A Comal County jury deliberated for more than five hours before delivering a manslaughter verdict against Daniel Jeremy Heredia, on trial for first-degree felony murder of 33-year-old Jennifer Morgan Rivers of Canyon Lake in 2016.
After nearly four days of testimony, the 10-woman, two-man began deliberations just after lunch and delivered its verdict, announced before 22nd District Court Judge Bruce Boyer around 5:30 p.m.
Members of Rivers’ family were tearfully incensed at the decision, one saying “it should have been f***ing murder,” as they left the courthouse annex.
Assistant Criminal District Attorney Allison Buess and defense attorney Dan Dworin would not comment, as jurors will consider testimony in the trial’s punishment phase at 9 a.m. Friday.
Jurors weighed first-degree murder, manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide or not guilty, but unanimously agreed on manslaughter.
If a firearm is used, first-degree murder is a felony punishable by 25 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. Manslaughter, a second-degree felony, is punishable by two and 20 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.
Heredia never took the stand before Buess and Dworin rested their cases around 10 a.m.
On June 23, 2016, Heredia, now 26, and a friend, William Joseph Griffin, 25, of Anahuac, drove a luxury camper from southeast Texas to the Rio Guadalupe Resort on River Road in Comal County. While tubing the river June 26, they met Rivers, who returned with them to their RV that afternoon.
On Wednesday, Griffin testified Heredia pulled out a .22 handgun and shot Rivers in the back of the head while they were in the living room of the trailer. He said Heredia drug her body into the bathroom of RV, where she remained as the men drunkenly drove the 3½ hours back home to Wallisville.
Earlier Thursday, Texas Ranger Joe Haralson testified about the interview of the defendant, conducted with Chambers County Det. Shane Arredondo on June 27, the day following the shooting. Jurors, friends and family members of the defendant and victim, saw a video replay of the hour-long questioning of Herediaat the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office.
Heredia said he accidently shot Rivers and that he and Griffin were too scared to call police. Griffin on Wednesday disputed that account, saying Heredia became annoyed after Rivers rebuffed his sexual advances and shot her. A Snapchat video of the men driving on the way back showed them laughing and drinking their way down Interstate 10.
Heredia and his brother, Patrick, were recorded on separate 9-1-1 calls to Chambers County dispatchers, and Arredondo was among first-responders arriving the morning of June 27 to Heredia’s home in Wallisville. There, they found Rivers, lying near Heredia’s RV with a gunshot wound to the back of the head.
Both Griffin and Heredia were taken in for questioning, with Haralson and Arredondo first interviewing Heredia.
“I asked him what he planned to do with the young woman’s body,” Haralson testified. “He said he didn’t have any.”
Haralson said after the interview, he collected evidence that countered Heredia’s interview, such as Rivers’ shoes in a garbage can at Heredia’s parents’ residence, where he lived in his RV.
“When we find evidence that doesn’t mesh, then that makes me suspicious,” Haralson said.
After brief questioning by Dworin, both attorneys dismissed Haralson before each rested their cases. Boyer then delivered his instructions to the 10-woman, two-man jury, which received options to deliberate just after lunch.
Heredia also faces several counts of tampering with or fabricating physical evidence and intent to impair a human corpse. Griffin was also jailed tampering charges in Chambers County before it transferred prosecution to Comal County in July 2016.
He was granted immunity, but only for his testimony against Heredia. Local prosecutors still have evidence against Griffin, and plan to present it before a grand jury next week.