Capital Murder Conviction Reversed In Chilos Restaurant Murder
The capital murder conviction for Jaime Arturo Zamora has been reversed and remanded in an opinion filed today by the Fourteenth Court of Appeals. Accomplice-witness testimony was the issue when Zamora’s defense attorneys argued that Judge Susan Brown (185thDistrict Court of Harris County, Texas) failed to instruct the jury that if it determined four specific witnesses were co-conspirators, then their testimony could only be considered if it was corroborated by other evidence tending to connect Zamora to the offense.
“The opinion of the appeals court says we were indeed entitled to the accomplice-witness jury instruction and that if it would have been given, we would not have lost the case,” said Paul Looney, Looney & Conrad, P.C. in Houston and defense attorney for Zamora.
On May 20, 2006, Jose Perez had dinner with his wife and their two children at Chilo’s Seafood Restaurant in Houston. After dinner, Perez secured the couple’s infant son in the back seat of the car and opened the driver’s side door. Before Perez could enter the car, a man approached from behind. Without saying anything, the man shot Perez repeatedly, then ran and jumped into a vehicle waiting at an adjacent service station. Perez died from his wounds. There was no apparent motive for the shooting.
Two-and-a-half years later, Zamora was arrested for Perez’s murder. The State’s theory was that before Perez’s murder, Zamora offered to pay the monetary equivalent of a kilo of cocaine for the murder of a different man – Santiago Salinas – and that Perez was shot because he was mistaken for Salinas. According to the State, Zamora gave the contract for Salinas’s murder to Jose Armando Chapa. Chapa was said to have used another man, Steven Torres, as a subcontractor for the job, and Torres hired two other men – Michael Belmarez and Pedro Quintanilla – to kidnap or kill Salinas. Pedro Quintanilla was the person who actually shot Perez.
“Among the witnesses who testified at trial were four men who we characterized as accomplices,” said Clay Conrad, defense attorney at Looney & Conrad, P.C. who wrote and argued the appeal. “The appellate court went further than they had to in their reversal, which is pretty rare. The opinion was much more strongly worded than I expected. They only had to find that there was evidence to believe that all these people were accomplices. Instead, they found that they actually were accomplices.”
This is the third round of appellate litigation in this case. In June 2012, the Fourteenth Court of Appeals affirmed the case, finding that error was not preserved, but failing to apply the proper standards. In October 2013, the nine-member Court of Criminal Appeals, the State’s highest court in criminal matters, unanimously reversed and sent the case back to the Fourteenth Court of Appeals to consider under the proper legal standards. Now, having done so, the Fourteenth Court of Appeals has unanimously reversed, remanding the case to the trial court for retrial.
For more information, contact:
Clay Conrad, Defense Attorney and author of the brief (281) 597-8818
Paul Looney, Defense Attorney for Zamora (713) 828-7494
Roxanne Avery, Media Relations; Looney & Conrad, P.C. (405) 388-6191