Juan Garcia Flores’ daughter Keila Reyes slams Texas DA’s office after Ivan Gabaldon’s release

EL PASO, Texas—When Juan Garcia Flores, 63, was killed in February of last year, her daughter’s life was shattered and the memory of his violent death still grips her when she speaks of him.

“The loss of my father turned my family’s entire existence upside down, in every way. His absence has been more than a tragedy,” said Keila Reyes, sitting in a chair in what was once her father’s bedroom, wiping away tears.

“He lived here. It was his bedroom. And it happened here,’ she said, pointing to a corner where her father’s body was found a year ago with multiple stab wounds in his back, the corner where she had cleaned up the traces bloody struggles on the floor and the walls.

Flores was living in the family business, a large, nicely renovated office warehouse, when he was killed. Police said in a press release at the time that they had a murder suspect: a 20-year-old Mexican man named Ivan Gabaldon. Cops and prosecutors alleged that Gabaldon attacked Flores and fled in the injured man’s truck. Gabaldon’s defense attorney, Omar Carmona, told The Daily Beast he intended to respond to those allegations at trial, which never took place.

Workers who showed up around 7 a.m. discovered Flores’ body, according to Reyes.

The details of the murder are still hotly disputed. A affidavit obtained by local media, citing statements from the suspect, suggested it was a sex transaction gone wrong, with Gabaldon claiming he acted in self-defense when Flores tried to coerce him into acts to which he had not consented, including threatening him with a knife.

Flores’ daughter told The Daily Beast that her father was “not an aggressive person at all” and also said the sexual details that allegedly occurred unfairly distracted from what she believed to be the only important factor: ” My father was murdered and he deserves justice.

“What does it matter what he has done in his private life? Everyone has a private life,” she said, and she also dismissed the possibility that her father was involved in the LGBQT lifestyle. “It’s not who my dad was. Talk to everyone who knew him,” she said.

Prosecutors alleged that Gabaldon sold Flores’ truck for $200 in one of the surrounding neighborhoods – a fact they claim is indicative of a motive for theft, another claim that counsel intended to argue at trial. Gabaldon was arrested days later while wandering the neighborhood and claimed to have killed Flores in self-defense, according to court documents and his attorney. He pleaded not guilty.

Then the prosecution fell apart, leaving the story open to speculation and, for Keila Reyes, anger.

She mourns her father while carrying this burden of anger, imposed by what she – and a growing number of locals – describe as an absurdly dysfunctional government agency: the El Paso District Attorney’s Office.

The prosecutor’s office, mired in an unprecedented backlog of deadlocked legal proceedings, is under heavy criticism for what many see as a model of dismal inefficiency. Under the leadership of District Attorney Yvonne Rosales since 2020, the office has authorized hundreds of criminal cases remain unsupervised beyond legal deadlines, which has recently led to a wave of mass layoffs to ensure suspects enjoy their constitutional rights to speedy trials. The El Paso Public Defender’s Office said publicly that more than a thousand additional cases are also awaiting possible referral.

EL Paso District Attorney Yvonne Rosales.

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Twitter

In general, Rosales disputed that the rejection of cases falls on her, pointing to the coronavirus pandemic, understaffing and a backlog she claims to have inherited after being elected in 2020.

Rosales now faces an unusual motion, filed Wednesday by Carmona, seeking his removal, as El Paso counts reportedand a judge was appointed on Friday to oversee the removal effort.

Alongside the dismissals are what critics describe as the prosecutor’s courtroom mistakes – a mistake so colossal that it left Keila Reyes and her family’s life deeply damaged.

In December 2021, District Court Judge Alyssa Perez was presiding over a hearing for the trial of Gabaldon, the 20-year-old accused of murdering Keila’s father. The lead prosecutor, El Paso County Assistant District Attorney Curtis Cox, offered to release Gabaldon without bond in exchange for a postponement of the trial date. But when the defense did not agree to this, Cox said he wanted to re-indict Gabaldon for capital murder – increasing the sentence to a death sentence when the defense failed to play ball.

