Some of the Houston-area’s most notorious crimes will be the focus of major trials this year – including the senseless shooting death of 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes and the horrific drowning deaths of siblings Oralyn and Kayana Thomas, whose bodies were found in a crawlspace underneath their neighbor’s home.
Jury selection in these and other high-profile criminal cases is slated to begin this year. Bear in mind, the trial dates and court appearances listed below are subject to change. Harris County’s justice system is grappling with tens of thousands of backlogged criminal court cases, including 24,189 felony cases and 19,103 misdemeanor cases which have accumulated since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Note that the figures don’t include the cases pending before Jan 2020. Prior to the pandemic, in the summer of 2017, Hurricane Harvey wrought severe damage on the Harris County Criminal Justice Center and the county’s jury assembly building, halting court proceedings and jury trials for months.
1) Sheborah Thomas: Mother charged with capital murder after children’s bodies found under neighbor’s house
In 2016, Sheborah Thomas was charged with capital murder in the drowning deaths of her children, 7-year-old Oralyn and 5-year-old Kayana, whose bodies were discovered in a crawlspace underneath her neighbor’s house.
According to an affidavit read aloud during a probable cause hearing in 2016, Thomas told police she drowned her children after she picked them up from day care. She fed them and prepared a bath for them. Thomas put their corpses in a trash can behind her home, according to the affidavit.
Prosecutors said Thomas attempted to bury their bodies, but when that proved too difficult, she placed them under the neighbor’s house.
Thomas was charged after she told an acquaintance she killed her children and needed to move from her house immediately. When the acquaintance realized she wasn’t joking, he alerted police.
Thomas was booked into the Harris County Jail, charged with two counts of capital murder.
Online court records indicate jury selection for Thomas’ trial will begin in late January.
2) Robert Soliz: Man accused of killing Houston sergeant during shootout along North Freeway
In November 2020, Robert Soliz was charged with murder in the shooting death of Houston police Sgt. Sean Rios, a 25-year veteran of the force.
Authorities said Rios was on his way to his work when he responded to a call of shots fired. At the scene of the shooting, Rios engaged in a shootout with Soliz. Rios was wounded in the exchange and sought help at a nearby hotel, where he collapsed and died.
The next day, Soliz was taken into custody during a traffic stop and subsequently charged for his role in the shooting. His bond was set at $500,000, and he made bail in March 2021. His bond was later revoked. He is being held at the Harris County Jail.
Online court records indicate jury selection for Soliz’s trial will begin in March.
3) Curtis Allen Holliday: Man charged with murder after missing wife’s body found in freezer
In 2020, investigators said Curtis Allen Holliday, then 58, killed his 29-year-old wife, Chi Thi Lien Le, who was reported missing in April of the same year.
Initially, Holliday was booked into the Harris County Jail after being charged with violating a bond for a protective order and continuous violence against a family member. While there, investigators interviewed him about his wife’s disappearance. During a search of Holliday’s business, located in the 5800 block of West Sam Houston Parkway North, investigators found Le’s remains in a commercial freezer.
The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences ruled Le’s death a homicide, and investigators filed a murder charge against Holliday.
Holliday is currently on 24-hour house arrest. His trial was originally slated to begin in early December, but was rescheduled for 2022.
4) Lexus Stagg: Woman charged with killing 3-year-old son while playing ‘game of chicken’
In 2019, authorities charged Lexus Stagg, then 26, with criminally negligent homicide in the death of her three-year-old son Lord Renfro. Police said Stagg fatally ran over Renfro with her Lincoln Navigator while playing a “game of chicken.”
Stagg initially told police she thought she had hit a speed bump while she was driving in reverse. However, surveillance video of the incident showed Stagg drive forward while her children ran toward the SUV. Stagg struck Renfro, who got caught under the right tire after the initial impact. Stagg continued to drive forward and ran over the child again. Renfro died as a result of the accident, authorities said.
In June 2019, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office announced that it had charged Stagg with criminally negligent homicide. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years in prison.
“Every parent has an obligation to protect their children, even from themselves,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a 2019 statement. “Cars aren’t toys and playing chicken with your kids isn’t a game.”
Stagg’s bond was set at $40,000. She made bail in 2020. Online court records indicate jury selection in her trial will begin in May.
5) Santiago Esparza: Man charged along with girlfriend after 5-year-old’s decomposing body found in closet
In September 2019, Priscilla Torres and her boyfriend Santiago Esparza were arrested after the decomposing body of her 5-year-old daughter Sierra Patino was found in a closet, apparently hidden there for several days.
Torres and Esparza were charged with tampering with a corpse in connection with Sierra’s death. The police said the pair told conflicting stories about what had happened to the child.
