Depending on who you ask, justice means different things.
In the case of the 1998 murder of 85-year-old Escolastica Harrison in Brownsville, neither side claims justice has been served.
“It’s been 21 years of pain and anguish for the family,” says Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz. “It’s been 21 years that the community has been waiting for the justice to be carried out.”
Escolastica Harrison was a teacher; her first name means scholastic in Spanish. A name her nephew, Alex Hernandez, says was fit for a woman who enjoyed teaching others, even outside the classroom.
“Everybody looked up to her,” Hernandez says. “Everybody loved her.”
Harrison, the owner of a mobile home park in Brownsville, had a mistrust of banks, according to prosecutors. That same mistrust prompted her to stash cash away inside suitcases in her home. It was this habit, investigators said, that ultimately caused her to be the center of a murder investigation.
“Upon arrival, we realized she was already deceased and that something horrific had happened,” said William Dietrich, commander of the Brownsville Police Department. “A very violent event had taken place.”
Dietrich was one of the officers who responded to the scene of Harrison’s home, after investigators said her body was discovered by her nephew, who lived with her at the time.
According to court documents, at the time of the murder, Harrison had about $600,000 in cash at her home.
Police said Harrison was stabbed 13 times with a screwdriver and thousands of dollars were missing.
“What happened to Mrs. Harrison is very simple — you have three individuals who had nothing but greed on their mind,” says Dietrich. “They went in there with the intent of stealing her money and ultimately killing her so there wouldn’t be a witness.”
Police charged three people in this case: Rene Garcia, Pedro Gracia and Rubén Gutierrez, a friend of Harisson’s and her nephew.
Garcia plead guilty to murder; Pedro Gracia, who police said was the getaway driver, remains on the run.
Gutierrez has been on death row for the past 20 years after he was found guilty of capital murder by a jury.
Prosecutors said only a few people knew about Harrison’s cash stash. According to investigators, Gutierrez befriended Harrison with the intent of robbing her.
Despite a guilty verdict, Gutierrez, who investigators say was the mastermind behind the fatal stabbing that killed Harrison, maintains his innocence- even during an exclusive interview with CBS 4 as he sits on death row.
Gutierrez was scheduled to be executed in July but, due to a clerical error, his execution date was postponed to October.
It’s a delay that is welcomed by his attorney, federal public defender Shawn Nolan, who said Gutierrez has not been afforded justice. The courts have repeatedly denied his petition for DNA testing of the scene.
“There have been a ton of exonerations in this country based on DNA testing,” says Nolan. “This is a simple, simple test that we are asking to do.”
Nolan said they are appealing the courts denial for DNA testing and requesting a stay of execution.
But DA Saenz says the tests wouldn’t change the course of the case, calling the petition a “frivolous and outrageous argument.”
“He himself places himself at the scene with a screwdriver in his hand,” says Saenz. “His co-defendant, Rene Garcia, places him there. This is not a DNA case. There is no DNA needed. The jury heard his version and sentenced him.”
For Gutierrez, each day draws closer to his execution. But, for prosecutors and Harrison’s family, that day is overdue.
“Myself, personally, I just want to see an end to it,” says Hernandez. “I just want closure. Life has gone on. My aunt would want me to go on. She would say ‘forgive him.’
Saenz says he personally opposes the death penalty, but it seems the punishment fits in this case.
“It is time to carry out the jury’s verdict, which is death by execution.”