Shawn Gant-Benalcazar pleads not guilty in choir teacher murder trial

Austin

A Travis County jury will decide if Shawn Gant-Benalcazar, 33, killed choir teacher Kathy Blair. The murder trial began Monday morning. 

Blair was found dead inside her home in December 2014.

The trial in the 331st District Court has been delayed multiple times. Gant-Benalcazar pleaded not guilty Monday morning. 

Austin police say he entered Blair’s home while she was asleep and tried to rob the place. According to court documents, Gant-Benalcazar told police he stabbed Blair in the neck when she woke up and “lunged” at him.

Prosecutors told the jury they have evidence to prove Gant-Benalcazar’s confession, including a bloody shoeprint, a neighbor’s camera, cellphone pings and DNA evidence found in the suspected getaway car.

They say he entered her home through the back door, burglarized her home, then stabbed and strangled Blair when she woke up. 

 “In the conclusion of all of this evidence, I expect to come back to you and I expect to ask you to return a verdict of guilt for capital murder for the cold, brutal and senseless murder of Kathy Blair,” Travis County prosecutor told the jury. 

Gant-Benalcazar defense attorneys spoke about due process. They say that detectives already decided Gant-Banalcazar would be the guilty man and, in January 2015, they went to Galveston for the explicit purpose of getting him to confess, while telling him he was just a witness. They say the detectives violated his rights under the constitution and he should be found not guilty. 

“This case is about our rights as citizens, our rights as individuals and how far the government can go in the collection of evidence,” said Ariel Payan, the defendant’s attorney.

“I need you to come to my house right away,” was heard from the tape of Blair’s son Joseph Hargis, “I think my mom is dead. There’s a lot of blood. I think someone broke in and killed my mom.”

Hargis called 911 when he found his mother dead inside her home the next morning. He stayed elsewhere after an ugly sweater party. 

The jury heard the call. 

He’s an officer in the U.S. Navy and was living with Blair on Tamarak Trail after he returned from officer training. Dispatch wanted him to move her body so she would lay flat on the ground.

“Oh my god. Oh my god. I can’t. You guys just need to get here,” the recording played.

“I just remember screaming and yelling, completely involuntary. I am not the type of person to do that,” Hargis told the jury.

Monday he was a witness to set the scene.  Prosecutors say he used Joseph’s pillowcase to carry off what he stole. 

“There were jewelry boxes. She has a jewelry chest. They were all over the floor,” he told the jury.

Authorities also arrested and charged Parlin, 51, in connection with the burglary leading up to Blair’s death as well as two other murders days after Blair died. He is being tried at a later date.

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