County annex

A view of Courtroom 3 at the Comal County Courthouse Annex Friday, Sept. 17, 2021 in New Braunfels.

Comal County courts have stepped up the past few months since resuming jury trials in October after COVID-19 delays, and Criminal District Attorney Jennifer Tharp pledges civil and criminal cases will be resolved in 2022.

“We have dealt with cancelled dockets and no jury trials up until we started again on Oct. 4, 2021,” she said. “In the past 10 weeks, we have prepped for over 200 cases and have tried 11 felony jury trials.

“My heart goes out to the victims and witnesses in our pending cases who have had to ride the rollercoaster of trial settings and desperately seek closure for their cases.”

Tharp said in 2021 her office filed 805 felony adult charges and 1,171 misdemeanor charges and disposed of 833 felony charges and 2,769 misdemeanor charges.

“Of the cases we disposed of in 2021, many were for violent offenses and sexual abuse of children,” she said. “Our largest caseload continues to be felony drug offenses, predominately being methamphetamine.”

Court actions

Last week, Judge Jack Robison’s 207th District Court sentenced Guillermo Angel Velasquez, 37, of New Braunfels, who in November was convicted on several charges stemming from a July 23, 2019 crime spree that wrecked two stolen vehicles and ended in a crash that sent three to area hospitals.

Velasquez stole vehicles in two separate locations within 15 minutes in the 1000 block of Interstate 35 South and in the Marketplace Shopping Center in the 600 block of North Business 35. After disabling the first truck he stole the truck of another who stopped to help him.

What Tharp said was “particularly heinous” was the latter instance in which he victimized a good Samaritan trying to help him. He backed into one car at that scene and hit two other vehicles while fleeing downtown, where he crashed near the intersection of Castell Avenue and West San Antonio Street and captured after a brief foot chase.

“As a habitual offender he was sentenced to 25 years to life,” Tharp said. Roberson also sentenced him to 40 years on each of two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and 20 years each on two counts of aggravated assault with a motor vehicle.

“We had a total of six citizens who were harmed by this guy,” Tharp said, including Penny and Felix Farias, whose son, Marine Lance Cpl. John Farias, was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2011. Tharp said both were in their late son’s truck when it was struck by Velasquez, injuring Mrs. Farias.

“At the punishment hearing it was heartbreaking to hear his mother say what that truck meant to them,” Tharp said, adding she thought it also moved Judge Robison, who also considered the defendant’s prior criminal actions before handing down the sentence.

Tharp said another jury recently found Zachariah Holm guilty of trafficking of a child, three counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child, indecency with a child, sexual performance by a child and possession of child pornography. After pre-sentencing actions, Robison will sentence Holm, who faces between 5 to 99 years to life in prison.

Tharp said another significant trial was that of Carter Bomer, who a jury recently found guilty of murder. Bomer, who also could receive between 5 to 99 years to life in prison, will be sentenced Tuesday in Judge Dib Waldrip’s 433rd District Court.

Tharp said misdemeanor courts will move to regular, every other week in-person jury trials beginning on Monday. She also credited actions of the county’s specialty courts for reducing caseloads.

“We continue to see great success with Judge Waldrip’s Challenge Court, which provides both accountability and treatment for individuals with addiction issues who are willing to get substance abuse or alcohol treatment,” she said.

The voluntary Drug Diversion Program, she said, “remains an effective tool, with 130 participants choosing this alternative to prosecution that offers individuals charged with low level drug and non-violent criminal crimes both accountability and rehabilitative resources.”

In late December the county’s newest and third Court-at-Law began hearing cases under Judge Deborah Wigington, whose newly-formed Mental Health Court continues staffing.

“We continue to see great collaboration with our law enforcement and community partners to respond to the ever growing need for mental health resources,” she said.

Tharp credited her team, which includes Chief Felony Prosecutor Sammy McCrary, Chief Civil Prosecutor Jessica Frazier, Chief Misdemeanor Prosecutor Jacqueline Doyer and Assistant District Attorneys Lauren Cole, Daniel Floyd, Allison Buess and Shelby Griffin.

“I could not be any prouder of my staff in their dedication, drive, and their resiliency,” she said. “No matter what the curve ball thrown at my office this past year, I’m proud of how my team has fought for justice in the court system, as Justice Sutherland once said, to see that ‘guilt not escape or innocence suffer.’”

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.