EL PASO, Texas -- This week marked the first 100 days of a new district attorney for El Paso.
Yvonne Rosales was sworn into office on Jan. 1, 2021. She's the first woman to hold the position, taking over for longtime district attorney Jaime Esparza, who oversaw the prosecution of thousands of criminals in his nearly thirty-year career.
Rosales is coming into office during a pandemic which has shut down the El Paso County Courthouse and put a pause on criminal jury trials, and she's also inheriting the prosecution of the person accused of the Aug. 3, 2019 shooting at the Cielo Vista Walmart.
In a one-on-one interview with ABC-7 to mark her 100 day milestone, Rosales said her first goal was to review pending cases that were not resolved before she took office.
"Some of the concerns that my attorneys have brought forth to my attention are disagreements they're having with the prior offers and deciding whether they should honor the offers or we need to pull those recommendations and ask for a harsher sentence," Rosales said.
The decision to honor prior agreements was in the spotlight April 8 when ABC-7 learned that the man who had been accused of killing his 5-month-old baby received a five-year prison sentence with credit for time served.
Pedro Favela Salgado admitted to shaking the baby because she wouldn't stop crying during a soccer game.
Salgado had been in jail for two years awaiting trial -- but with the plea deal, he will be complete with his sentence in three years.
On Apr. 8, Rosales told ABC-7 that she was beholden to the prior administration's negotiations. A week later, ABC-7 asked Rosales why, if she indeed had the jurisdiction to change the outcome she didn't renegotiate Salgado's plea.
"It was a decision to have the professional courtesy … It's about respecting the system, respecting the process; when you enter into plea negotiations with attorneys, it's a good faith effort, " Rosales said, adding, "The prior administration basically left that in our lap. We had to finish the deals that they had already written out. Part of the problem was recognizing that the prior administration could have set those cases for pleas at the end of December, but I feel they were deliberate moves to try and tarnish this administration by blaming us for the offers that had already been made prior to us taking office."
We asked former district attorney Jaime Esparza for a response.
He said in a statement to ABC-7, "As the Elected D.A., Ms. Rosales should know she has a duty to resolve cases as she believes is appropriate, including negotiating or changing a plea agreement. Ms. Rosales is not bound to my past plea agreements.
Esparza added he was honored to be the D.A. and he is proud of his work.
Rosales is inheriting the prosecution of the single-most deadly mass shooting in modern El Paso history.
Patrick Crusius is charged with capital murder of multiple persons and 22 counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
He's accused of shooting and killing 23 people inside and outside the Cielo Vista Walmart on Aug. 3, 2019. Nearly two dozen others were wounded.
The last time ABC-7 interviewed Rosales about the case we were nearing the first anniversary of the shooting in 2020. Last year, Rosales said she felt like the decision to conduct a second trial was up to those who suffered injuries or loss during the shooting.
But she seemed to have changed her outlook after talking with the victims.
"They want resolution, is basically what I can tell you," Rosales said. "But the federal government has not made the decision about whether they will seek the death penalty or not and since the state does not require any permissions to obtain or to seek the death penalty, based on my conversations with the Assistant U.S. Attorneys who are handling the matter on the federal side, since they can't determine whether they will or they won't seek the death penalty we're just going to go ahead and move forward with our case and we will seek the death penalty.
"We're going to do our best to keep this case here in El Paso," Rosales added. "This is a case that this community needs to be able to determine guilt and if a jury finds a defendant guilty then they need to be able to assess punishment."
Rosales has assigned a whole new team to the case. The team includes two people from the Esparza administration with a combined 50 years in law.
She also anticipates taking a role in the prosecution.
No trial date has been set.
Rosales told ABC-7 none of the attorneys were working the case under her predecessor.
"The attorneys that I have handling this case who are the lead attorneys have far more experience than some of the younger attorneys did," Rosales said. "They were supervisors within this office. They are individuals that I did keep from the prior administration."
"One of our new attorneys on staff had been a prosecutor and handled capital murder cases from the Dallas area. She's a very strong attorney that we brought in from out of town and I think that will give us a fresh set of eyes and a new perspective on the case," she added.
Rosales also wanted the community to be assured that even though she and the team are new, the transition will not affect the case or their pursuit for justice.
But there have been a lot of questions about the transition.
Rosales had asked everyone employed in the District Attorney's office to reapply if they were interested and there were reports that the turnover rate was at 50 percent.
ABC-7 asked if the overall transition is now complete, four and a half months into her term.
"It's not 100 percent complete," Rosales said. "We do have some vacancies available but I feel that we adequately filled the necessary positions to keep everything operating smoothly."
Rosales said there are roughly 40 positions available, which translates to about 25 percent below full operation. She pointed out that jury trials are still on hold due to the pandemic and she doesn't feel it makes sense to be at full staffing at this time.
Several weeks ago, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law a bill that legalizes possession and sale of recreational marijuana.
It goes into effect next year.
Considering El Paso County butts up against the Texas-New Mexico state line, the changing legislation in the Land of Enchantment can and will affect El Paso.
Rosales said she will be talking to El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles and El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen about how to proceed.
"During the campaign, we mentioned that it is very difficult to prove and prosecute possession of marijuana cases even in this state because of the fact that you can't test the THC concentration. I stick with that," Rosales said. "If you don't have the lab results to prove that the marijuana on the individual contained the 3% or higher THC concentration then I don't believe that we should be prosecuting those cases."
Rosales also said it will take work from law enforcement to determine if people arrested for possession are legally allowed to possess pot in New Mexico.