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Herrera murder trial continues in Lockhart

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The trial of a man charged with killing a 19-year-old woman and leaving her body in a Caldwell County field in August 2016 began on Tuesday and is still under way, with the state continuing to call witnesses to the stand through Thursday afternoon.

Rudy Herrera Jr., 33, pleaded not guilty to capital murder charges in the death of Caldwell County resident Emilia Juarez, who Assistant District Attorney Amanda Montgomery said during the state’s opening argument was Herrera’s first cousin.

Montgomery said the state would prove Herrera, who was arrested in February 2017 – roughly six months after Juarez’s body was discovered in a field northeast of Lockhart – strangled Juarez by wrapping an object around her neck while attempting to commit sexual assault.

District Attorney Fred Weber said the state was not seeking the death penalty in the case, although, if found guilty, Herrera could face life in prison.

Herrera was arrested after the Department of Public Safety Crime Laboratory matched his DNA to samples taken from the victim.

Through Thursday, the state had called several witnesses to the stand, including law enforcement officials, a pathologist, friends of the victim and family members of both the victim and defendant.

The trial went into recess on Thursday afternoon during the testimony of state witness Lt. Billy Mims with the Texas Rangers.

With Mims on the stand, the jury listened as Montgomery played the recording of Mims’ first interview with Herrera, which he said took place on Feb. 11, 2017 in his truck outside the Lockhart barbecue restaurant at which Herrera was employed.

Mims said Herrera was a suspect at the time the interview was conducted and that he was under suspicion because the Texas Department of Public Safety lab had returned results that matched his DNA to samples taken from the victim.

In the recording, Mims made no mention of Herrera being a suspect during a conversation in which the defendant spoke freely and largely cheerfully, relaying personal details about his life.

“As you could hear, I had built up a good rapport with the defendant and I didn’t want to lose that while I waited for more DNA information,” Mims said.

During the interview, Herrera said multiple times that he didn’t know Juarez that well, that those branches of the family seldom crossed paths, and that the age difference between them limited their interactions.

According to the recorded interview, he remembered seeing Juarez four to five days before her death. When asked the question a different way, he said he hadn’t spoken with her in months. At another point in the conversation, he said he’d last spoken to her a couple of weeks before she died.

“I asked him seven different times when he last saw her, and he gave me a different answer each time,” Mims said.

Mims placed Herrera under arrest on Feb. 18 after the DPS declared additional evidence taken from Juarez’s body a match with the defendant’s DNA.

The trial is set to continue at 9 a.m. Friday. To read more about the trial’s first day of testimony, pick up this week’s Post-Register.

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