DA a no-show at Walmart hearing; former prosecutor takes the 5th

Judge rules that Walmart shooting victim’s family did not violate the gag order in the case.

By Molly Smith, El Paso MattersDecember 1, 2022 10:00 am,

From El Paso Matters:

El Paso District Attorney Yvonne Rosales was a no-show in court Wednesday, leading a district judge to schedule a Thursday afternoon hearing for her to explain why she should not have to testify about an email tied to the Walmart shooting case.

If Rosales fails to appear Thursday, state District Judge Sam Medrano Jr. said he would file a writ of attachment to compel her appearance — by arrest if necessary. The visibly frustrated judge told the packed courtroom that he has “never ever” had to take such an extreme step during his time on the bench.

A security guard informed the judge that Rosales, who resigned Monday effective Dec. 14, was seen entering the courthouse about an hour before she was to be in Medrano’s courtroom. An attorney representing the District Attorney’s Office suggested, however, that Rosales was not seen on building security camera footage.

In a dramatic moment, former Assistant District Attorney Curtis Cox, who also had been ordered by Medrano to attend the hearing, walked into the courtroom three hours after it started. He was formerly the lead prosecutor assigned to the Walmart case before resigning this month.

Cox invoked his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent to avoid incriminating himself when asked a series of questions by the defense team representing the man charged with gunning down 23 people at the Cielo Vista Walmart on Aug. 3, 2019. The defense has accused both Cox and Rosales of purposely avoiding numerous subpoena attempts to compel their attendance for Wednesday.

The defense attempted to ask Cox multiple questions about Rogelio “Roger” Rodriguez, Vinton’s municipal judge — also described as Rosales’ “legal advisor” — who has been connected to the email at the heart of Wednesday’s hearing. These included whether Cox had shared evidence with Rodriguez and whether Cox had retaliated against the Ciudad Juárez-based family of victim Alexander Gerhard Hoffmann Roth.

Hoffmann’s son, Thomas Hoffmann, testified Wednesday about how he, his brother and his mother became involved with Rodriguez, a man he said they believed was working on behalf of Rosales and the District Attorney’s Office.

Hoffmann, who broke down throughout his testimony, said through a translator that he felt betrayed by Rodriguez.

“He told us a lot of lies and he wanted us to sign some papers and I also think he wanted to use us for his own benefit,” Hoffmann testified.

Thomas Hoffmann, the son of a Walmart shooting victim, was called to testify Wednesday about his family’s interactions with Roger Rodriguez.
Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters

Hoffmann testified that Rodriguez and his wife used his mother’s cell phone on Aug. 4 to send an email — that the Rodriguezes drafted — to local media outlets criticizing Judge Medrano and a former prosecutor assigned to the case. That allegation was first laid out in an Oct. 6 report filed by attorney Justin Underwood, whom Medrano appointed to represent the family.

Subsequent reporting by El Paso Matters revealed that all of the email recipients were part of a media distribution list maintained by the DA’s Office.

Alexander Hoffmann’s widow, Rosa Maria Valdez Garcia, was briefly on the stand, during which she confirmed her son’s testimony. When informed of the attorney representing the DA’s Office for the hearing, Valdez contorted her face to show visible disgust, rolling her eyes.

Rosa Maria Valdez Garcia, the widow of a Walmart shooting victim, testifies about her interactions with Roger Rodriguez during a hearing Wednesday.
Corrie Boudreaux / El Paso Matters

Wednesday’s hearing had initially been scheduled so Medrano could determine whether the family had violated the July 1 gag order he set for all parties in the case. The family is listed as potential witnesses for the sentencing phase of the trial.

Medrano’s ruling that the family has never violated his order was a blip in the day’s proceedings.

The focus is now on whether Rosales will make an appearance Thursday — and whether she’ll answer questions if she does show up.

The FBI has received audio recordings that Thomas Hoffmann took of some of his family’s interactions with Rodriguez, according to Wednesday’s testimony. Underwood also filed a complaint with the State Bar of Texas accusing Cox of multiple criminal offenses relating to his involvement with Rodriguez and the family, Cox testified.

Justin Underwood questions his client, Thomas Hoffmann, about his family’s interactions with Roger Rodriguez in a hearing Wednesday.
Corrie Boudreaux / El Paso Matters

In an interview with reporters after the hearing, Underwood several times referred to Rosales, Cox and Rodriguez as “cowards,” and praised the Hoffmann family for their courage in coming forward and exposing their actions.

“The courage of that family to do what they did after going through what they’ve had to go through, I don’t know of any braver people maybe that I’ve ever met than that family,” Underwood said.

Read a step-by-step Twitter report on Wednesday’s hearing from El Paso Matters’ Robert Moore: