Selena Villatoro didn’t want him to die.
She pleaded with police officers outside her maternity ward hospital room not to kill her on-again, off-again boyfriend Nestor Hernandez. Between howls and feral screams, she begged, “Don’t do this, please don’t do this.”
She clutched her baby and, with an IV still poked in her arm, she pushed through the pain of a fresh C-section and contusions from being pistol whipped and stood up. Hernandez collapsed and dropped his gun in the room after police shot him in the leg. She threw his handgun into the hallway, the clank of metal hitting the tile floor.
Hernandez, 31, is accused of fatally shooting two hospital workers inside Methodist Dallas Medical Center before he was wounded himself. Jacqueline Pokuaa, a social worker, and Katie Flowers, a nurse, were killed by the gunfire.
Hernandez is standing trial for capital murder this week; if convicted, he faces an automatic life sentence without the possibility of parole because Dallas County prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty. Testimony in the high-profile trial began Tuesday morning inside the courthouse near downtown Dallas.
“You would think the maternity ward would be the happiest … safest place in the world,” prosecutor George Lewis told the panel of 12 jurors and two alternates.
Hernandez, Lewis said, transformed the hospital to “hell on Earth.”
On Saturday morning, Oct. 22, 2022, about 11 a.m., Hernandez seemed intoxicated, Villatoro told jurors from the witness stand Tuesday. He’d walked into the wrong room, mistaking another woman for Villatoro, who had just given birth to a baby boy. Hernandez was seemingly giddy about being a new father, she testified in a demure, soft-spoken tone.
But defense attorneys for Hernandez implied the two had a contentious relationship, and Hernandez was suspicious of whether he was the child’s father. Villatoro had given him an ultimatum as he drove her to the hospital days before: Ditch his small black handgun or she wouldn’t give the baby his last name.
Hernandez, who had a history of robbery convictions and was on parole with an ankle monitor at the time of the shooting, had permission to be at the hospital.
Once inside Room 6 on the fourth floor, he grew irate and accused his girlfriend of infidelity. Hernandez’s attorneys said they were fighting about whether Villatoro gave him a venereal disease, but Villatoro testified she didn’t know why he became so angry.
“We were good,” she said. Prosecutors presented a paternity test, proving Hernandez is the baby’s father. “I don’t why he did this for no reason.”
She buried her face in hospital blankets as he called family members, sentimentally telling them, “I love you,” and “be good.”
“He took a beer, he took a gun, he took a mindset of murder to the maternity ward,” Lewis said in opening statements.
Hernandez swung open and slammed shut the closet and bathroom doors, supposedly looking for her lover, Villatoro testified. He knocked over her hospital table and spilled beer, she said. Her baby was asleep in the nearby bassinet.
He then pulled out the handgun from his pants and repeatedly struck her in the head.
“Whoever comes in this room is going to die with us,” Hernandez said, according to an arrest-warrant affidavit. Hernandez told Villatoro to “enjoy the time you have with your son,” she testified.
Meanwhile, the supervisory nurse, Stacey Smith, was checking on the other 20 or so mothers and babies in the ward. Methodist police officer, Sgt. Robert Rangel, was outside Room 3, flipping through a field notebook where he’d jotted down information about a pair of missing Versace prescription eyeglasses. Smith waltzed past him on her way to Room 11 and asked if everything was alright.
Pokuaa, the social worker, entered Villatoro’s room for routine patient care, police have said. She was shuffling through papers on a clipboard, Villatoro said, when Hernandez walked up behind her and shot her in the head. He then headed toward the bassinet, when Villatoro said she scooped up her son.
Smith testified she heard a “pop” while inside the room with another patient. She assumed it was a “Caution Wet Floor” sign falling over. Rangel said he mistook the noise for an exploding lightbulb. The shock of the first ringing, piercing gunshot made some in the courtroom gallery jump as they watched body camera video and surveillance footage. A few women averted their eyes and pressed their hands against their mouths, aghast. The jurors, however, stayed fixed on the courtroom TVs.
Villatoro testified that back inside her room Hernandez pulled bullets from his back pocket and reloaded the weapon.
In the hallway, Rangel said drops of blood caught his eye — but it wasn’t out-of-the-norm for the hospital police officer. He saw Flowers walk toward the shouting and wailing and then heard a distinct second gunshot.