Carmona, the El Paso criminal defense attorney representing Gabaldon, told The Daily Beast he was shocked by the decision. The judge agreed and declared that the DA office’s attempted maneuver was retaliation, and fired the case, although prosecutors are appealing the decision.

When delivering her decision, Judge Perez admitted to being conflicted over the release of an alleged killer due to a clumsy prosecution.

“I certainly didn’t expect to be able to see the state of Texas literally ignore some of the more serious cases, including this one,” she said during the hearing. “In many ways this does not look like justice, because at the end of the day we are dealing with very serious circumstances and allegations. There are families of victims who are not well served while cases in the prosecutor’s office can simply be ignored. There are so many disturbing things.

Curtis Cox, the assistant district attorney in charge of Gabaldon’s prosecution during the hearing, sat stone-faced as the judge chastised the poor trial preparation and vindictive actions of prosecutors in the case, and said nothing in response. (When The Daily Beast made efforts to contact Cox, a spokesperson for the district attorney declined the interview, citing the pending appeal of the dismissal, and said Cox was in a jury trial “for may -be the next two weeks and will not be available for comment.”)

Keila Reyes, who was watching the hearing on Zoom due to COVID restrictions, saw her father’s accused killer being released and couldn’t say anything as only the lawyers had microphones on.

“I was a mess, I was bawling. I couldn’t believe it,” she said.

As an English-Spanish translator for government meetings, Reyes is familiar with the workings of government. Although she and her family still have strong ties to Mexico, where they still maintain relationships with friends and religious congregations, Reyes considers herself a proud American.

“I was born and raised here in the United States. And I have always held our political system in very high regard,” she said. “And never in my worst nightmares would I have imagined that something so respected as our criminal justice system would let me and my family down when we needed them most.”

Asked about the case recently by The Daily Beast, the district attorney Rosales was hesitant to say if anything should have been done differently, but she said she didn’t like the judge’s decision to release the suspect.

“We disagreed with the grounds for dismissal, and this matter is currently under appeal by my office,” she said. “I can’t really comment further on this except that we believe the grounds for dismissal were wrong and that’s why we are appealing.”

Carmona, who has been a vocal critic of Rosales, places the dismissal entirely at the feet of the district attorney.

“Either Ms. Rosales sanctioned the use of the death penalty for it to be used in this way, which is horrible. Or we had a rogue prosecutor talking about the death penalty without telling his boss, Ms. Rosales, which is even scarier,” he said. “What kind of leadership do we get when you have a prosecutor handing down the death sentence without even consulting the elected district attorney?”

Rosales is also under fire after two lawyers working to prosecute the 2019 racist mass attack on a local Walmart left his office. A judge reprimanded her for her poor preparation in this case, as well as for speaking to the public.

Twenty-one months into his tenure as El Paso district attorney, Rosales is now facing a increasingly vocal community crying out for his ouster.

“It’s a dumpster fire,” Carmona said of the state of the district attorney’s office.

Texas Rep. Joe Moody, himself a former assistant district attorney in El Paso who hinted he would run against Rosales in 2024, gave a direct assessment of the prosecutor’s performance under Rosales.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s embarrassing for the community and ultimately it’s going to be dangerous for our community,” he said. “I think the management of this office has proven to be extremely incompetent.”

The prosecutor’s office, as Rosales noted, appealed the judge’s decision to dismiss the murder case. But Gabaldon — who immediately after being cleared of the murder was extradited to New Mexico Corrections on an unrelated theft charge — might not be there even if the charges were to be reinstated.

Carmona said his client was likely in Mexico and “difficult, almost impossible, to find.” Attempts to reach him and his immediate family for comment on this story were unsuccessful.

For Keila Reyes, nursing an elderly mother who is still grieving from the death of her estranged husband and raising three young daughters with her husband, the life she once knew has been forever changed. The state that was supposed to serve as a weapon of justice for her murdered father and his family was clearly unprepared, she said.

“The defense shredded the DA with the law. And they were my lawyers.

She said the appeal on her father’s case carried little weight for her.

“Honestly, for me, I have no hope for our local government. This has been the biggest disappointment of my life. And it’s so sad that it’s for something so close to my heart, dad.

Comments are closed.