KIDNAPPING TRIAL: Celis Sentenced to 25 Years

Day 5, November 19, 2010

A Wichita County jury has sentenced Marcos Celis to 25 years in prison. Celis sat quietly as his sentence was read. His mom and sister left the courtroom crying.

Some of Celis' family members were so upset they said he would have gotten less time if he would have killed a person. They were also talking about how young Celis is to have gotten what they are calling "a harsh sentence."

Assistant District Attorney Starla Jones doesn't think age is a factor. "Just because of his age, he isn't going to get away with something like this," she says.

The jury agreed. The 6 men and 6 women took less than 45 minutes to come to a unanimous decision recommending 25 years in prison.

Jones says that part of the push for hard time was because of Celis' affiliation as a member of the street gang Varrio Carnales. "That's a big part of being a gang member is the violence they inflict on the community," she explains.

"It's a relief to see a criminal like this off the streets and to see him locked up where he can't hurt anyone else in the community again," says Jones.

Marcos Celis will be eligible for parole in about 11 years when he is 31.

His Defense Attorney, Reginald Wilson says the appeal process has already begun.

Day 4, November 18, 2010

The jury considering the fate of Marcos Celis found him guilty of Aggravated Kidnapping. Jurors recessed to lunch around 1:00 p.m. before the Punishment Phase that is set to begin at 2:15 p.m.

The jury headed into deliberations around 12:10 p.m. Thursday. While the jury received instructions, they were asked to consider Aggravated Assault if not convinced to convict on Aggravated Kidnapping. Around 3 p.m. the judge released the jury for the day. The jury will continue punishment deliberations at 9 a.m. Friday.

In closing arguments the defense told the jury there were holes in the prosecution's story.

The prosecution argued the alleged victim's story fits with the evidence. The prosecution continued to say Celis' story did not fit with the evidence in the case.

The defense also made a motion for mistrial because a juror goes to church with one of the officers with WFPD who testified as a witness in the case. The judge threw the motion out.

Thursday the prosecution called the WFPD gang unit sergeant to the stand. He testified that Celis is a known member of the Varrio Carnales or VC Street Gang. The officer testified Celis has been identified as a graffiti tagger under the alias "boy."

The prosecution also introduced Celis' juvenile record. It shows he was adjudicated for burglary of a habitation. Because of that the possible sentence was enhanced.

Celis was facing 5 to 99 years or life for the aggravated kidnapping conviction.

Now when the jury decides his punishment Friday, the minimum Celis will face is 15 years behind bars.

Day 3, November 17, 2010

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, the prosecution continued it's case against Marcos Celis. Once the prosecution rested, the defense, in a surprise move, called the defendant to the stand.

Marcos Celis explained that he and his former girlfriend, Valerie Torres, were drinking beer the day of the alleged kidnapping. Celis said that he had a sawed off firearm with him because his home didn't have a working lock.

Celis said that the pair were feeling sick so they asked the complaining witness, Sherry Maldonado, for a ride to the hospital and she agreed. Celis said he offered Maldonado gas money for the ride, but he "only had a $20."

He said that he brought his gun with him into the car because he didn't want anyone to steal the weapon from his home. However his girlfriend and Maldonado knew that he had a gun in the car.

Marcos Celis started crying and shaking as he told the jury that Maldonado didn't go to the hospital, but went to her house to get more vodka.

Through tears and with expletive filled language, Celis said Maldonado was drinking alcohol and driving erratically while looking for drugs. That's when he said he began to fear for his life.

Celis said that he asked Maldonado why she wasn't going to the hospital. He said Maldonado was looking to buy a $20 rock of crack cocaine and she planned to use the gas money Celis' gave her.

Celis explained that he became upset and hit Maldonado in the face. He shouted at her to stop the car. When Maldonado refused, he took out his gun and at one point, admitted to saying "If you don't stop this car, I'll shoot you."

Members of the jury wouldn't always look at the crying defendant. They would glance at his mother, who was sobbing in the gallery.

Celis told the court, "I grabbed her by the hair and I started hitting her more." When Maldonado continued to drive over the speed limit, Celis said "I'll shoot you if you don't stop this (expletive) car!"

At which point Maldonado allegedly said, "If it's my day to die, then it's my day to die."

Celis continued his story. "I started hitting her with it." The Defense attorney questioned, "The gun?" Celis answered, nodding his head. "I just kept hitting her with it."

The defendant was teary eyed when he explained he wanted to shoot the gun to get the police's attention. He said that he wanted the police to get involved so they could see how drunk Maldonado really was.

He also told the court that he had gotten into an accident when he was a teenager that involved a drunk driver and he still has back problems because of the crash.

When the police arrived, Celis says he told his girlfriend to "throw the gun in the grass" near the car. The two of them were apprehended shortly after they stashed the gun.

