Fort Worth

Murders, rapes led to fewer years in prison than voter fraud case

Isaac Adams crashed a Chevrolet Avalanche into a Fort Worth convenience store in 2015, killing a mother of three. He was convicted of manslaughter and received nine years in prison.
Isaac Adams crashed a Chevrolet Avalanche into a Fort Worth convenience store in 2015, killing a mother of three. He was convicted of manslaughter and received nine years in prison. Star-Telegram archives

The eight-year prison sentence given to a Grand Prairie woman for voting illegally has been touted by politicians as a case that sent a message.

“In Texas you will pay a price” for voter fraud, tweeted Gov. Greg Abbott.

“This case shows how serious Texas is about keeping its elections secure,” state Attorney General Ken Paxton said.

But critics argue that Rosa Maria Ortega’s punishment, which was decided by a jury and drew national attention, was too harsh.

“Illegal voting should be sanctioned but not like a violent felony,” The Wall Street Journal wrote in an editorial Monday.

Sam Jordan, spokeswoman for the Tarrant County district attorney’s office, said the eight-year sentence was the jury’s decision.

“Our prosecutors — one from the attorney general’s office and one from our office — made no punishment recommendation,” Jordan said. “We said do what you think is right. We didn’t ask specifically for penitentiary time.”

Ortega’s attorney, Clark Birdsall, said Monday that he was still in shock. He said he felt that the jury was politically motivated by the “Trump effect,” even though Ortega voted Republican in 2012.

“Eight years for voting for Mitt Romney?” Birdsall said. “What if she voted for Obama? Would she have gotten 10 years? It’s a sign of the times. It’s the politics.”

The uproar over Ortega’s punishment prompted the Star-Telegram to look for other criminal cases with similar or lesser sentences, including some involving murder and sexual assault. Research turned up many cases. Here are some of them.

Murder: 5 years

Javier Luis, 27, of Haltom City was sentenced to five years in prison last year for the 2014 stabbing death of Jose Arista, 26. Luis was convicted on a murder charge, and was found to have acted in “sudden passion,” which requires jurors to hand down a sentence of 2 to 20 years.

Luis and Arista were fighting in the back yard of a home on Panola Avenue in Fort Worth when the stabbing occurred, police said.

Manslaughter: 9 years

Isaac Adams, 21, was sentenced in August to nine years in prison for crashing into an east Fort Worth convenience store in 2015 and killing a young mother of three.

Sylvia Zazueta, 24, died and several other people in the store were injured.

Adams was convicted of manslaughter and two counts of aggravated assault.

The driver of a Chevy Avalance was arrested after he lost control and plowed into a convenience store on East Lancaster Avenue in Fort Worth on March 31, 2015. A young mother died and six people were injured.

Witnesses testified that Adams was driving his Chevrolet Avalanche at speeds that reached 100 mph as he fled the scene of a minor wreck. At Riverside Drive and East Lancaster Avenue, he lost control of the pickup and crashed into Star Food Mart.

Indecency with a child: Probation

Dan Haby, the former pastor of Cowboy Way Church in Alvarado, received seven years of deferred-adjudication probation last year after pleading guilty to indecency with a child.

Haby, who had gone to trial before agreeing to a plea deal, admitted to molesting two teenage boys who were members of his church. One of the victims, now an adult, testified at trial that Haby told him it was his calling from God to help Haby relieve stress so he could be a better pastor.

Sexual assault: Five years

Christian Fuentes, 21, of Arlington, was sentenced in 2015 to five years in prison after he was convicted of sexually assaulting a drugged woman.

A video of the sexual assault was posted to Facebook.

A jury initially recommended 10 years of probation, but state District Judge George Gallagher revoked Fuentes’ probation on a previous gun charge and imposed a stricter sentence.

Improper videotaping: 1 year

Jason Tomlinson, 30, a former Kennedale High School assistant football coach, was sentenced in 2015 to one year in prison for videotaping people undressing in a faculty restroom.

Tomlinson also received four years of probation for possession of child pornography because two students were in his videos. Six adults and two students were on the video that Kennedale police seized in March 2014.

Police found several folders on the camera labeled with names of teachers and students. Each video was categorized by name and contained comments such as “fine” or “good,” an arrest warrant affidavit said.

Tomlinson was also ordered to register as a sex offender for life.

Road-rage shooting: 4 years

Adam Alfred Cardinal, 27, was sentenced in October to four years in prison for a road-rage shooting.

Cardinal was found guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The shooting happened in September 2015 in the westbound toll lanes of Northeast Loop 820.

The victim, who was shot in the leg and drove himself to a hospital, told police that Cardinal was driving too close to his bumper. When the victim tapped his brakes, Cardinal went around him and opened fire after the victim made a hand gesture, police said.

Fatal DWI crash: 10 years

Jose Salinas-Gomez, 24, was sentenced last summer to concurrent sentences of 10 years each on two counts of intoxication manslaughter and two counts of intoxication assault in a 2015 wreck that killed a Forest Hill couple.

George Moon, 76, and his wife, Beverly Gayle Moon, 63, died in the wreck and two of their relatives were injured.

Fatal DWI crash: 2 years

Alan McKinney, 31, of Fort Worth, was sentenced to two years in prison in 2015 for a drunken-driving crash that killed a nursing student.

The crash happened in 2013 on Sandshell Drive in far north Fort Worth. McKinney, a civilian member of the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department courtesy patrol, was driving a pickup truck when he hit a car driven by Amy Ander, 23, who had just pulled out of a parking lot.

McKinney, who was not on duty during the crash, was convicted of intoxication manslaughter, as well as intoxication assault for injuring a passenger in Anders’ car.

Aggravated robbery: 5 years

Desmond Campbell, 23, of Burleson, was sentenced in 2015 to five years in prison for robbing three men at gunpoint and striking them with his weapon. He was found guilty on three counts of aggravated robbery. He was also sentenced to 10 years of probation.

Sexual assault of a child: 8 years

Donald Ray Wells, 51, of Arlington, was sentenced to eight years in prison last year for sexually assaulting a child under age 14 in 2010. Further details about the case were not available in court records.

Voter fraud: Probation

Hazel Brionne Woodard of Fort Worth received two years of probation in 2015 after pleading guilty to voter fraud. Woodard admitted to having her son vote on behalf of his father in 2011. Voter-fraud allegations arose when the boy’s father showed up to cast his own ballot later that day.

Woodard’s case, like Ortega’s last week, drew national attention, with Gov. Abbott, then the state attorney general, tweeting after 2012 indictment: “Think voter fraud doesn’t exist? Dem precinct chairwoman candidate indicted for voter fraud in Ft. Worth.”

Birdsall, Ortega’s attorney, said he didn’t think his client would be found guilty.

“I put 10 women on that jury, knowing I had a single mother,” Birdsall said. “I thought there was no way. The jury went renegade on me.”

In a jailhouse interview with the Star-Telegram, Rosa Ortega said she has lost custody of her children and will likely be deported when her eight-year sentence is up.