WWII vet's murderer testifies: 'It was me' — not the man on trial
The Monitor, McAllen, Texas
EDINBURG, Texas — Surprise testimony from a convicted murderer threw a monkey wrench into the prosecution of Leroy Arista in the 2011 beating death of a World War II veteran and retired Border Patrol agent.
Arista — on trial for capital murder — is accused of driving David Tarbutton to Willis Kimmons’ house July 12, 2011, and helping in the robbery and fatal beating of the 86-year-old.
Tarbutton — who pleaded guilty to murder Sept. 25, 2012, and is serving a life sentence — testified Thursday that he was the one who killed the veteran and said that Arista had no idea what was to transpire after he picked up Tarbutton and drove him to Kimmons’ house that day.
On Thursday afternoon, Tarbutton arrived under heavy guard at the Auxiliary Courtroom and made his way to the witness stand.
The baby-faced convict — clad in an orange jumpsuit — had his legs shackled and handcuffed hands bound by extra restraints. The jury paid close attention to his words.
Tarbutton agreed that he had spoken to Carlos A. Garcia — Arista’s defense attorney — after his conviction about testifying in favor of Arista, and he said that prosecutors had also heard about his admission of guilt and Arista’s innocence, but they refused to revisit the case.
From the stand, Tarbutton told Garcia that on the day of the slaying, he had consumed Xanax, Rohipnol and beer.
“I don’t remember too much,” Tarbutton said. “I called (Arista) up and told him I would give him gas money to give me a ride to collect some stuff.”
Garcia asked Tarbutton about a statement he later gave to Mission police in which he admitted his role in the slaying and implicated Arista. Tarbutton responded that he had lied in that statement. Arista, he said, never actually went into the house and didn’t play a role in the killing.
“I lied that time. I did it. He didn’t know.” Tarbutton said. “It was me.”
During cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Victoria Muñiz asked Tarbutton about his conflicting statement.
“I lied. I was just trying to get myself out of something,” he said. “I committed the crime.”
Muñiz tried to ask Tarbutton about the guns that were taken from Kimmons’ house, but he refused to answer further questions.
“I am tired. I am done talking to you,” Tarbutton told Muñiz. “You had your chance to talk to me in county jail.”
Muñiz was taken aback by the retort and ended her questioning.
Prior to Tarbutton’s testimony, jurors heard the testimony of Cristina Treviño, a crime lab technician with the Texas Department of Public Safety in Weslaco who performed DNA testing on clothing that was collected in the case.
Treviño said she tested one shirt that matched Tarbutton and one shirt that had DNA that matched Arista’s.
Garcia asked Treviño if she was the same technician who in March 2012 was removed from DNA testing after she mixed up the samples of a victim and a suspect. She said yes.
“That was from an unrelated case,” Treviño said. “After that, the department had a separate tech retest all my work.”
Vanessa Nelson, Treviño’s supervisor, testified that she had retested the work in the Kimmons case and the results were the same. Garcia asked Nelson if she had gathered new samples from the shirts or used the same samples. Nelson said she had used the same samples and the results were the same. The defense attorney then asked if Treviño had made a mistake while collecting the samples and Nelson used those samples, would the new results be mistaken? She said they would.
Friday, jurors will hear closing arguments from both sides before deliberating Arista’s fate. Kimmons’ family members were visibly upset by Tarbutton’s testimony but declined to comment on the case until the end of the trial.