Tears, confessions and a jail conduct update marked the sentencing phase of a Wharton man who pleaded guilty to one count of attempted capital murder last week.
The fate of 18-year-old Joseph Ruben Gutierrez is now in the hands of 23rd District Court Judge Ben Hardin after a full day of arguments from both the district attorney and the defense on how long he should spend in prison.
Gutierrez, whose other charges were dropped in the plea agreement, now faces anywhere from probation to life in prison.
Prosecutors Present Case
The day started with the Wharton County District Attoney’s office showing the video of Gutierrez’ interview with police officers following the June 13 shooting. In the video, Gutierrez admits to the crimes he later pleaded guilty to. First, he describes shooting three rounds at his girlfriend and another two at the police car chasing him.
“Right after I shot those first three shots, I wanted to get away,” Gutierrez said in the video. “ I didn’t even know that was a cop car behind me.”
All police cars chasing Gutierrez were clearly marked and had on their sirens on during the chase.
The altercation started, Gutierrez said, when he tried to break up with his girlfriend but took her car in the conflict, and she allegedly started to chase him.
After the video was shown, the district attorney presented the 9-1-1 call made by his girlfriend at the time.
“My boyfriend stole my car, and I am chasing him now,” Ashley Garza can be heard on the call. “He is driving recklessly and has been driving through peoples yards.”
The call stops abruptly after three loud noises can be heard, and Garza begins to scream Gutierrez shot at them.
There was a safe found in the vehicle driven by Gutierrez and later his cousin after the arrest. Drugs including Xanax and marijuana were found in the safe as well as a digital scale and baggies, according to the prosecutors.
Danger In Duty
El Campo Police officer Kendrick Matula came to the stand to testify about what happened the day Gutierrez shot at him during the chase.
Matula is an eight-year U.S. Army reserve veteran and has 11 years of experince as a law enforcement officer.
Matula works at the El Campo Middle School as a resource officer, but patrols city streets during the summer.
As Matula gave his testimony, video was shown from his dash and body cameras. The pursuit can be seen clearly with both videos.
“I got a call of a rolling disturbance and located the vehicle,” Matula said, adding he pursued once he located them.
Video footage shows Matula chasing Gutierrez at a high rate of speed, before the vehicle suddenly stops. When Matula attempts to get out of his car, Gutierrez fires two shots towards the officer.
Matula hid behind cover as Gutierrez and his cousin got away, driving two more police cars off the road before eventually crashing near a large field.
No officers fired a shot at Gutierrez during the pursuit or arrest. Matula was later evaluated by EMS and eventually went home.
“First thing I did was kiss my wife and kids,” Matula said. “As I was getting undressed, my wife noticed a mark on my shoulder.”
Matula’s quick thinking may have saved his life that day, but he says he still is affected by the event.
“I have nightmares, and I don’t like to be left alone,” Matula said through tears on the stand.
The prosecutors then called his wife to the stand to discuss what the day was like for her family.
“I didn’t know if my husband was OK, or if he was alive or not,” she said. “I wanted to be strong for my kids.”
Pattern Of Behavior
DA allison then showed Gutierrez had a record as a minor for drug possession, and he attacked a fellow inmate at the jail on Oct. 10.
Video evidence is showed Gutierrez assaulting fellow inmate Michael Garcia was rehoused after the incident.
Matula’s mother, Priscilla Shorter, described a chaotic day with a lot of uncertainties.
“I fell to my knees when I first heard what happened,” Shorter said. “I thank God every day that my son made it back home alive and safe.”
Defense Seeks Mercy
The defense called one witness on Gutierrez’ behalf. His grandfather, Jesus Gutierrez.
He said Gutierrez had been set up for failure his entire life, and he is not the man who pulled that trigger.
“What is wrong is wrong, and what he did was wrong, but I know that boy, and that is not who he is,” Jesus Gutierrez said. “He was not in his right mind.”
Jesus Gutierrez pleaded with the judge, family and prosecutors to give his grandson a chance to rehabilitate himself instead of sending him to prison for life.
After both sides rested Judge Hardin said he had a lot to think about until sentencing in January.
“Everything I heard here today has been helpful, and I will do my best with what I have been presented,” Judge Hardin said. “I want to have every opportunity to get all the information I can get so that I can really think about this.”
The next phase in sentencing will be a pre-sentencing investigation that will take more than a month to complete. Gutierrez will be due back at the beginning of next year. Meanwhile he remains in the Wharton County Jail.
“We are very pleased with how today turned out,” Allison said. “Since he already pleaded guilty, we just wanted to make sure the judge had a good overview of the facts and case.”