On Monday, July 26, 2016, Judge Evan Stubbs sentenced Kathryn Preston, of Kingsland to 45 years in prison for the murder of Jose “Joe” Hernandez, Jr. The trial began with jury selection on Monday, July 18, 2016 and was completed on Monday with the sentencing of Preston at approximately 11:00pm that evening. Assistant District Attorney (ADA) Anthony Dodson prosecuted the case for the District Attorney’s Office. Dodson was joined by First Assistant District Attorney Perry Thomas during the guilt/innocence phase of trial and District Attorney Sonny McAfee during the punishment phase. Austin Shell of Shell and Shell law firm represented Preston and was assisted during trial by attorney Kirby Crow Stermer.
Preston was charged with the murder of Joe Hernandez whom she referred to as her husband. At the time of the crime Preston was 46 and Hernandez was 23. The evidence at trial was that in August of 2014, Preston struck Hernandez in the head with a broken paving brick when he was in bed at the residence Hernandez and Preston shared with her three sons. Various accounts of the murder were provided during trial with Preston claiming the killing was in self-defense. However, her own son testified that Preston said she struck Hernandez while he slept and then smothered him with a pillow. The Travis County Medical Examiner testified the strike on Hernandez’ head was unlikely to be the sole cause of death while asphyxiation was more likely the actual cause. Investigating Texas Rangers Jason Bobo and Patrick Pena testified the physical evidence including blood stain analysis was consistent with Hernandez being killed in bed while he slept. The evidence further revealed that following the murder of Hernandez, Preston tampered with the crime scene by removing the bed covering and hiding it, washing pillows, moving the victim’s body, and even attempting to burn the victim’s body while he was in the house. Although the murder occurred on August 26, 2014, Preston did not call 911 to report the death until the following morning of August 27 at approximately 9 am. When she did finally call 911, she told the dispatcher that Hernandez had hit his head on a rock instead of admitting that she had struck the victim.
Preston, who was a court reporter for 18 years, testified at trial that Hernandez struck her with a metal rod used to sharpen knives, which she also moved from the crime scene. Department of Public Safety Lab Analysts testified there was no evidence of Preston’s DNA on the metal rod which she claimed struck her although there was DNA of the victim on the handle of the sharpener. Preston answered Austin Shell’s questions about the event in a fashion which allowed her to present the question of self-defense to the jury. While she remembered all of the details of her version of the murder, when ADA Dodson cross examined Preston regarding details of the murder she repeatedly stated she couldn’t remember or did not know how to answer. The evidence presentation began Tuesday, July 19, 2016 and concluded Friday afternoon, July 24, 2016. Closing arguments were heard at approximately 9am on the morning of Monday, July 26, 2016, and jury deliberations began at approximately 10:35am. After several hours of deliberation, the jury disregarded Preston’s claim of self-defense and found her guilty of murder.
Following the guilty verdict jurors, requested to proceed with the case by resuming trial for the punishment portion of the trial and all parties agreed with that request. The evidence on punishment concluded late in the evening, and the jury assessed punishment at 45 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Institutional Division with a maximum $10,000 fine. The judge then proceeded immediately with sentencing following the verdict at approximately 11:00pm.
ADA Dodson stated that he was satisfied with the verdict of the jury and said, “This was a horrific murder and justice in the case demanded that Preston spend a very long time in prison for what she did to Joe Hernandez, Jr., and the tremendous pain she has caused Joe’s mother, father, sisters and brothers and other family; and to our community as well. The jury’s verdict accomplishes that justice.”
District Attorney McAfee said he was also well satisfied with the verdict and commented on the work of the jurors in this particular case. “These jurors carefully listened to the evidence in this trial and then evaluated various pieces of that evidence during their deliberations. They carefully analyzed everything and worked diligently in reaching a verdict during the guilt/innocence phase of trial. Then the jury demonstrated a tremendous work ethic in wanting to proceed with the case after having worked so hard all day. I applaud them for the work they did, and the way in which they approached their responsibility as a jury.” McAfee added that Preston could not be considered for parole for the murder until 2039.