Barnhart pleads not guilty to charge of aggravated perjury
Suspended Willacy County Judge Eliseo "Cheyo" Barnhart plead not guilty at his arraignment hearing on Friday morning on one felony charge of aggravated perjury. At the same hearing, former RISD School Board President Gloria Reyes-Garcia, her niece Andrea Sias-Espinosa, and her niece's husband plead not guilty to three counts of extortion.
The four defendants were the subject of five sealed indictments handed down Sep. 13th by the grand jury. The indictments were opened last Monday upon order of Presiding District Judge J. Manual Banales, who also held Friday's arraignment hearing.
Villalobos, the attorney for Sias-Espinosa and her husband, commented briefly after Friday's arraignment hearing on his clients charges.
"You start to see us getting rid of these cooked-up charges," said Villalobos, referring to the attempted theft, criminal conspiracy to commit theft, and aggravated perjury indictments. "On this judge (Barnhart), it's starting to come out that he's not the most truthful person," referring to Barnhart's aggravated perjury indictment.
The two sets of criminal indictments are intertwined, and stem from allegations by Sias- Espinosa that Barnhart fondled her without her consent, and exposed his genitals to her in their office after work hours on Feb. 3, 2006.
Barnhart was a justice of the peace and a Raymondville ISD teacher in April of 2006 when Sias-Espinosa filed criminal charges and a $250,000 civil damages lawsuit against him.
Last summer, Willacy County District Attorney Juan Angel "Johnny" Guerra decided to recuse (excuse) himself as prosecutor from the Sias Espinosa/Barnhart case, which resulted in 197th District Judge Migdalia Lopez's appointment of former Willacy D.A. Gustavo "Gus" Garza to investigate the allegations by Sias- Espinosa.
In the fall of 2006, and in a surprise move, Garza secured felony extortion indictments against Sias-Espinosa, her husband, and Reyes-Garcia from a second grand jury that heard the case. The first grand jury decided not to hand down any indictments.
However in May of this year, charges against the trio were dropped by Judge Banales due to a technicality, and Guerra by default became the prosecutor again. Garza had not taken a second state required bribery oath.
Barnhart's aggravated perjury indictment resulted from reported conflicting statements that he made in a civil deposition, and a sworn affidavit that he gave to the Texas Rangers.
The first-term county judge was taken from court on Friday, arrested, and booked in and out of the county jail. Noe Garza, Barnhart's attorney, did not return phone calls for an interview by press time.
Guerra was not asked to comment on the cases, as he has refused to be interviewed by the Chronicle/News in the past.
Pretrial motions were set for Oct. 19 at 10 a.m. by Banales, and jury selection for the trials was tentatively set for Nov. 5 at 9 a.m. The trial(s) could begin shortly after jury selection. E-mail comments on this story to; firstname.lastname@example.org