Celis exclaimed he felt like he shouldn't be arrested and he was just trying to protect himself and his girlfriend.

The Defense passed to the Prosecution. The state asked questions about Celis' past, from the places he lived, to the people he knows.

The Prosecution team asked Celis about the drunk driving accident he was in during his teenage years. Celis couldn't explain an exact location of the accident or give a full name of the driver. He said that the police were not called to the accident.

Just as Celis was starting to detail the alleged kidnapping, the court recessed until 1:45.

Under cross examination, Marcos Celis admitted to being physical even when Maldonado wasn't threatening.

During the testimony, the Prosecutor asked Celis to show the courtroom how he punched Maldonado.

Celis refused and started to break down. The Prosecutor asked again and the Judge told Celis to act out the punch. Celis said nothing and the Judge told him that he had to answer the Prosecutor's request.

Through broken sobs, Celis said he didn't want to show what he did. The Prosecutor exclaimed "You don't want the jury to see how hard you hit her, do you? You don't want the jury to see you hit a 55-year-old woman in her car."

Still crying Celis said "I don't want to show the jury how hard I hit her when she wouldn't let me out of her car."

Celis' family was also in the courtroom and would walk out whenever Celis would get emotional.

The trial resumes Thursday at 9 am.

Day 2, November 16, 2010

Tuesday, the Prosecution presented it's case against a Wichita Falls man charged with aggravated kidnapping.

State Attorney's say on April 5, 2009, 20-year-old Marcos Antonio Celis forced 55-year-old Sherry Maldonado to take him and his girlfriend to the east side of Wichita Falls.

The 6 men and 6 woman jury, heard testimony from the Officer Jason Biederman, with the Wichita Falls Police Department. Officer Biederman told the courtroom that Maldonado was bruised when he saw her and shaken.

A Crime Scene Technician with the WFPD also took the stand. She explained that she took pictures of the evidence from the scene, including a bullet hole in the windshield of Maldonado's car.

The Prosecution's third witness was the complaining party, Sherry Maldonado.

Maldonado claims that Celis threatened her with a sawed off shotgun and punched her in the back of the head. She also told the courtroom Tuesday that Celis threatened to dump her body in a field and steal her car.

While under the Prosecution's questioning, Maldonado admitted to having several DWIs as well as having spent time for possession of a controlled substance.

The Defense was quick to question the complaining witness. He asked her about specific locations and whether or not she had been drinking the day of the alleged incident. Maldonado admitted to having 2 vodka drinks before driving Celis, and that she even had an open alcoholic beverage during the car ride.

At times, Maldonado became confused, agitated, and at one point, even muttered under her breath "I don't know, I can't do this."

Members of the gallery were also active in the trial. During Maldonado's testimony, people would shake their heads and loudly whisper "She's lying."

After the court's morning recess, the presiding Judge Price specifically spoke to those watching the trial. He was very firm and stated that anyone interfering with the trial would be held in contempt of court and would immediately be sent to jail.

Celis' ex girlfriend, 18-year-old Valerie Torres, was questioned for most of the afternoon. She explained she was in the car when Celis supposedly threatened Maldonado.

When the defense started questioning the girl, she admitted she had already pled guilty to a kidnapping charge and "took a deal from the state" in exchange for her testimony.

Under cross examination, the defense attorney asked Torres what she did to kidnap the alleged victim. Torres stated, "nothing." The attorney then countered saying, "But you still plead guilty?" To which point Torres replied simply "yes."

The courtroom also heard jail house letters between the former couple, pledging their support for one another. The day that Torres took the deal however, the last letter between the two was sent.

Court is slated to be back in session Wednesday at 9 am.

Mary Moloney, Newschannel 6

Day 1, November 15, 2010

A jury has just been seated in the trial of Marcos Antonio Celis, 20. Celis has been indicted on Aggravated Kidnapping. Six men and 6 women have been seated to decide the trial.

Monday afternoon the entire jury pool was seated and questioned as to their backgrounds and experience with the legal system. The process was explained to them and they had a chance to answer questions. Then after the jury was picked, they were given instructions.

Police say on April 5, 2009, Celis got into a woman's car with a friend who had asked the woman for a ride to the hospital. Once in the car, police say Celis demanded the victim take him to the east side of Wichita Falls. When she refused police say Celis threatened the victim with a sawed off shotgun. The report says Celis put the gun to the victims head and grabbed her around the neck, threatening to kill her and that he punched her on the face. The victim suffered bruising and the car had damage from a shotgun blast.

Prosecutors told the jury if they found Celis guilty of Aggravated Kidnapping, he could face probation or a sentence of 5 to 99 years or life in prison and up to a $10,000 fine. They were each asked if they would be willing to consider the full range of punishment.

Paul Harrop, Newschannel 6