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Maria Gonzalez's Murder and the Neighbors' Fear of Testifying

By Mariana Petersen, J.D. | Last updated on

Maria Gonzalez's murder raises questions. It involved the homicide and sexual abuse of an 11-year-old minor who was alone in a building inhabited mainly by an immigrant community that is afraid to talk to the police.

The defendant is Juan Carlos Garcia-Rodriguez, a neighbor who is also an immigrant from Guatemala like the victim and her family. Garcia-Rodriguez is currently in custody and was denied bail.

Criminal Consequences

Under Texas law, Garcia-Rodriguez faces capital murder charges and may be sentenced to life imprisonment or even the death penalty. The reason capital murder is a possibility is the existence of an aggravating factor. Aggravating factors that can lead to capital murder charges in Texas include killing a police officer, committing multiple homicides, and committing a homicide during another felony.

In this case, the clear aggravating factor is rape. Also, the victim was under the age of 15, another aggravating factor. A person convicted of capital murder in Texas cannot apply for parole when serving the sentence.

Reluctant Witnesses

The police chief of Pasadena, Texas, where the incident occurred, stated that many of the inhabitants of the building where the girl lived are of Guatemalan origin, and not all of them have a valid immigration status. Because of this, many are afraid to talk to the police to cooperate in the case.

It is not unusual for police to encounter reluctant witnesses. Many people are afraid to report crimes for different reasons, including fear of revealing immigration status, being considered a suspect, or retaliation by the defendant or the defendant's family and friends.

In the case of murder investigations, however, immigration status is rarely the concern of investigating authorities.

Police Chief Josh Bruegger himself said, “I'm here to tell you right now, immigration status on the case, it's neither here nor there. The important thing right now is solving this case and getting the community safe."

Reporting Crimes Anonymously

In many cases, it is possible to give information anonymously to the police to assist in the investigation of a crime. Different police stations in counties around the U.S. offer anonymous crime reporting lines online, by call, text, and even cell phone apps. In Texas, there are community-based organizations called "Texas Crime Stoppers" that allow you to give information without identifying yourself.

Other states also have these lines of communication. For example, Los Angeles has a system for reporting to the police (tip a cop) anonymously online or by phone. It also allows you to collect rewards for doing so without identifying yourself. A simple search in your browser with your county's name will show you the number to dial to report anonymously.

When Can a Child Be Left Home Alone?

The crime occurred while the child's father was at work and the girl was alone in the apartment. This raises questions as to when parents can leave children home alone and even if it is legal to do so.

Most U.S. states do not have a legal minimum age for leaving a child home alone. However, a few states do have minimum age rules:

  • 6 years in Kansas
  • 8 years in North Carolina, Maryland and Georgia.
  • 9 years in North Dakota
  • 10-year minimum in Washington, Tennessee, Oregon and New Mexico
  • 11 years in Michigan
  • 12 years in Delaware and Colorado
  • 14 years in Illinois

In this case, the minor's father did nothing illegal. Texas has no minimum age laws for minors to be left home alone.

Regardless of the legality, the decision to leave a child home alone is always extremely personal and will depend on each family's particular case, needs, the safety of the location and how mature the child is.

If you are afraid of reporting a crime because of your immigration status or for any other reason, it is advisable to consult with an attorney. Attorneys are bound by a duty of confidentiality to their clients (called The Attorney-Client Privilege) and are prohibited from reporting to ICE or disclosing confessions without your permission.

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