By Anita Miller
“She did something crazy. That doesn’t mean she was legally insane.”
That’s part of how Hays County District Attorney Wes Mau framed his case against former Kyle resident Krystle Villanueva on Tuesday during the first day of her capital murder trial.
Villanueva, 27, is accused of killing her five-year-old daughter Giovanni Lanae Hernandez and then partially dismembering her corpse inside the mobile home the two shared with Krystal’s husband and his parents on Jan. 5, 2017. She is also charged with stabbing her father-in-law Eustorgio Arellano-Uresti.
The proceeding got off to an unusual start when, in response to District Judge Bill Henry’s request for a plea, defense attorney Carlos Garcia replied that the defendant “stands moot.” That, according to an attorney contacted by the Hays Free Press, generally means the defendant lacks the mental capacity to enter a plea.
Following Garcia’s statement, Henry entered a plea of not guilty to both charges on behalf of the court.
The case took a second turn from established courtroom protocol when both Mau and Garcia told jurors in their opening arguments that while photographs of the crime scene will be described in court and entered into evidence, jurors would not be forced to personally view them.
Arellano-Uresti, who is expected to take the stand, told authorities he was having lunch that Thursday when Villanueva entered the kitchen with a knife and began to stab him. “He fights and bites her hand. He gets the knife and runs out the back door to a neighbor’s house,” where 911 was called, Mau said. Based on Arellano-Uresti’s comments, the SWAT team was called and around that time, Villanueva also called 911.
Mau said jurors will hear the audio tape in which Villanueva claims people were trying to kill her as SWAT team members surrounded the house and also that she tells the dispatcher she cut off her child’s head because she asked for cereal. “That’s crazy. I’m not gonna tell you it’s not,” he argued.
Mau pointed out other occasions in the ensuing hours when Villanueva willingly admitted her guilt and that jurors will hear statements “I think you’ll find to be remorseful.”
“In every statement afterward, she said she knew … The question you will have to answer is at the time, did she not know what she did was wrong?” Mau said.
“You’ll find it’s very unclear what was going on in her head … I’m not gonna tell you I’m going to be able to tell you her motive … The evidence will not show that she was legally insane.”
The defense is not contesting that Villanueva committed the horrendous crime. “Krystle Villanueva did what they describe, it’s true,” Garcia told jurors. He centered his argument on the jury believing that, at the moment she committed the murder, she did not know right from wrong.
The law allows for temporary insanity and Garcia seemed to hone in on that idea. “She did not know what she did was wrong — that’s the law … society recognizes there is a need for this law.”
Garcia introduced the concept of Capgras Syndrome, in which a person is under the delusion their family or loved ones have been replaced by imposters, and pointed out instances where Villanueva believed Giovanni was not her daughter, but a clone.
He also detailed her history as someone who has been delusional since a young child, claiming to see “shadow” figures and to hear voices.
Though Mau told jurors that family members, some of whom will testify, saw “no signs of psychosis” in the days leading up to the murder, Garcia said she had been diagnosed with psychosis and substances abuse in June of 2015 and as bipolar in December of that year. He said by December 2016 — just a month before the murder, she had become convinced that imposters had taken over her family and she had become obsessed with finding a ring that would allow her to restore the situation. Two days before the murder, she wound up in the Emergency Room after drinking Clorox.
In the hours just before the little girl was killed, Villanueva texted her husband at work that she was “going crazy, like for real” and another questioning why her wallet was outside the house. Her husband finally responds, minutes before the murder, that he can’t answer his phone.
Mau told jurors the last words Eustorgio Arellano-Uresti Jr., who went by “Junior,” heard from his daughter when she woke him up around 1:30 or 2 a.m. on the day she died. “Daddy, mommy has a knife,” the little girl said.
Testimony is scheduled to continue through the week, and Mau mentioned a lengthy list of witnesses.
Mau is not seeking the death penalty in the case, which will be decided by a jury of eight men and six women (including two alternates).
If convicted, Villanueva faces life in prison.