kept five to seven hamsters as pets in a cage near his bed. He
described what he saw next as being "like a movie, or something I
saw on TV." The hamsters would look at him with a nasty expression
and then growl. He said this had happened only rarely before, and
only when his mother or Lorena were at the house.
The appellant then decided to kill the
hamsters, which he did by spraying them with hairspray so they
would choke. He brought the cage into the front room of the house.
Some were still alive, so he put bleach on them, and then took
them out one at a time and smashed their heads with a hammer. He
then flushed them down the toilet.
Julissa, hearing the appellant killing the
hamsters, awoke and came into the front room. She then started to
[The appellant]: And she started talking in
like, demonized - like, she was looking at me, like, weird.
[Police detective]: Give me an example of what
she was saying.
A: Like (descriptive sound). She was, like,
acting weird, like - I don't know. I can't do it like she did.
Q: She was only making sounds; she wasn't
A: She was making sounds, and then she was,
like - and she doesn't know English. I was, like (speaking
Q: Who were you talking to?
A: To her. She was two people in one. Camacho
had awoken by this point and was watching the scene herself. The
appellant asked Julissa who she was, because she was acting like
someone else, and she told the appellant she was his grandmother.
He began to speak with Julissa as if she was his grandmother, and
Julissa would respond:
[The appellant]: ...so I asked her, "Is it you,
Grandma?" She said, "Yes." "What did you do with my daughter?" She
goes, "She's right there," like she was inside my other girl, like
Mary Jane. I said, "What do you mean? That's Mary Jane, that's not
you." "No." I said to her, like, she was trying to give me - like
tell me, but she couldn't say it, like, "Yo es ella, y ella es
[Police detective]: What she was trying to tell
you, was that she was -
A: She was in her body -
Q: That your grandmother was in Julissa's body?
Q: And Julissa's body was in -
A: In Mary Jane's body.
Q: - Mary Jane's body?
A: Uh-huh. The appellant seemed to resign
himself to the fact that his grandmother was possessing his
daughter's body, although it was "a little weird." He went into
the kitchen to make something to eat, but he started to feel
woozy, so he went back into the front room. He then saw Julissa
cutting the tape off of an electrical outlet, which the appellant
had put over the outlet to prevent the children from hurting
themselves. He said it appeared to him that Julissa was cutting
the tape with a pair of scissors, and then trying to give the
scissors to John so that he could stick them in the outlet and
electrocute himself. The appellant had taken John out of his crib
at some point earlier.
The appellant said he believed his
grandmother's spirit, possessing Julissa's body, was attempting to
harm John. He shook Julissa and blew in her face, in an attempt to
cast the grandmother out. He then put John back in his crib and
began to choke Julissa. He thought he had succeeded in casting out
the grandmother's spirit, but in fact Julissa either passed out or
died because the appellant was choking her. He then called to her
and she revived, but began to say that she wanted to harm the
children, to make them and him suffer.
Camacho had entered the room at some point
while the appellant was choking Julissa. After Julissa revived and
spoke, the appellant asked Camacho to hold Julissa down while he
choked her. He said Camacho did so, but that Julissa "didn't want
to die." He then told Camacho to go to the kitchen and bring him a
knife, which she did, returning with two knives. The appellant
then stabbed Julissa several times in the chest. He then turned
her over and stabbed her in the back of the head because he wanted
to remove her brain. He said Camacho was holding down Julissa's
feet and legs but turning her head away to avoid seeing what was
happening. Over the next five to ten minutes, the appellant cut
off Julissa's head with the kitchen knife. He said Julissa's lips
were still moving and talking, and this scared him so he separated
the head from the body. He eventually put Julissa's body in the
kitchen sink so he could wash it.
The appellant then noticed Mary Jane looking at
him, and he said to Camacho, "She's next because she's also
possessed, they're - all three together." He then choked Mary
Jane, and she seemed to die more easily, but she then revived just
as Julissa had. Mary Jane began to laugh, and he started laughing
with her, which suggested to him that something was wrong. He then
decided to decapitate Mary Jane as well. After doing so, he
brought her body into the kitchen, where he proceeded to "cleanse"
the girls' bodies by pouring water into their throats where they
had been cut.
Camacho made three statements to the police,
two written and one videotaped, that were all offered and admitted
by the State during its case-in-chief at the guilt-innocence
phase. As noted above, Camacho invoked her Fifth Amendment rights
and was thus unavailable for cross-examination.
