BAYTOWN -

For the past 14 years, a Baytown woman has worked tirelessly to prove her father is not a murderer. Sandra Gonzalez has organized rallies, online petitions, posted banners and saved every dime she could to help her father, Roberto De La Cruz, appeal his conviction for a 1998 murder.

"When my dad went in, everything fell apart," said Sandra Gonzalez. "We've lost so much emotionally, financially."

De La Cruz, who has a criminal history of aggravated assault, was convicted of murdering Jorge Pena in November of 1998. Court records read De La Cruz shot Pena one time in front of a Baytown bakery. Police testified Pena's body was then driven to a nearby park and dumped.

"It's a lie, it's a lie, it's lie," said De La Cruz during an interview with Local 2 Investigates at the Beto prison unit. "I lost my home, my family, my brother died. I've spent a lot of time waiting for my freedom."

De La Cruz always maintained his innocence, but the case against him seemed strong during his 2000 trial. Court records read while the murder weapon was never found, police and prosecutors had an eyewitness to the crime. Court records read Marcos Torres, who at times had been a paid informant for Baytown police, testified he was with De La Cruz when Pena was murdered.

According to court documents Torres testified he saw De La Cruz shoot Pena one time at the bakery. Torres then testified he picked up Pena's body and dragged it to the car. Torres then told the jury he drove to a park where Pena's body was dumped.

Baytown police officers testified that while no evidence of a shooting was ever found in front of the bakery, forensic evidence supported the theory that Pena was shot at one location and then transported to the park. However, an assistant Harris County medical examiner testified under cross examination, a lack of dirt and grass stains indicated Pena was not dragged, but suggested he was shot where the body was found.

During closing arguments, the prosecutor indicated the assistant medical examiner was not in the best position to interpret the evidence since he had not visited the scene where Pena's body was found. The jury convicted De La Cruz and sentenced him to 99 years in prison.

Still, Gonzalez never doubted her father's innocence.

"I'm not just a daughter not wanting to admit that her dad could not have done it," said Gonzalez. "No, I know my father."

Gonzalez eventually hired Houston attorney, Stanley Schneider. Schneider had the evidence in the case reviewed by forensic crime scene investigators Thomas Bevel and Larry Renner. Prosecutors also asked Harris County Deputy Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Dwayne Wolfe, to re-examine Pena's autopsy report and photos of the crime scene.

Court records read all three came to the conclusion that Pena was shot two times, not once. Court records read all three experts also believe Pena was shot where his body was found and not at another location. Court documents show the autopsy report was amended and prosecutors stipulated the "credible forensic evidence is more consistent with the theory that Jorge Pena was shot at the location where he was found; and was not shot at another location, transported by vehicle, and dumped at the location where he was found."

These amended findings conflicted directly with the testimony of Torres. During a 2011 hearing, Judge Ruben Guerrero ruled "the credible forensic evidence proves that the testimony of Marcos Torres is false." The ruling further characterized investigators' trial testimony regarding the forensic evidence as "not credible". Judge Guerrero recommended "a new trial must be granted."

Local 2 tried to speak with Torres about his testimony, but he denied being involved in the case.

"I ain't got nothing to do with it," said Torres when directly asked about the De La Cruz case.

"Well, yes you do," said Local 2 Investigator Robert Arnold. "You were the main witness in the case."

Torres rolled up his window and drove off.

The hearing in 2011 was not the first time there were questions about Torres' testimony. Transcripts from a 2001 hearing for a new trial show the Judge who presided over the original murder trial stated, "I can tell you this: As far as Marcos Torres is concerned, the State's main and only witness that I remember, I was surprised myself that the jury believed him and found the person guilty. He was an unbelievable witness, in my opinion." However, the judge denied a motion for a new trial.

"I don't know why he said that about me," said De La Cruz, who added he had only met Torres one time before the shooting and that he did not personally know Pena. "The man is going to have to tell the truth."

Prosecutors with the Harris County District Attorney's Office argue a new trial is not warranted. Assistant district attorney Andrew Smith, who did not prosecute the original case, told Local 2 that during the trial, the jury was made aware that it was possible Pena could have been shot where his body was found and not at another location. Smith said the jury was given all the information needed to determine whether Torres was being truthful.

Smith said the District Attorney's Office has always kept an open mind about the evidence in the case and even accompanied Baytown police to the park where Pena was found to try to possibly locate more evidence in advance of the 2011 hearing. However, Smith said investigators with the District Attorney's Office could not locate Torres to talk with him about his trial testimony.

Baytown police had no comment about Judge Guerrero's 2011 recommendation.

Local 2 legal analyst Brian Wice characterized Judge Guerrero's recommendation for a new trial as rare.

"What this document does, is to tell a story of a criminal justice system that just didn't get it right," said Wice in reference to the "Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law" signed by Judge Guerrero in October of 2011.

While the judge's recommendation is powerful, at this point in the legal process, the Court of Criminal Appeals in Austin has the authority to grant De La Cruz a new trial. The Justices have had the case for more than a year but have yet to hand down a decision.

"Please give him justice because 14 years is enough and it's not right, it's not right. It's not right what they did to him," said Gonzalez.

De La Cruz said he believes he will eventually be vindicated.

"I got 14 years in the jail, innocent. My God he knows," said De La Cruz. "I will walk out of here free."

Local 2 will update this story when the Court of Criminal Appeals issues a decision on this case.

See evidence in the case here.

Read court documents here.