The gunman, a Hispanic man in dark blue jeans and a black muscle top, emerged from the doorway. At the same time, Smith peered outside and saw a man, who she identified in court as Hernandez, standing in the doorway of Room 6, pointing a gun across the hall and aiming it upwards. On the witness stand, Smith held her arm straight out from her shoulder and imitated a gun with her fingers. She testified she saw him fire twice toward Flowers who stood across the hallway.
The third shot, Rangel said, struck Flowers. Blood seeped from between her fingers as she gripped her neck and collapsed near the nurses’ station. Flowers, 63, was a veteran nurse, who cared deeply for the mothers and infants she tended to, her daughter said.
Smith took off running back toward Room 11.
“He looked at me … with a smirk on his face,” she said of the gunman.
Smith barricaded herself and another new mother and father in the hospital room bathroom. Their baby was in the intensive care unit.
Rangel shot Hernandez in the upper leg with his department-issued Glock. Hernandez jumped back and retreated into the room, police have said. Inside, he talked to his mother on the phone in Spanish, Villatoro said, and confessed he’d shot someone. Defense attorneys honed in on whether Hernandez was aware he shot two people.
In opening statements, defense attorney Paul Johnson told the jurors to “keep an open mind.”
“The evidence is going to have some twists and turns,” he said, asking the jury to consider finding Hernandez guilty of a lesser charge of murder. If Hernandez is convicted of murder instead of capital murder, he would be eligible for parole.
Rangel tried to reason with Hernandez, telling him to throw the weapon outside and come out with his hands in the air; Hernandez groaned and tried to answer back. His responses were drowned out by Villatoro’s screams.
After a minutes-long standoff, Villatoro tossed the gun into the hallway and police officers pushed their way into the room. The footage shows Pokuaa splayed out, face-up on the floor just inside the door. Blood pooled around her head.
Pokuaa, 45, was killed instantly, Lewis said. Born in Ghana, she came to the United States in the late 1990s to pursue her education in social work, her brother testified. She was one of seven siblings, and mother to a 13-year-old. She’d worked at Methodist for about a year.
Hernandez laid face-down on the ground at the foot of the hospital bed. Villatoro stood between them clothed in only mesh postpartum underwear, her belly still distended and cords dangling from her hand. Her newborn cried. A Dallas police officer later draped Villatoro in a sweatshirt as she shrieked to be let out of the room.
Officers put Hernandez in handcuffs and dragged him into the hallway before tightening a tourniquet around his thigh and packing his bullet wound. He appeared pale-faced and sweaty in police video; his eyes were beady as he winced in pain. He asked officers to call his mom.
He was lifted onto a gurney and taken to the hospital’s emergency room, where police found his state-issued identification.
In court, Hernandez — wearing a charcoal gray suit and striped dress shirt and blue tie — sat stoically throughout the morning’s testimony. At times, he exchanged notes with his attorneys.
Hernandez was also charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and aggravated assault against a public servant. He remains in custody in the Dallas County jail, with bail set at more than $3 million, records show. He is not being tried on those charges this week.
The jury of nine men and five women was picked Monday. Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot led jury selection and sat behind prosecutors throughout testimony. When asked if any of the prospective jurors knew about the case, several of the more than 80-person pool raised their hands. A few told prosecutors they’d already decided on Hernandez’s guilt and could not be unbiased jurors.
Hernandez was released from prison in 2021 after serving 80% of an eight-year sentence for aggravated robbery, according to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. He violated parole twice before the shooting, including once when he broke curfew. He spent 12 days in jail but was released due to insufficient evidence, a report coauthored by the parole board and criminal justice department says.
He later cut off his ankle monitor, which led to an additional 100 days confinement.
Hernandez’s parole terms were heavily criticized by officials, who denounced ankle monitors as a form of accountability and called out lapses in oversight of the state’s parole process. In direct response to the shooting, Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation into law this spring that makes it so parolees or people out on bond face a felony charge if they knowingly remove or disable their ankle monitor. Before the law went into effect, tampering with an ankle monitor was an administrative violation, not a criminal offense.
Family and friends of Flowers seated in the courtroom gallery were dressed in shades of purple — her favorite color. Some donned light purple butterfly pins, which were given out at Flowers’ memorial service.
Testimony is expected to continue Wednesday morning.