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Former Fan Club President Convicted off Murdering Singer

October 24, 1995 GMT

HOUSTON (AP) _ A jury convicted the former president of the Selena fan club Monday of murdering the beloved Tejano singing star, rejecting Yolanda Saldivar’s claim that the gun went off accidentally.

With word of the verdict _ which came after just two hours of deliberations _ a cheer went up from a crowd of several hundred outside the courthouse, and drivers honked their horns.

Ms. Saldivar, 35, could get as little as probation and as much as life in prison when the jury returns on Tuesday to decide on a punishment.

After the verdict was read, Ms. Saldivar’s shoulders shook and she began to cry. A brother and sister, seated directly behind her, also wept. There was no visible reaction from members of Selena’s family in the courtroom.

Selena, whose full name was Selena Quintanilla Perez, was 23 when she was gunned down March 31 at a Corpus Christi motel.

Regarded as the Latin Madonna, she was a superstar in the world of Tejano music, a bouncy variety of Mexican-American pop, and was working on her first English-language recording in hopes of becoming a crossover sensation.

Prosecutors contended Ms. Saldivar deliberately shot Selena when the singer went to retrieve records to support her family’s suspicion that Ms. Saldivar had embezzled $30,000 as manager of Selena’s boutiques.

Ms. Saldivar ``took the gun out, cocked the hammer, pulled the trigger and killed her. What could be a worse way to die than to be shot in the back in a cowardly manner?″ prosecutor Mark Skurka asked during closing arguments.

``Selena left her mark on the world,″ Skurka continued. ``The defendant left her mark on Selena with a bullet hole in the back.″

But defense attorney Fred Hagans _ pulling the trigger of the 38-caliber pistol over and over as he addressed the jury _ insisted that Ms. Saldivar was bent on killing herself and that the gun went off while she was waving it.

He described Ms. Saldivar as inexperienced with weapons and said the gun had a hair trigger.

``Time and time again, consistently unrehearsed, ... she said, `This was an accident; I didn’t intend to hurt her,‴ Hagans said.

Judge Mike Westergren moved the case to Houston because of publicity in Corpus Christi, the singer’s hometown.

Jurors only had to decide if Ms. Saldivar, who rose from founder of the Selena fan club to manager of her boutiques, should be convicted of murder. To do that, they had to find that Ms. Saldivar shot Selena deliberately.

The jury was not given the option of considering lesser charges, such as manslaughter.

Ms. Saldivar does not face the death penalty because the crime contained none of the aggravating circumstances necessary under Texas law, such as a multiple slaying or a murder committed during a rape or robbery.

Nueces County District Attorney Carlos Valdez said he was not surprised at the jury’s swift decision.

``We were coming to Houston to see if we could find justice here, and it think we found it,″ he said.

Valdez wouldn’t say if he plans to seek the maximum punishment. He said he will pursue an embezzlement case against Ms. Saldivar.

Hagans said he would appeal.

The defense wrapped up its case on Friday after calling five witnesses whose testimony lasted all of three hours. The judge refused to let Ms. Saldivar take the stand to talk only about her disputed interrogation by police.

After the shooting, Ms. Saldivar held police at bay outside the motel for 9 1/2 hours, holding a gun to her head and wailing that she wanted to kill herself. The jury heard almost all six hours of recordings made during the standoff as Ms. Saldivar spoke on a cellular phone to police negotiators.

``It just went off, I didn’t mean to do it. I didn’t mean to kill anybody,″ she moaned.

``I wanted to kill me _ not her _ me, me,″ Ms. Saldivar is heard at one point. ``I didn’t mean to hurt you, Selena. It was an accident.″

Police also took down a confession from Ms. Saldivar that makes no mention of an accident; the defense contended police left out that claim.

Undermining Ms. Saldivar’s claim that the slaying was an accident, motel employees testified that a calm Ms. Saldivar, gun in hand, chased a bleeding, screaming Selena from a room to the lobby, where she collapsed.

And a firearms expert testified that Ms. Saldivar’s Brazilian-made five-shot revolver could not have gone off without someone pulling the trigger.

Witnesses said that after collapsing, Selena used her final words to identify Ms. Saldivar as her attacker.

Ms. Saldivar claimed she bought the gun after she was raped and threatened by Selena’s father. The singer’s father, Abraham Quintanilla Jr., denied attacking Ms. Saldivar. And no evidence was presented to prove the embezzlement claim.

Before court started Monday, about 25 fans held signs and chanted in support of Selena in the most vocal demonstration since the trial began three ago.

``Guilty, guilty, guilty,″ one sign read. Another said: ``O.J. got away, Saldivar won’t.″

Within months after Selena’s slaying, her album skyrocketed to No. 1 on the national Billboard Top 200 chart. More than 331,000 copies of ``Dreaming of You,″ a bilingual 13-song collection, sold in the first week, making it the second-fastest-selling album by a female artist.

Recording exclusively in Spanish, Selena popularized the Tejano style, a musical melting pot that included touches of polka, country, Mexican music and rhythm and blues.

Spanish was not her native language. Her father taught her to sing Spanish phonetically when she began performing at age 10.