SAN ANTONIO – The sentencing of convicted ex-Bexar County constable Michelle Barrientes Vela resumed Tuesday, as her defense team began calling witnesses on her behalf.
Day eight of sentencing in the public corruption case played out more than four months after Barrientes Vela was convicted on two felony counts of tampering with records, and more than two months after both sides had last been in court on the case.
Richard James Jr., the first witness called by the defense, told the court that Barrientes Vela was helpful to other cadets while attending courses at an area law enforcement academy.
James later hired Barrientes Vela as an officer with the Somerset Police Department, before she then hired him in a training capacity at Precinct 2 after she took office in 2017.
“I know she was doing the best job possible. If I was to become a chief of police again and she was to get her license back, I would hire her again,” said James, who had difficulty hearing questions at times from both the prosecution and defense.
James was also tripped up by the prosecution on multiple occasions after he attempted to defend Barrientes Vela’s actions during several high-profile incidents involving her administration.
Asked about a 2019 incident in which Barrientes Vela and Precinct 2 deputies responded to a West Side discount store in uniform after her son had been accused of shoplifting, James responded that he was familiar with the encounter and that he believed she showed up because she was in the area.
After the prosecution informed James that Pct. 2′s entire traffic unit was called to the scene, James said the San Antonio Police Department should have handled the call and that if it had been his son accused of shoplifting, he would have stayed out of it.
WATCH: Highlights from Day 8 of sentencing phase of Michelle Barrientes Vela trial
James also seemed confused about key events during Barrientes Vela’s time in office and repeatedly apologized to the court for appearing to sound condescending.
After James said at one point that he did not believe Barrientes Vela should have been convicted, a woman in the gallery burst out laughing.
James also repeatedly testified that Capt. Marc D. Garcia acted alone in getting an arrest warrant for Pct. 2 Deputy Leonicio Moreno in 2019.
Prosecutor Oscar Salinas then had James attempt to read text messages sent by Barrientes Vela, which contradicted his previous statements about her involvement in investigating Moreno for filing a false Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint.
Moreno was charged with felony perjury in April 2019 in connection to the complaint, but prosecutors dismissed the charge within hours of Moreno’s arrest.
A KSAT investigation later revealed that Pct. 2 deputies delayed booking Moreno until media arrived to record him being walked into jail.
Lt. Steven Barloco, one of the deputies involved in Moreno’s arrest, testified that he was confused on the booking process because he had never been to the building before and that it was his first day on the job for Pct. 2.
Garcia, who was indicted alongside Barrientes Vela in early 2020, was granted immunity as part of a deal with prosecutors in late October that called for him to testify against his former boss.
His testimony was later excluded by the judge due to conflicts of interest raised by the defense.
The defense on Tuesday also called former Bexar County Budget Analyst Alexandria Millan.
The defense attempted to use Millan’s testimony to impeach prior testimony from Pct. 2 Judge Roberto Vazquez, but an objection from the prosecution to the line of questioning was sustained and Millan was dismissed.
Vazquez, instead, was expected to return to the witness stand on Wednesday. He previously testified during sentencing that Barrientes Vela was vindictive and ill-suited to lead a law enforcement agency.
Two co-workers of Barrientes Vela at the used car dealership where she now works, including her sister-in-law, described Barrientes Vela as a good employee and caring person.
The prosecution, during cross examination, got one co-worker to concede that tampering with records is not a good professional practice.
Barrientes Vela faces between two years probation and 10 years in prison.
She has asked to be sentenced by Judge Velia Meza.
Testimony and closing arguments are scheduled for Wednesday beginning at 9 a.m.
Judge Meza is expected to issue her sentence Wednesday afternoon.