20-year sentence in manslaughter trial

Ines Legarda

 

When Alyssa Holtzclaw and her 10-month-old baby, Tucker, got into their white Chevy Trail Blazer in the early morning hours of Jan. 16, 2011, her family couldn’t have known it would be the last time they ever saw the mother of three and her youngest child.

The man charged in the death of the mother and her child was Ines Legarda — an illegal immigrant from Mexico. He was found guilty of manslaughter and was given a lengthy prison sentence Tuesday, Oct. 22, in Judge Layne Walker’s 252nd Criminal District Court, almost three years after the fatal accident.

Legarda was indicted on both deaths by a Jefferson County grand jury Aug. 18, 2011, for manslaughter, and his defense called no witnesses during his trial on one count of manslaughter in the death of Alyssa Holtzclaw. According to her obituary, she was on her way to Christus Hospital St. Elizabeth where she worked as an X-ray technician. She was 30 years old.

According to testimony from numerous forensics experts and police officers in the courtroom Tuesday, Legarda was traveling westbound on Highway 105 when he crossed into the eastbound lanes near Pine Island Bayou.

After crashing into Holtzclaw’s white SUV, Legarda admitted Tuesday to fleeing the scene.

“I was scared,” Legarda said after he was found guilty of Holtzclaw’s death, adding he ran because of his illegal immigration status.

Born in Mexico where his wife still lives, Legarda said he has worked as a rancher and cowboy for the last seven years at a ranch in Sour Lake. Legarda admitted upon cross examination by prosecutors that he had a 12-pack of beer and a shot of tequila with some friends the previous day and into that night.

But when he got on the road, prosecutors said witnesses saw Legarda driving on the wrong side of the road in the moments leading up to the crash.

According to a probable cause affidavit obtained by The Examiner, Legarda almost struck another vehicle before slamming into Holtzclaw’s and then fleeing the scene.

Numerous empty beer cans and broken beer bottles were found in the bed of Legarda’s truck, but police weren’t able to secure Legarda’s blood alcohol level as he was found some 12 hours later by police in Winnie.

According to Dr. Tommy Brown, a forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsies on Holtzclaw and baby Tucker, the force of the impact from Legarda’s truck and the trauma it caused was so severe that Holtzclaw’s brain stem was immediately severed and she was killed instantly.

Prosecutors showed jurors gruesome autopsy and crash site photos of both Holtzclaw and baby Tucker, eliciting an emotional reaction from Holtzclaw’s family and the jury alike. But after less than six hours of testimony, it took a jury only a few minutes to find Legarda guilty of manslaughter.

After a jury found Legarda guilty, his defense asked a jury to consider probation. But prosecutor Perry Thomas would have nothing of it and told jurors so in his closing arguments.

“You let him walk out of here on probation, folks, you’ll never see him again,” Thomas said. “That would give him the chance to walk away, just like he walked away from (Tucker) and Alyssa.”

It took the jury an even shorter amount time to sentence Legarda to 20 years in prison, the maximum sentence under the statute.

After the verdict, Holtzclaw’s family faced the man who killed their loved one, giving three impact statements. Kelly Broussard, Holtzclaw’s cousin, told Legarda that baby Tucker had just taken his first steps the night before he and his mother were killed.

Holtzclaw’s father, Charles Patterson, said the verdict did little to alleviate his pain.

“It’s not going to bring my daughter back,” he said.

Holtzclaw’s husband, Todd, also had mixed emotions about the 20-year sentence.

“I still wake up every morning and have to get two boys ready for school without their mom, holidays without their mom,” Todd said. “I don’t see closure anywhere in sight. It’s something I deal with every day.”

The grieving husband said he’ll never forget the mother of his two boys, now 7 and 5 years old.

“She was radiant. She was wonderful. She was happy. She was beautiful,” Todd said. “She was everything to me.”

As for forgiveness, Todd said that virtue eludes him — for now.

“Maybe some day,” he said. “Not today.”

Legarda faces a second manslaughter charge in a trial scheduled to begin Nov. 4 for the death of baby Tucker Holtzclaw.

 

Clay Thorp can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 225, or by e-mail at clay [at] theexaminer [dot] com.

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