Camacho gave the first statement on the evening
of March 11, 2003, the same day as the murders. It was read to the
jury by Detective Chris Ortiz of the Brownsville Police
Department, the same person to whom the statement was made. Her
statement largely corroborated the appellant's, although it gave
more background information than the appellant's. For example, she
told of how the children had been sick with fever for the three
days leading up to the murders. She said the day before the
murders, a woman they saw while riding the bus gave John a piece
of candy. The appellant believed the woman cast a spell on the
children, causing them to be sick. When they returned home, the
appellant had her break an egg in a glass of water, and the way in
which the egg yolk floated told them that someone had done
something bad to Julissa. She also mentioned the appellant's
mother coming to the house that night, and the appellant and his
mother discussing using the powers of witchcraft to help the
There was some inconsistency between the
appellant's statement and Camacho's, however. For instance,
Camacho said the appellant claimed to see possession in both girls
simultaneously, and he strangled both girls simultaneously while
she held them down. Camacho said, "Mary Jane started staring right
at my eyes, real bad, like with anger, and evil at the same time."
Camacho also said the appellant killed Mary Jane first, then
Julissa, and he did so only by cutting off their heads - she did
not mention him stabbing Julissa first. She then tells of killing
John in the same manner.
Camacho then said after all three children were
killed, she and the appellant took a shower together. The
appellant told her he was dying, and so they should make love for
the last time, which they did. Afterwards, he told her again he
was dying, after which she tried to cut her wrist because she did
not want to live without her husband and children. The appellant
gradually started to feel better, and so Camacho told him she
wanted to bury the children. They gathered the children's bodies,
along with the knife they used, into a trash bag for that purpose.
Shortly afterwards, the appellant's brother
showed up at the house, discovered what had happened, and called
the police. Camacho said when Detective Ortiz asked her at the
scene why the floor of her apartment was wet, she told him, "I
cleaned the floor before and after we killed the babies." When
Ortiz asked her why the door off the kitchen to the outside had
been nailed shut, she said the appellant had done so before
killing the children "because we didn't want anyone or any bad
spirits to come in through that door."
Camacho gave her second statement the following
morning, on March 12th, to Detective Thomas Clipper of the
Brownsville Police Department, who read it to the jury at trial.
In that statement, Camacho said she wanted to tell the detectives
the "real reason" her children were killed. She said specifically,
I would like to start saying that yesterday I
told the detectives that witchcraft was the reason that John and I
killed our children. That was not true. The reason that we decided
to kill the children was because of money problems.
Camacho then told of how the family had been
having financial difficulties, particularly in paying the rent.
Consistent with the appellant's statement, she said the day before
the murders, they received notice that the family's food stamp
benefits were about to end because Julissa's social security
number did not match up with her birth certificate. By the morning
of March 11th, with no money for food or clothing for the three
children, and upon learning they would not be able to stay with
the appellant's brother in the event they were evicted from their
apartment, Camacho and the appellant discussed the situation and
decided it would be "better for the children to die than to
Her account of how they killed the children
more or less matched up with that of the first statement, except
that Camacho said she witnessed the appellant kill the hamsters as
well. She said that when the appellant told her he wanted to cut
the children's heads off, she asked him why. He replied, "Because
. . . we had no money. No way to take care of them. It is better
that they go with God." She said again that they killed the girls
first, and about two hours later they decided to kill John because
they did not want him to suffer alone.
Camacho gave her third statement to Detective
Sam Lucio (along with Clipper), on the evening of March 13th. The
statement was videotaped, and the tape was played for the jury at
trial. The jury also received a transcript of the tape to refer to
as they watched. In the third statement, Camacho gave more
background on her life and how she and the appellant met, and her
story more or less matches with his. She again told of the money
problems they were having in the days leading up to the murders,
but when asked directly if the appellant had prostituted himself
for money during that time she replied, "No."
The detective asked Camacho about the two
conflicting prior statements she had given about the murders and
asked that she now give a true account. Camacho's answer
incorporated both prior motives given. She repeated the story
about their difficulties with the rent money just before the
murders, and she added that the children were suffering because,
among other things, the apartment they lived in apparently had no
water or electrical service. Yet she also said the night before
the murders, she and the appellant felt "strange" and "weird." She
said the appellant killed the hamsters the next morning "because
we thought they were bringing evil" and it was contributing to the
children's suffering. She again said the appellant nailed the
kitchen door shut in order to ward off "bad spirits."
Overall, Camacho spoke often in the third
statement of the children's suffering, but it is unclear if she
meant they suffered because of the family's financial problems or
because they were possessed, as she and the appellant seemed to
believe they were:
[The Detective]: Were the children hungry?
[Camacho]: I would give them milk. To Julissa,
I would ask her, and she would say that she was not hungry, that
she was not hungry. She was unable to talk. She could not talk.
