a 4,taiaa .0.4,1Sa The New Secretary of State Houston, Austin Gov. John Connally’s appointment of a Mexican-American as secretary of state is generally considered an attempt to pacify a minority group which has been angered by Connally’s stand against a state minimum wage, among other matters. If so, the governor’s choice, Roy R. Berrera, a San Antonio lawyer, may have been a tactical error. At the PASO endorsement convention March 16, Johnny Alaniz, a former state legislator asserted, “The reason Roy Berrera got appointed is because the state is trying to make amends for the chicano,” he said. Barrera is remembered with disfavor by some Mexican-Americans in San Antonio because of a murder trial he conducted back in the late 1950’s as a chief prosecuting attorney for Bexar county. He got a death sentence for one Alvaro Alcorta. Alcorta v. Texas went all the way to the US Supreme Court, where ;Barrera received a severe dressing down ‘for suppression of evidence. Alcorta was tried for the murder of his wife in 1955. He testified that he had killed her during a fit of passion upon :finding her kissing Natividad Castilleja. The sole witness to the knife slaying, Castilleja, testified for the prosecution that his relationship to Alcorta’s wife was a casual one, that he had driven her home from work a few times. The jury gave Alcorta the death sentence. Had the jury accepted Alcorta’s testimony that he had killed his wife in a fit of passion, it could have found him guilty of “murder without malice,” which was punishable by a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment. ALCORTA’S CASE attracted much attention. He received .nine stays of execution before the matter was finally brought before the Supreme Court. One person who became interested in the case was Father Francis Duffy. He talked with Castilleja and convinced him to file a new statement admiting he had been intimate with Mrs. Alcorta on several occasions. The witness also revealed that he had told Barrera of his relationship with Mrs. Alcorta and that Barrera had told him not to volunteer any information about it in court. 12 The Texas Observer CLASSIFIED ANNE’S TYPING SERVICE: Duplicating \(multiNotary. Specialize in rush jobs, including Sundays. Formerly known as Marjorie Delafield Typing and Duplicating Service. Call HI 2-7008, Austin. BOOKPLATES. Free catalog. Many beautiful designs. Special designing too. Address: BOOK-PLATES, Yellow Springs 8, Ohio. Fred Semaan, a San Antonio attorney, took over Alcorta’s defense and appealed it on the contention that the conviction was based on perjured testimony and suppression of evidence in violation of Alcorta’s constitutional rights. Castilleja’s statement that he had been intimate with Alcorta’s wife was the cornerstone upon which the Supreme Court set aside the death sentence, just a few days before Alcorta’s scheduled execution. Barrera and San Antonio District Attorney Hubert W. Green Jr. represented Texas before the Supreme Court. Semaan represented Barrera. According to newspaper accounts of the procedings, Associate Justice Hugo L. Black asked Barrera whether it was true that there would have been practically no chance of convicting Alcorta if the trial jury had known of the relations between his wife and Castilleja. “Yes, sir. Under those circumstances, absolutely,” Barrera replied. Associate Justice Thomas Clark told Barrera it was the duty of the district attorney to prosecute, but not to persecute those charged with crimes. Pounding his desk, Associate Justice Felix Frankfurter said to Barrera, “You knew the answers you received from the witness were not true.” “The object of questioning a witness is to bring truth to the jury and not deception,” Justice Black added. Justice John M. Harlan asked Barrera when he graduated from law school. “In 1951,” Barrera replied, then turned the case over to Green. The court held that Alcorta had been denied due process of law and remanded the case to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Commenting on the decisions District Attorney Green said, “Until today, the law of Texas has not required the prosecutor to present both the state’s and defendant’s sides in court.” The decision put prosecutors on notice that they would risk reversals by not making all disclosures of facts relating to a case. Alcorta was paroled by Governor Connally in 1966, having served several years’ imprisonment. REMINISCING about the case, San Antonio newspapermen point out that in the 1950’s Texas district attorneys were reelected on their records of convictions. “Barrera was a very sharp prosecutor. In the Alcorta case he was just overeager,” one reporter said. “There was a campaign coming up.” Barrera had a succesful law practice in San Antonio, his native city. He grew up with no interest in law but studied manual skills in a technical high school. On turning 18 he joined the Army and served in the Pacific during the final year of World War II and for a time immediately thereafter. He returned home and worked awhile as a clothes salesman at $27 a week. Then, on his mother’s advice, he entered St. Mary’s University under the GI Bill, completed law school and passed the state bar exam in 1951, and went to work in the district attorney’s office. In 1957 Barrera went into private practice, not long after the Alcorta case was heard by the Supreme Court. Barrera told the Associated Press he took the state job with the understanding it would be for this year only. “I’ve got no plans for any other public office,” he said. He expects most of his time to be devoted to HemisFair activities. “One of the reasons I was selected was my bilingual background. I expect to be dealing with quite a few foreign dignitaries at the fair,” he said. He said he was not appointed as a gesture by Connally to placate Texas’ Mexican-Americans. “I feel that [Connally] doesn’t feel he has done anything to anger anyone deliberately in the first place,” Barrera said. Barrera helped Connally’s gubernatorial campaigns, but points out he’s also helped other politicians of varied persuasions. Barrera opposes “handouts” by the government. “I think people can be caused to be lazy by welfare,” he said. “The major problem of Mexican-Americans is a lack of education.” He supports aid to education, deeming that an investment. The approval by San Antonio State Sen. Joe J. Bernal of Barrera’s appointment was necessary as a matter of senatorial courtesy, Bernal, who roomed with Barrera when they were both students at Texas Tech and New Mexico State, called Connally’s choice of a Mexican-American to high office long overdue. “It’s a step in the right direction and should happen more and more,” Bernal said of the appointment. Bernal said there probably were some politics involved in the appointment. “The governor would like to see all Texans go to the national convention to endorse LBJ,” he said. “Well, I endorse President Johnson, and am for an instructed delegation for him. I didn’t need the governor to tell me.” Barrera went on to become a successful practicing lawyer in San Antonio. He served as president of the board of the Edgewood Independent School District and chairman of the Bexar County Historical Survey Committee. In appointing Barrera, Connally said, “The State of Texas is fortunate in having a man of Roy Barrera’s qualifications as secretary of state. He is a fine lawyer. His past service to his city, his state, and his nation has been exemplary. He will bring a sense of dedication and his rare abilities to this new position.” K.N.
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