The last time Chris Mullins saw his girlfriend alive, she was leaving for work early on a Monday morning in late November 2018. Maria Ezquerro had recently returned home from visiting her parents in Mexico and spent the night with Mullins in Denton. Partially asleep, he walked her to the front door and gave her a kiss goodbye.
The next night, he would find her body at her apartment near the Galleria in Dallas. She had been strangled.
A 15-year-old student at Hillcrest High School was arrested a couple of days later, a few blocks away at his mother's apartment. Police claim he is responsible for several rapes that have occurred in Dallas and Louisiana, and he now faces a capital murder charge along with several aggravated sexual assault charges.
Six months later, Ezquerro’s loved ones are still waiting to find out if the Hillcrest student will be tried as an adult. Certification hearings, where courts decide whether a juvenile suspect should be tried as an adult, are rare in Texas and usually reserved for heinous crimes like aggravated sexual assault and capital murder. The family learned last week that the hearing will take place in June.
“I still don’t know his name,” says Maria's mother, Mara Ezquerro, in a late-April phone call with the Dallas Observer. “We played by all the rules and doing everything that this country asked us to do. The only thing we needed was for them to take care of our girl, and they didn't do that.
“We won't get back what we value. We don't have any expectations. … It is a matter of healing and not a matter to find justice. Justice, huh? It would be good for other people, but not for us.”
None of Ezquerro's loved ones know his name because of his age. It’s one of the reasons law enforcement struggled to locate him. In Texas, a juvenile’s fingerprints are only available if the juvenile has been in trouble with the law in the past. It’s unclear if the Hillcrest student had been arrested before, since his name hasn’t been released.
Ezquerro’s loved ones worry that his juvenile status means that he will be out of jail when he turns 18 in a few years. The Texas Department of Juvenile Justice loses jurisdiction when he reaches 19. He'll need to be transferred to adult probation or a Texas prison or released with time served.
Mullins started an online petition seeking community support to urge the judge to certify the Hillcrest student as an adult. In late February, Mullins posted Ezquerro’s story on Change.org and ended his post with a plea: “If tried as a juvenile, this person could one day be on parole and continue to escalate his crimes,” he wrote. “If you agree that this person should be kept off the streets, please take a moment to sign this petition.”
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A couple of months have passed since Mullins posted the petition online, and nearly 7,400 people out of the 7,500 sought have signed it. Mullins says the detective who investigated the case sent him a text and told him, “Good job with that petition.”
If the judge declines to approve the prosecutor's certification request, the Hillcrest student could still face the maximum punishment, if convicted. Karen Anders, assistant criminal district attorney in Denton County's juvenile division, says there are options available to Dallas County prosecutors if the Hillcrest student remains in juvenile court. They could seek a determinate sentence when he turns 18, which would mean he could be given a longer, fixed sentence and face a hearing at age 19 to determine whether he gets sent on to adult prison to serve it out.
If the judge approves it, the Hillcrest student will be treated as an adult. If he is convicted, he could receive the same punishment as an adult, excluding the death penalty and a mandatory life term without possibility of parole, according to the Texas Attorney General's 2018 Juvenile Handbook.
“We as a family are facing the unthinkable and in her memory we are trying to do our best,” Mara wrote in an early-May follow-up email to the Observer. “We hope this individual who is a predator is rightly judged so he doesn't harm another person ever as a serial rapist, a thief and a killer. (He) is not a boy.”