Estela Fajardo’s chances to fight deportation were diminished if not dashed Friday after a jury convicted her of Class A misdemeanor theft of more than $750 in what officials called a fencing operation for stolen property.
Jurors in 19th State District Court deliberated five hours before convicting the 46-year-old undocumented immigrant and mother of four U.S. citizens of the lesser misdemeanor charge.
Prosecutors Evan O’Donnell and Tiffany Clark charged Fajardo with state-jail felony theft of more than $2,500. However, the trial, from Fajardo’s perspective, actually was more about her attempt to stave off deportation, knowing that a conviction of any kind, especially a felony conviction, could ruin her chances to stay with her family in Waco.
Judge Ralph Strother sentenced Fajardo, who has lived in Waco 32 years, to one year in jail and fined her $1,000. However, because Fajardo has been jailed about three years on an immigration detainer, the judge gave her credit for the more than 1,000 days she has been in jail.
Her attorney, Gerald Villarrial, said with her trial and sentence behind her, Fajardo now will be placed in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials because of an existing deportation order in place. Villarrial said her immigration attorney will ask ICE officials to use discretion and allow Fajardo to remain in Waco and become a legal resident.
“I respect this jury because I know they worked very hard to come to their decision,” Villarrial said. “I am disappointed. I knew her before I started representing her. She was respected in our community. But I respect the jury’s decision.”
O’Donnell said prosecutors are “absolutely, 100 percent” satisfied with the outcome, despite the jury finding Fajardo guilty of the lesser charge. Evidence during the four-day trial showed Fajardo was in possession of about $4,600 in stolen goods that police officials traced back to home burglaries committed by two Waco men in late 2015 and early 2016.
O’Donnell said they tried Fajardo only on the stolen items for which police were able to locate the owners and return that property to them, including jewelry, TVs, laptops, cameras and other items. Many items seized from Fajardo’s Robinson Drive home were stolen, but police could not trace them back to the owners. Fajardo claimed she owned many of the items and did not know she was buying stolen goods.
“I think our victims needed their day in court,” O’Donnell said. “We would have loved to have resolved this case a long time ago if Ms. Fajardo was willing to accept her responsibility for her actions in this case. But that being said, we were going to move forward on the merits of the case.”
Fajardo owned a building on Waco Drive that she leased to a woman who bought gold, jewelry and other items, operating similarly to pawn shops. Fajardo also owns a moving company, a hair salon and a 20-acre farm in Lorena with cattle.
Fajardo testified she bought the items as part of her passion for collecting jewelry and coins and said she loves to shop at flea markets, garage sales and other places to feed her passion.
Sherry Kingrey, a former longtime Waco police detective, however, testified that she broke up a burglary ring, arrested two burglars and traced quite a bit of property stolen by the two men to Fajardo’s Robinson residence. One of the burglars, who is serving a prison term, told the jury he and his partner broke into dozens of homes and sold Fajardo from $6,000 to $7,000 worth of goods from their break-ins. He said he does not think Fajardo knew the property was stolen.
Terry Stevener, the father of Fajardo’s 4-year-old son, said he is disappointed with the way the criminal justice system treated Fajardo, who initially was arrested with the two burglars and the operator of the Waco Drive business on felony criminal conspiracy charges. Prosecutors later filed misdemeanor theft charges against Fajardo but increased the charge to a state-jail felony when she declined to plead guilty.
“This whole thing is crazy,” Stevener said. “This thing went from organized crime and it goes all the way down to a misdemeanor. They even offered that plea bargain in the beginning because they knew they didn’t have a case. What is the point of this case? She spent three years in jail. What did they have to gain? All they did was ruin her immigration chances. That is what all this is about. What else is there? She already did three years on something that carries a year.”
Fajardo’s supporters and members of the Waco Immigrants Alliance drew the media’s attention to Fajardo’s case, which includes Fajardo’s lawsuit alleging sexual abuse and mistreatment at the hands of guards at McLennan County’s privately run jail on State Highway 6.
Hope Mustakim of the Waco Immigrants Alliance, said she thinks Fajardo had a “50-50 chance” of successfully fighting deportation before her conviction Friday. Mustakim said she thinks jurors should have been told about Fajardo’s immigration status.
“I think they would have more carefully considered their decision if they could have considered the implications it had on her life,” she said. “They should have been able to know that what they were voting on meant she likely was going to be exiled from her family and removed from this country.”