She would just do like this, but she would not say anything. She
couldn't say anything.
Q: And then what happened?
A: What happened? We decided the best thing to
do would be to do what we did, because I
would see that the children were suffering a lot.
Q: So they would not suffer?
Q: What type of suffering were the children
A: They could not sleep. They would wake up and
they would be scared.
Q: Only that night?
A: No. They had been like that for a while.
Q: Was that the first night that things were
A: The first night that things were weird, but
there were some days in which the children were like that.
Q: But this is the first time that you thought
that there was something strange?
Q: And that's why he killed the hamsters. And
then you said that in order for the children not to suffer - was
it your idea or his idea?
A: Both of us.
Q: Both of you?
Q: Were you talking about it?
Camacho's account in the third statement of how
the children were killed largely matches the other two. She says
she did not see the appellant stab Julissa, but also that she was
looking away, and she does not deny that he stabbed her. She said
that when they were discovered by the appellant's brother, the
appellant told him, "that we didn't want to do it, that he didn't
want to kill them, that he only wanted the children to be well."
She also repeated the story about the interaction with the woman
on the bus the day before.
One new detail that Camacho mentioned in the
third statement was that she and the appellant planned to "go
away" after they buried the children. When asked about it, her
answers were the last portion of the statement:
[Police Sergeant]: You said that you were going
to go away. Why is it that you said you were going to go away?
[Camacho]: Because we were afraid. I didn't
want to lose my husband again, since he had gone to jail before. I
was afraid because I had never been in jail before.
Q: You felt like you were going to jail?
A: Yes, because we did something wrong.
Q: And your husband knew that he had done
A: Yes, we knew.
Q: Both of you knew that you had done wrong.
What did you do that was wrong?
A: We did wrong in killing the children, in the
way - in that way, with the government. I only thought that the
children were not going to suffer anymore. That's the only thing I
had in my mind. I didn't have in mind that we were going to jail
until the end.
Q: Thank you.
Because Camacho was an accomplice to the
murders, and both the appellant's common-law wife as well as the
mother of the victims, any testimony she gave at trial was likely
to be compelling. That does not foreclose our analysis, however.
If the record shows, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Camacho's
erroneously admitted statements did not contribute to the guilty
verdict, then that constitutional error was harmless.
Here, because the appellant pleaded not guilty
by reason of insanity, the primary issue to be resolved at trial
was the appellant's state of mind when he committed the murders.
That is, whether the appellant, at the time of the conduct
charged, as a result of severe mental disease or defect, did not
know that his conduct was wrong.
(19) Of all the
witnesses presented by the State, Camacho was in the best position
by far to refute the appellant's contention that he was insane.
And her statements do precisely that - particularly the second
statement, in which she plainly states that the reason they killed
the children was not because of witchcraft, but because of money.
Even more troubling, of all the witnesses
presented by the State, Camacho had the most incentive to be less
than truthful, because she herself was directly involved in the
children's murders. In fact, the original capital indictment named
Camacho and the appellant as co-defendants, before their causes
were later severed. The testimony of accomplices is discussed in
Crawford as one of the "core testimonial statements that
the Confrontation Clause plainly meant to exclude."
(20) In this case,
Camacho's statements directly refute the appellant's only real
defense. Moreover, she made three statements to the police, all of
which contradict each other to some extent. The lack of
opportunity for the appellant to cross-examine her, therefore, had
a devastating effect on his case.
The State, in its brief, contends the
erroneously admitted statements were not so harmful, or at least
not harmful enough to merit reversal. The State makes its argument
in the context of Shelby v. State,
describes a test for determining harm in Confrontation Clause
cases. Although Shelby pre-dates Crawford, we
will address the State's arguments in turn.
First, the State contends that Camacho's
statement was relatively insignificant, in that it was far
outweighed by the other evidence presented, particularly the
appellant's own statement in which he admits killing the children.
The State submits that, in light of the substantial evidence of
the appellant's culpability, Camacho's statement was unnecessary
to establish his guilt.
As stated above, however, the issue at trial
was not really the appellant's responsibility for the children's
deaths. The appellant freely admitted that he killed the children.
Instead, the issue was whether the defendant was legally insane.
