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Victoria men found guilty of engaging in organized criminal activity; convictions among last of massive HPL indictments

By Gheni_Platenburg
Jan. 30, 2012 at 8:01 p.m.
Updated Jan. 30, 2012 at 7:31 p.m.


History of case

The defendants' convictions bring the Victoria County District Attorney's Office one step closer to concluding the barrage of cases against HPL members. In October 2010, a Victoria County grand jury indicted 16 members of the gang for murder or attempted murder cases spanning from 2001 to 2008. The remaining members with pending cases are Joe Mendoza, who is serving a life sentence for the 2003 shooting death of 6-year-old Robert "Polo" Conchola, and Hilario Figirova, aka "Dirty Pennies," who is still on the run.Some witnesses who were involved in the assaults on Paul Benavides struck plea deals in exchange for their testimony.Marcus Perez received 30 years in prison in exchange for his testimony in several HPL cases, while the charges against Claro Lopez were dismissed without prejudice in exchange for his testimony in other HPL cases.

After a week of testimony, a Victoria County jury found two men guilty on Monday of engaging in organized criminal activity.

Robert Lindstrom, also known as "Stutter," and Robert Saldana, aka "Wedo," both of Victoria, were found guilty conspiring to cause serious bodily harm to Paul Benavides, aka "Pow Wow," by shooting him.

All three men are members of the Hermanos Pistoleros Latinos street gang.

"I'm pleased with the outcome," said Victoria County District Attorney Steve Tyler. "We had a lot of help from different agencies over time. This has been a two-to-three year plan for dismantling the HPL that began with the Victoria Police Department's Special Crimes Unit. They developed some evidence and cooperating individuals."

Tyler also credited the Victoria County Sheriff's Office and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for their help on the cases.

"We're just a member of a larger team," said Tyler.

Alex Luna, Lindstrom's attorney, and Bill White, Saldana's attorney, declined to comment on the outcome of the cases.

During closing arguments, White once again addressed the credibility of the state's witnesses.

White and Luna argued the state's case was built almost exclusively on gang member testimony.

"There's no physical evidence to link the people to this case. There's no gun. There's no cell phone evidence. There's no evidence that showed Saldana or Lindstrom owned the gun," said White.

Neither defendant testified in the trial.

The district attorney said the defendants met all the elements for the charge.

"The intent was clearly to kill Paul Benavides," said Tyler.

Saldana's family members were displeased with the verdict.

"I don't agree with it," said Saldana's sister, Petra Saldana. "They don't have physical evidence. It's all hearsay."

"The ones that were supposedly in that situation are the ones walking in the street," said Saldana's mother, Sonia Saldana.

Jeffrey Soto, aka "Jeff," was also indicted for the crime against Benavides and was originally set to go on trial with Saldana, 27, and Lindstrom, 25.

But the decision was made to separate Soto's case from the other two in an effort to keep the trial from being too lengthy, among other reasons, said Tyler.

"We believe it will be resolved," Tyler said regarding he case against Soto.

District Judge Robert Cheshire will determine the punishment during a hearing at 9 a.m. Thursday.

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