August 1, 2007 - 10:40PM
SAN JUAN — Edgar Cantu thought he had heard the last of Sostenes Morales more than two years ago, when he and 11 other jurors convicted Morales of murdering the man's wife.
But more than 18 months after Morales was sentenced to life in prison, Cantu received a letter at his San Juan home from Morales pleading for information about why he was convicted. (View the letter)
Cantu, a 31-year-old custodian at the University of Texas-Pan American, said he thought his personal information was confidential when he participated in the jury.
Now, he fears for his family's safety.
"If he has my address, he can send anybody to my house to threaten me, or my kids, or my wife," Cantu said. "I try to not think about it that much."
'This is only for my appeal process'
Morales, a 29-year-old San Carlos native, was found guilty of fatally firing a shotgun at his wife's head on her 23rd birthday in May 2005. He is eligible for parole in about 28 years.
For now, he spends his days at the Ferguson Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, a maximum-security facility located near Midway.
In his letter to Cantu, Morales wrote that he cannot afford a lawyer to appeal his case.
"Please forgive me if any question was hard on you," Morales wrote.
"Again sir, this is only for my appeal process. Nothing more."
But Carlos A. Garcia, one of the lawyers who represented Morales during his trial, said a state-appointed attorney had already filed a brief in his appeal.
Cantu said he contacted the Hidalgo County District Clerk's office on July 24 to find out how Morales learned where he lives.
District Clerk Laura Hinojosa said although her staff did not release Cantu's information, court staff, the judge or attorneys involved in the case could have done so.
"It's not like they're sitting on it, holding it in a drawer somewhere, but they have access to it," Hinojosa said.
"There's too many hands touching this. It could have been anyone."
Hinojosa said her office collects jurors' personal information before a trial, but it is exempt from open records laws.
"We have (staffers) put that information into a plastic envelope and seal it," she said.
Garcia said he did not give Cantu's address to Morales.
"I had no idea that had happened," the lawyer said.
A legal inquiry
Legal experts said while Morales' attempt to contact Cantu is uncommon, it's not illegal.
Dan Benson, a professor of law at Texas Tech University who specializes in criminal procedure, said juror information is confidential during an ongoing trial.
But because Morales contacted Cantu after the trial and did not threaten him in the letter, no laws were broken.
"There's really no prohibition against it," Benson said. "The jurors are not precluded from talking with someone about a case after it's over."
George Dix, a professor of criminal law at the University of Texas at Austin, said it's possible that Morales obtained Cantu's information from the case records the court kept.
"Sometimes, a defendant will have access to the record — he may act as lawyer, he may have it for a number of reasons," Dix said.
But even if Cantu responded to the letter — something he said he doesn't plan to do — his testimony could not be used in Morales' appeal, Dix said.
"Information from a juror is almost certainly going to be of no legal significance," he said. "The thought process of the jurors are not matters of which they are admitted to testify about."
'The ball is in his court'
Cantu said he is still fearful that Morales knows where he lives.
"I'm not going to be able to sleep every night very comfortably," Cantu said.
Hinojosa said her staff urged Cantu to not respond to Morales' letter, but maintains that her office did nothing wrong under her watch.
"As far as we're concerned, it's closed because we have taken the proper steps to ensure this doesn't happen again," Hinojosa said. "The ball is in his court."
Cantu said his sister works as a bookkeeper for a lawyer and inquired about the situation last week, but still has not heard back.
He said he doesn't know what to do next.
"I don't know, man," he said. "See what happens."
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