His own statement supported a finding of insanity, in that he
spoke extensively of demonic possession and "evil" in the children
that caused him to commit the murders. Camacho's second statement
directly contradicts that argument, by asserting that she and the
appellant killed the children because of money problems. Worse,
Camacho says in her third statement that the appellant "knew" that
what he had done was "wrong," which directly refutes the legal
definition of insanity. Given Camacho's unique position as both
accomplice to the crime and direct witness to the appellant's
motivations, her specific, detailed testimony obviously had great
The State also dismisses the importance of
Camacho's statement as being merely cumulative of other evidence,
and corroborated by the appellant's own statement. Yet the record
shows this to be true only as to the facts of the murders
themselves, namely, the methods employed and the chronology. As to
the more important issue - the appellant's motive - there are
clear discrepancies between the appellant's statement and those of
Camacho. And, even if Camacho's statement matches with the
appellant's, that does not change the fact that Camacho herself
was facing indictment for capital murder when she spoke with the
police. Obviously then, she could have been under some pressure to
modify her story, given her own participation in the murders. That
is precisely the type of issue the appellant was not able to
address on cross-examination.
The State further argues that Camacho's
statement was of little importance because the appellant had
admitted responsibility for the murders, and the substance of
Camacho's statement was shown to be "accurate" by corroborating
forensic and DNA evidence. Again, however, Camacho's statement can
only be said to be accurate as to the grisly details of the murder
itself. It cannot be said that her statement was "accurate" as to
the appellant's motives because she gives at least two conflicting
motives for the appellant's actions.
The State also argues that any harm caused by
not cross-examining Camacho was cured at least in part by the
opportunity to cross-examine other State's witnesses, such as the
officers who interrogated Camacho and later read her statements to
the jury. Even if this were true, it is clear under Crawford
that the statements of accomplices are normally particularly
harmful. And it is difficult to see how cross-examining the
interrogating officers, who can only speculate as to Camacho's
motives and influences to testify, would have anywhere near the
same effect as cross-examining Camacho herself.
Finally, the State contends the prosecution's
case was strong overall, even without Camacho's statements. Again,
however, the State focuses on the evidence which proves the
appellant's actual participation in the murders, such as his own
statement and the physical evidence corroborating his and
Camacho's accounts of the murders. That evidence is indeed
overwhelming. Yet the crucial evidence to rebut the appellant's
contention that he was not guilty by reason of insanity came
almost exclusively from one source: Camacho's statements.
Camacho, who was not only at the scene but by
her own admission was an accomplice, told the jury (as read by
Clipper): "The reason that we decided to kill the children was
because of money problems." Later, she told the jury (in her
videotaped statement) that she and the appellant "knew" they had
"done wrong." No physical evidence presented at trial could
corroborate these statements. On the other hand, there were many
factors that could have affected the statements' accuracy,
including Camacho's own pending prosecution for her involvement in
the murders, her state of mind due to the horrific acts in which
she had just participated, and her mental competency, given that
she was a high school dropout with at least some time spent in
special education courses. It is obviously not for this court to
say whether Camacho's statements were accurate or not. Yet we can
say that her statements likely contributed to the jury's verdict
of guilt, such that the error in admitting her statements at trial
clearly prejudiced the appellant's case. We sustain point of error
Having sustained the appellant's first point of
error, we need not address the other eleven. We reverse the
verdict of guilt and remand this cause to the trial court.
Delivered: September 12, 2007
1. See Penal Code
2. See Code Crim.
Proc. art. 46.03 §§ 1-3, repealed by Acts 2005, 79th
Leg., ch. 831, § 1.
3. See Code Crim.
Proc. art. 37.071, § 2(b), (e), (g).
4. Id., § 2(h).
5. 448 U.S. 56 (1980).
6. Id., at 66.
7. 541 U.S. 36 (2004).
8. Id., at 68.
10. Griffith v.
Kentucky, 479 U.S. 314, 328 (1987).
11. Crawford, 541
U.S., at 76 (Rehnquist, C.J., concurring); See also,
Lilly v. Virginia, 527 U.S. 116, 140 (1999).
12. R. App. Proc. 44.2(a);
Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 24 (1967).
13. Satterwhite v.
Texas, 486, U.S. 249, 256-57 (1988); Wesbrook v. State, 29
S.W.3d 103, 119 (Tex. Cr. App. 2000).
14. Wesbrook, 29
S.W.3d, at 119.
15. Harris v. State,
790 S.W.2d 568, 586 (Tex. Cr. App. 1989).
16. Motilla v. State,
78 S.W.3d 352, 357 (Tex. Cr. App. 2002).
17. Satterwhite, 486
U.S., at 258-59 (quoting Chapman, 386 U.S., at 24).
18. There was presumably
more of the video statement to be shown (i.e., describing John's
murder), but there was apparently a dispute over the
transcription/translation and ultimately the jury only saw the
video up to this point. See Reporter's Record Vols. 22:
19. Penal Code § 8.01.
20. Crawford, 541
U.S., at 63-4.
21. 819 S.W.2d 544, 546-47
(Tex. Cr. App. 1991).