Office of the Attorney General News Release Archive

Tuesday, May 21, 2002


Asks Federal Court to Order New Punishment Hearing

AUSTIN - Texas Attorney General John Cornyn has again asked for a new punishment hearing for a convicted man sentenced to death based on testimony that included unconstitutional references to the defendant's ethnicity.

This is the second instance in which Attorney General Cornyn has asked for a new punishment hearing for Victor Hugo Saldano, an Argentine man found guilty of capital murder in Collin County in 1996. Two years ago this month, Attorney General Cornyn first requested a new sentencing hearing in the case. The U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in June 2000, but that court denied the Attorney General's request earlier this year.

During Mr. Saldano's 1996 punishment hearing in which the death penalty was imposed, prosecutors called an expert witness who said that " . . . because [Saldano] is Hispanic, this was a factor weighing in favor of future dangerousness." The prosecution's expert witness, Dr. Walter Quijano, said he based his testimony on the fact that "African Americans and Hispanics are over-represented in prison compared with their percentage of the general population."

The Attorney General's Office -- speaking on behalf of the State in the federal court system -- will officially "confess error" on behalf of the State of Texas in allowing Dr. Quijano's testimony during the original trial in 1996. The Attorney General also asks the U.S. Federal Court for the Eastern District of Texas to require the State trial court to either impose a sentence of life imprisonment or conduct a new punishment hearing for Mr. Saldano in accordance with the Constitution and laws of the United States within 180 days.

Attorney General Cornyn identified the case of Mr. Saldano and, in June 2000, six other capital murder cases where punishment hearings also included the race-based testimony of Dr. Quijano. Defendants in three of those cases have received new punishment hearings in which each was resentenced to death. The remaining cases are still at varying points in the appellate process.

In 2000, upon discovering the unconstitutional testimony introduced at trial numerous times by Dr. Quijano, Attorney General Cornyn ordered an immediate review of case files for all executions in Texas since 1982 and did not find any in which a defendant was executed on the basis of this kind of testimony. A review of cases of all inmates scheduled for execution was also conducted, and none involved the race-based testimony by Dr. Quijano.

Additionally, the Attorney General urged all local prosecutors throughout Texas to review cases that had not yet reached his office.

"My position in this matter is taken with full respect and empathy for the suffering experienced by victims of crime and their families," Attorney General Cornyn said. "But the public cannot have confidence in a criminal justice system if race is going to be considered at all in determining whether the ultimate penalty will be given."

On July 11, 1996, Mr. Saldano was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death in Collin County for the murder of Mr. Paul King, 46, of Plano. Attorney General Cornyn does not question the jury's finding of guilt in this case.

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