A Texas jury Wednesday acquitted a father of murdering a drunken driver who plowed into the back of his out-of-gas truck on a dark country road, killing his two young sons as they pushed the pickup to their nearby home.
David Barajas, of Alvin, was accused of shooting 20-year-old Jose Banda after the December 2012 accident outside Houston. Banda was found slumped across the front seats of his Chevrolet Malibu with a single gunshot to the head. His blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit.
Prosecutors argued that Barajas, who was steering his Ford F-250 at the time of the accident, walked 100 yards to his home, retrieved a .357-caliber pistol and returned to kill Bandas. But prosecutors produced only circumstantial evidence implicating Barajas.
Cheers, claps and cries of "Thank you, Jesus," erupted as the Brazoria County judge read the verdict. Barajas, who faced the possibility of life in prison, wept.
"I thank God. This has been hard on me and my family," he said outside the courtroom, surrounded by his wife, lawyers and family. "A lot of weight's been lifted off my back,"
"I'm hurt about it. It hurt me from the beginning, on top of the hurt that I was already feeling because of my sons," he added, struggling to maintain his composure.
He said that he was still bitter about the loss of 12-year-old David Jr. and 11-year-old Caleb, and being prosecuted for Banda's death. But he added that he had no animus toward Banda's family and was praying that police find his killer.
"They lost a son, too. This was a loss for everybody," he said. "This wasn't a winning situation for none of us."
Banda's family left the courtroom quickly, some of them crying. They made no public statement.
During the one-week trial, jurors heard a frantic teenage boy tell a 911 operator he saw the boys being crushed and later heard what he said was a gunshot.
Video from a police car dashboard camera showed Barajas performing CPR on Caleb as his wife cried out for help.
During a search of Barajas' house, police found an empty holster and .357-caliber ammunition, but they never found the weapon that killed Banda, and Barajas had no traces of gunpowder on his hands.
Investigators testified that a bullet fragment found in Banda's car could have come from a .357-caliber gun, but Barajas' lawyer said it could have come from another firearm.
Prosecution witnesses told Barajas' lawyer during cross-examination they heard more gunfire long after Banda was shot, supporting the defense argument that the real killer was still at large.
Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne stood by the decision to go to trial despite the circumstantial evidence.
"We believe that Mr. Barajas committed this crime," she told reporters. "The state would never present a case against an individual who we did not believe committed a crime. So good people can agree to disagree."