November 16, 2008

'Why'd they let him go?' In killing blamed on immigrant, woman's kin want answers

Tina Davila murdered by an illegal immigrant

Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle

On a cloudy Monday afternoon in April, Tina Davila was buried according to her wishes: dressed in her favorite Dallas Cowboys jersey, with a photo of all five of her children tucked inside her coffin. In the picture, Kaylynn, the baby girl Davila died trying to protect, looks fussy, her chubby cheeks puckered into a pout.

Billy Brewer, Kaylynn's father, watched as Davila's coffin was lowered into a grave at San Jacinto Memorial Park Cemetery in Houston.

Brewer, a long-haul trucker, had a crush on Davila since he was a teenager. He loved her wide smile and how, he said, ''she wouldn't back down from nothing for nobody." Most especially on the day Davila, 39, tried to fight off the man who cornered her in a parking lot while Kaylynn was strapped into her car seat.

Witnesses told police Davila refused to hand over her car keys and screamed as she was stabbed in the chest: "My baby! My baby!"

In the days after her death April 16, Brewer couldn't bring himself to watch the surveillance camera video of the slaying. Not yet. He had a 4-month-old baby, just learning how to roll from her back to her belly, and a house full of memories.

On the TV news, Brewer learned that Timoteo Rios, the man charged with killing Davila, was an illegal immigrant with a criminal record. Rios had admitted to local law enforcement twice before the slaying that he was in the country illegally, but he wasn't deported, according to arrest and immigration records.

"I just want to know why," Brewer said. "If they were doing their jobs right, he wouldn't have been out there. Why'd they let him go?"

First arrest
Rios, now 24, was arrested for the first time in Harris County on May 29, 2007, a Tuesday afternoon. He attracted little attention. About 370 inmates pass through the intake division of Harris County Jail daily. Rios, who was living in a southwest Houston apartment complex, was charged with failure to identify to a police officer and marijuana possession, both misdemeanors.

He was fingerprinted, photographed and asked a series of questions. His answers were entered into the jail computer system. Birth date: Oct. 6, 1984. Height: 5 feet 11 inches. Weight: 162 pounds.

The jailer eventually asked: Are you a U.S. citizen? The records show that Rios said no, he was a Mexican citizen.

The jailer then asked: Are you an illegal immigrant?

Yes, Rios replied, according to jail records.

The jailer entered Rios' name into a database of inmates, set up in September 2006, who have admitted they are in the country illegally. The data entries are shared with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Houston, who have unrestricted access to the county's four jails. Agents routinely question and place "holds" on inmates in Harris County Jail they suspect are eligible for deportation.

Rios' name was the 15th of 20 added that Monday to the database. ICE officials confirm that they did not file paperwork to detain him.

Rios pleaded guilty to both counts against him and was released from jail June 5, 2007.

Second arrest
Twenty-two days later, Rios was back in jail, charged with criminal mischief, a misdemeanor. Police said he argued with his 18-year-old ex-girlfriend, the mother of two of his daughters, and punched out her apartment window. Then he threw a beer bottle at his ex-girlfriend's mother.

Rios was booked at 4:35 p.m. Again, Rios told jailers he was in the country illegally and, for a second time, was added to the database. He filled out paperwork for the court, writing that he was from Michoacan, Mexico, and worked in construction.

He pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 20 days with 11 days credit and was released July 6.

Kenneth Landgrebe, ICE's head of detention and removal for Houston, said ICE agents didn't have a chance to get to Rios.

"He was released before we had an opportunity to handle the case," he said. "We're in Harris County (Jail) every day, but we can't be in all places at the same time. I believe he was in a different part of the jail that we were working in. He was not where we were.

"We have to prioritize," he said. "Should we have been over there identifying him and letting a child molester get out? Or a pedophile or a bank robber or someone convicted of a serious drug crime? In a perfect world, if we had all the staff we needed, we could hopefully identify every alien that is unlawfully present in the U.S."

Ruth Alsobrook, Davila's grandmother, still lives in the house where Davila was raised in Galena Park, a 1950s-era neighborhood near the Port of Houston. Davila's parents died before she was 12.

"I loved that girl," said Alsobrook, 93, sitting in an armchair. ''I raised her in the church. Every time the church doors were open, we were there."

Davila attended Galena Park High School and rebelled as a teenager. She married her high school sweetheart, Eric Matt, in the spring of 1988. They had three children: Patrick, 20, Patricia, 18, and Payton, 16. Davila and Matt divorced after eight years but stayed friends. Davila later remarried and had another daughter, but that marriage also ended after a long separation.

One night about two years ago, she and Brewer ran into each other at Del's, a diner on the city's east side. Brewer asked her out for a date, and she said yes.

He said he felt lucky every day since, until April 16.

It was Brewer's 35th birthday. He had to drive a load out to Oklahoma City. He kissed Davila and Kaylynn, who was 3 months and 28 days old. It was early morning when he left for work.

At 5:02 p.m., Davila pulled into the parking lot outside the Cricket cell phone store on Uvalde Road near Wallisville Road, about a five-minute drive from her house in Houston. The next few moments were captured on the video surveillance camera outside the store.

Davila parked her white Chrysler Aspen SUV and stepped out. She started walking toward the store, leaving Kaylynn buckled into her car seat. An older model Ford Taurus pulled in behind Davila's SUV. A man jumped out and ran to block the door. He and Davila struggled over her purse and car keys.

A witness in the parking lot told detectives Davila screamed for her baby. The man stabbed Davila and ran back to his car, tossing the keys away. She stumbled inside the store, clutching her chest.

That night, Brewer tried Davila's cell phone, but it went straight to voice mail. Finally, his mother called him.

"Billy, come home," she said. "Tina's had an accident."

"How bad?" he asked.

"Just come home," she said.

Unanswered questions
Davila was taken to East Houston Regional Medical Center. She was pronounced dead minutes after arriving. By the time Brewer reached his mother's house that night, Davila's death was already on the TV news.

Days after the slaying, Harris County detectives arrested 18-year-old Kennedy Escoto, the suspected getaway car driver. Investigators said Escoto implicated Rios in Davila's death. Detectives say Rios may have fled to Mexico.

Davila's older children had questions about what happened. They saw on the news that Rios had been arrested twice before the slaying — and was in the country illegally.

"The kids just couldn't understand why he could be illegal and commit crimes and still be here. And I couldn't explain it to them," Matt said.

After Davila was killed, Brewer exchanged his long-haul job for one that keeps him closer to home. He asked his cousin to care for Kaylynn, temporarily, he said, until she gets a little bit older.

He put down a $150 deposit on a grave near Davila's and is paying $50 a month.

The more he learns about the man accused of killing Davila, the more his anger grows.

"He should have been deported after the first arrest," he said. "It's that simple. There's got to be a better way."

Brewer has started putting together a scrapbook for Kaylynn. He's saving Davila's high school jacket, a bunch of magnets he picked out for her over the years on the road, and the program from her funeral service. On the cover, there's a picture of Davila, with a warm, wide smile.


Warning: Some may find this video distrubing and upsetting.

Store Security Video
The last few seconds of this video is the footage of Tina Davila's murder, and it is preceeded by a shoplifting theft.

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