Police said Torres claimed that she was giving her daughter a bath and that there was a bottle of toilet cleaner within reach of the child. She said she left the bathroom for a few minutes and when she came back, the bottle was empty and floating in the bathwater, leaving burns on her daughter’s face. Torres said she feared Child Protective Services would take her daughter away, so she didn’t take her to the hospital. Later, police said Torres changed her story and said Esparza bathed her daughter, and she discovered bruises and burns on her forehead after he gave her the bath.
Esparza said that Torres was lying and the burns were on Sierra’s face for days before she died. He said he was at work when Sierra died.
In November 2019, Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences announced Sierra’s cause of death was “undetermined.”
Santiago is being held at the Harris County Jail. Online court records indicate jury selection in his trial will begin in late February. Torres, who is out on bond, is scheduled to appear in court in February for a pre-sentence investigation hearing.
6) Jason Paul Robin: Man charged with murder in daughter’s death after autopsy reveals 96 bone fractures
In 2019, Jason Paul Robin and his fiancée Katharine Wyndham White were arrested and booked into the Harris County Jail after the autopsy for their 10-week-old daughter revealed that the child suffered nearly 100 bone fractures.
Jazmine Robin, who was born prematurely, died on July 15, 2018, days after her parents brought her home from the hospital.
An officer was called to Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital to investigate Jazmine’s death. Staff there said the child had “clearly inflicted head trauma.”
After receiving Jazmine’s final autopsy report in May 2019, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office announced that it had charged Robins and White with murder in the death of their daughter.
The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences listed the child’s cause of death as “blunt force trauma to the head.” The autopsy showed Jazmine had bruises on her face and scalp and 96 fractures, including 71 rib fractures and a cracked skull.
In an arrest warrant affidavit, authorities said Robin and White shook the child and beat her with a blunt object.
“The evidence shows that Baby Jazmine fell victim to the very people who were supposed to protect her the most in this world,” Ogg said in a 2019 statement. “After a full and thorough investigation of the facts, we have filed charges, and will seek justice for young Jazmine.”
Robin’s bond was set at $250,000. He is being held at the Harris County Jail. Online court records indicate jury selection for Robin’s trial will begin in May 2022. White is out on bond. The next court proceeding involving her case is slated for May.
7) Larry Woodruffe: Man charged with capital murder in Jazmine Barnes’ 2018 shooting death
The shooting death of 7-year-old Jazmine Barnes made national headlines in 2018.
About 7 a.m. on the morning of Dec. 30, Barnes was riding in a car with her mother and three sisters when a vehicle pulled up beside them and opened fire. Barnes was shot in the head and died at the scene. Her mother, LaPorsha Washington, was injured in the crash.
A tip helped authorities identify Larry Demetricus Woodruffe and Eric Black Jr. as suspects in the shooting. Both were arrested and charged with her murder.
Black admitted taking part in the shooting and said he was driving when Woodruff allegedly opened fire on the car in which Jazmine and her family were riding. Black told authorities the gun used in the shooting was at his home and gave them permission to search the property. There, police said they found a pistol consistent with shell casings from the shooting scene.
Woodruff denied he was involved and told police the only thing connecting him to the crime was the statement from Black.
“My experience is that people have a big motive to get themselves out of hot water,” Woodruffe’s attorney Lisa Andrews said in 2019. “It is also my experience, after 20 years of doing criminal law on both sides, that shooters don’t give up their gun. And that gun he led the cops to was at his house, not my client’s.”
Prosecutors said the two men targeted Washington’s vehicle by mistake. They thought it actually belonged to someone else they had been in an altercation with prior to the shooting.
Initially, Jazmine’s killing prompted fears that the attack was racially motivated – the suspect was initially described as a white man in a red pickup truck.
Both Woodruffe and Black are being held at the Harris County Jail. Online court records indicate jury selection for Woodruffe’s trial will begin in late January. The next court proceeding in Black’s case, a case management conference, is slated for late January.
8) Marco Cobos: Man accused of stabbing 75-year-old woman to death, squatting in her home
Marco Cobos faces a capital murder charge in the slaying of Etta Nugent, 75, whose body was found inside her southwest Houston home in May 2019.
Cobos is accused of stabbing Nugent more than a dozen times and then squatting in her house. Authorities said Cobos slept in a stolen pickup truck parked in front of Nugent’s home for at least two days before forcing his way into Nugent’s home and stabbing her 13 times with multiple knives after she refused to help him with the broken-down truck. Prosecutors said Cobos stole $560 from Nugent’s purse and used the money to buy food and a new battery for the pickup. He returned to the home, ate some food, stole three credit cards and then left.
Police said Cobos confessed to the crime after his arrest.
Cobos is being held at the Harris County Jail. Online court records indicate jury selection for his trial will begin in March.