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Change of venue possible, clerk’s office reports
Despite as many as 500 potential jurors being called for duty in a La Salle County sexual assault case last week, the trial has been stalled because attorneys were unable to select 32 final candidates from the mere 63 who put in an appearance.
The case scheduled to open Tuesday, August 2, against Cotulla native Henry Gilbert “Paco” Ayala Jr., 37, is being prosecuted by the 81st Judicial District on behalf of the state of Texas, and assistant district attorneys Leslie Carranza and Kenny Lam were to present evidence at trial.
The trial is being rescheduled and may be held at a different venue, according to court officials.
Ayala is being defended by Attorney Alberto Roman of Eagle Pass.
District Judge Russell Wilson was presiding Monday, Aug. 1, when jury selection began. The clerk’s office confirmed this week that 12 of the 63 candidates who reported for duty in the county courthouse that day were excused by the court.
Allowable excuses included illness from COVID-19, unavoidable childcare obligations, being senior citizens, or no longer residing in the county. One potential juror was excused as a cadet in the La Salle County Fire Rescue service who was undergoing examinations that could not be rescheduled.
County clerk’s office staff noted this week that employers are required by law to permit employees to attend jury duty when they are summoned. Jury call notices had been sent by the county clerk on July 19.
“We only had fifty-one possible jurors for the final selection,” assistant clerk Sonia Maldonado said. “The attorneys did not believe they would be able to make a shortlist of thirty-two from a pool of so few candidates.”
A La Salle County grand jury handed down two felony indictments against Ayala on May 29, 2020. He was subsequently arrested on a first-degree felony charge of aggravated sexual assault upon a minor younger than 14 years of age, and a third-degree felony charge of assault upon a family or household member by impeding breath or circulation. He was released on bond and has pleaded not guilty on both counts.
Faced with a juror shortage in the trial last week, Judge Wilson instructed attorneys to prepare motions for a change of venue. The county clerk’s office indicated this week that the change has yet to be confirmed.
Under the law, a change of venue may be made to a neighboring county. In the case of the Ayala trial, such a relocation is likely to be within the 81st Judicial District, which also includes Frio, Atascosa, Karnes and Wilson counties, the county clerk’s office reported, although a defense attorney request that the trial be held in Webb County (Laredo) may yet be heard by a judge.