FORT WORTH -- A 38-year-old former police officer was sentenced Thursday to 20 years in prison for killing a mother of two last year when he drove drunk and crashed his city-issued SUV into her car at 76 mph.
Jurors deliberated just under an hour before recommending the maximum sentence for Jesus Cisneros.
He initially pleaded not guilty to a charge of intoxication manslaughter in the death of Sonia Baker, 27, and the trial began Monday.
Prosecutors called 11 witnesses. Then the defense attorneys called their lone witness -- Cisneros.
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In 15 minutes of emotional testimony, Cisneros admitted that he broadsided Baker's PT Cruiser after drinking eight beers and four shots of liquor during another officer's birthday party the night of Dec. 10-11, 2009, at the Pour House on West Seventh Street. He acknowledged having a 0.17 blood-alcohol level -- twice the legal limit -- and speeding through two red lights before striking Baker's car about 2:25 a.m. near Columbus Trail and Eveningstar Drive.
Cisneros told jurors and Baker's family that he decided to admit responsibility after recalling the drunken driver who killed Fort Worth police officer Dwayne Freeto in 2006. Cisneros said he helped investigate that case and testified against Samuel Lee Hilburn, the driver who hit Freeto's patrol car, setting it on fire.
"I killed someone, and I take full responsibility for that," he said. "I'm sorry. I did not intend to kill anyone."
After prosecutors questioned Cisneros, 371st District Judge Mollee Westfall asked the jury to leave the courtroom. Cisneros pleaded guilty to the judge. She called the jurors back in, explained what had happened and told them to find him guilty.
Intoxication manslaughter is a second-degree felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison. Cisneros was eligible for probation.
Relatives take the stand
During the punishment phase, prosecutors Richard Alpert and Bill Vassar and defense attorneys Jim Lane and David Richards called several witnesses -- mostly family members.
Baker's mother, Stella Lopez, said she told her daughter's sons -- then 4 and 5 -- that their mother had "gone to Jesus," not left them as they believed. She later explained how their mother was killed in a collision.
"I didn't tell them that the man was a police officer because I didn't want them to hate the police," Lopez said.
Police Lt. Robert Rangel, Cisneros' supervisor on the narcotics unit, provided the most insight into the behavior that led to the fatal collision.
Rangel said Cisneros was first disciplined after his wife told Rangel that her husband was abusing alcohol and perhaps drugs. Although Cisneros passed a drug test, Rangel said, he had two other policy violations, including allowing a civilian to ride in his city vehicle.
Later, Rangel said, Cisneros was suspended for 15 days without pay and transferred from narcotics to the DWI-enforcement unit after he fired a gunshot into the roof of his car. Rangel said supervisors hoped that dealing with drunken drivers would help Cisneros change his own behavior.
After he was allowed to return to narcotics, Rangel said, Cisneros persuaded fellow undercover officer Eric Martinez to accompany him on an unauthorized investigation of a human trafficking operation.
Rangel reluctantly and tearfully told Alpert that he would not trust Cisneros to follow probation rules.
Probation is what Cisneros' sister, brother and wife asked jurors to assess.
Cisneros' sister, Myra Hernandez, pleaded that he be allowed to return to his 5-month-old daughter.
"We've waited a long time for this baby," Hernandez said.
Family speaks to Cisneros
After the jury returned the maximum sentence, Baker's family spoke directly to Cisneros in their victim-impact statements.
Baker's mother and husband told Cisneros that his actions had devastated their family.
"This is the first murder in our family in five generations," Lopez said. "I feel sorry for your family, but you put them there, not Sonia and not us."
Mario Baker told Cisneros that he was thankful that his wife did not take their sons with her that night while she made a quick late-night run to McDonald's.
"I hope you get the help you need," Mario Baker said. He shook hands with Alpert and hugged his mother-in-law as he left the witness stand.
Cisneros' family declined to comment after the verdict.
Martha Deller, 817-390-7857