Defense attorneys for Joseph Tejeda, who is accused of killing his 21-year-old ex-girlfriend in 2016, filed motions last week that could drastically shape the coming court proceedings and outcome of the protracted murder case.
More than five years have passed since the body of Breanna Wood was discovered in an abandoned oil field trailer off State Highway 666 near Robstown. Three of seven people indicted for crimes in connection with Wood's death - including Tejeda - are still awaiting trial.
The high-profile case has long marred the Nueces County District Attorney's Office, which has delayed jury trial dates five times since the case began before ultimately seeking to recuse itself - in addition to the presiding district judge - after schisms between prosecutors and the victim's mother, Fallon Wood.
In April, a Criminal Prosecutions Division assistant attorney general with the Texas Attorney General's Office took over as the lead prosecutor for the case. Senior Judge Manuel Banales was also selected to preside over the case after District Judge Jack Pulcher sought to recuse himself.
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Tejeda's attorneys on Friday filed motions arguing the case should go to trial soon, that key evidence should not be admissible, that a deposition of the victim's mother is needed due to allegations she was granted unsupervised access to state evidence and that the attorney general's office should be removed from the case.
Prosecutors and Tejeda's attorneys, Fred Jimenez and DeeAnn Torres, declined to comment on the case, citing a gag order.
The key evidence the defense wants to throw out is the autopsy of Breanna Wood performed by in the Nueces County Medical Examiner's Office, The office has been the subject of a months-long probe by the district attorney's office and the Texas Rangers, the investigative arm of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Former chief medical examiner Dr. Adel Shaker performed the autopsy on Wood. Shaker is facing 17 counts of practicing medicine in violation of a section of the Texas Occupations Code that governs health professionals.
Shaker's involvement - alongside the criminal investigation into the medical examiner's office and accusations that Shaker has falsified autopsy results and cut corners in autopsy procedures - is grounds to throw out Wood's autopsy, Tejeda's attorneys argue. (The allegations against Shaker are the subject of civil litigation as well against the county).
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The investigation into the medical examiner's office, which legal experts say could negatively impact other criminal cases, began with an accusation against Shaker's former deputy chief medical examiner and 30 cases she took part in.
Emails obtained by the Caller-Times earlier this month show the investigation expanded to include more than 900 case files contained in the medical examiner's office. Whether Wood's autopsy was one of those 900 case files being reviewed by investigators is not clear.
Tejeda's attorneys are also seeking to take a deposition of Fallon Wood before a trial takes place following accusations prosecutors gave her "unsupervised access to the State's file and the evidence in the case," according to the motion.
Such access, they contend, gives them reason to believe evidence may have been tampered with, altered or removed, thus hindering Tejeda's rights to a fair trial.
The defense also argues Tejeda's sixth amendment right to a speedy trial has been infringed because of multiple delays over the five-year period. His attorneys, in the motion, state they have been ready to go to trial for two and a half years.
Nueces County Sheriff J.C. Hooper said Tejeda as of Monday has been in jail for 2,077 days, making him one of the jail's longest-serving inmates to date.
Chase Rogers covers local government and industry in South Texas. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @chasedrogers. You can support local journalism with a subscription to the Caller-Times.
This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: Joseph Tejeda's attorneys seek to throw out key autopsy in murder case