Judge considers setting aside guilty verdict in Mobile murder case

MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – A jury convicted David Cordero-Hernandez of murder last month, but the judge presiding over the trial is considering a motion to vacate the conviction.

Judge Edward McDermott, a retired attorney who presided over the trial because the full-time judge was suspended at the time, heard arguments Tuesday about the defense’s request to overturn the jury’s verdict and either acquit Cordero-Hernandez or order a new trial. He postponed the defendant’s sentencing hearing and said he would consider the defense motion.

Defense attorney Dom Soto argued in a Tuesday hearing that the evidence overwhelmingly supports his client’s innocence. He said co-defendant Marcos Oslan and two women exonerated Cordero-Hernandez.

“I don’t know what happened in the jury room,” he told the judge. “But I think you trusted the jury to follow the law, and they didn’t.”

Mobile County Assistant District Attorney Lauren Walsh argued that Soto made the same arguments when he shelved his case and asked the judge to then dismiss the charges.

“From the defense to today, nothing has changed,” she said.

The jury found Cordero-Hernandez, 35, guilty of murder in the December 2019 shooting, stabbing, and caning of Tracie Dennis. Prosecutors alleged that the murder stemmed from an argument over money and that Cordero-Hernandez helped him while Oslan fired the shots.

Police discovered the body in Cordero-Hernandez’s backyard, and five days after the assassination, Jacksonville, Florida authorities tracked him down along with Oslan and two women. Prosecutors argued the defendant’s escape was evidence of his guilt. Walsh also argued that the 140-pound Oslan would have needed help subduing the 6-foot victim.

“There is absolutely no way that Marcos Oslan did it alone,” she said

Criminal defense attorneys routinely ask judges to overturn convictions. Typically, judges are quick to deny these motions. In this case, however, McDermott scheduled a hearing and asked the prosecutor specific questions about the evidence. After the jury reached its verdict, the judge drew the ire of the district attorney’s office when he released the defendant on bail.

Soto told FOX10 News that he is encouraged by these developments.

“It happened at his house, at David’s house,” he said outside the courtroom. “Besides that, there is nothing – there is nothing – there is no there, there. I mean, you know, where’s the beef?”

In court, Soto argued that prosecutors had not presented enough evidence. The only person who testified during the murder was the accused himself. The jury heard statements Oslan and the two women gave to police, and Soto determined that neither of them implicated his client.

In addition, according to Soto, another witness was present who the police never questioned. The police said they could not find him. Soto later found the man, but he said by the time the trial arrived, this witness was in federal custody and had been “smuggled off” to a federal prison.

McDermott threw out a cadaver abuse charge at trial, but allowed the murder charge to go to the jury. Soto said the judge should have dropped both charges.

“With all due respect, it was a mistake to leave it up to the jury,” Soto said during Tuesday’s hearing.

Walsh acknowledged that Cordero-Hernandez was not involved in the testimony, but the prosecutor denied Soto’s characterization that they “exonerated” the defendant. She urged the judge to respect the jury’s verdict, which the jury reached after only an hour and a half of deliberation. She said the jury could draw conclusions from the defendant’s conflicting statements.

“The defendant told three different stories of what he heard and saw from this stand alone,” he said. “They were all different than what he initially told the police.”

McDermott asked Walsh if prosecutors had attempted to offer Oslan a deal in exchange for his testimony. She said they did but that he refused because he was afraid for his family. The judge asked why prosecutors did not force Oslan to testify.

“Don’t you think the jury would have liked to hear his testimony?” he asked.

Walsh responded that based on past experience, Oslan likely would not have said anything if called to the witness stand and that the testimony would not have been “helpful.”

The judge also asked why the police didn’t try harder to find the fifth witness. He pointed to a statement from a police officer who had driven past the man’s home, but that there were no cars at the home.

“He didn’t bother going upstairs and knocking on the door?” asked the judge.

Walsh replied, “We don’t always get all the witnesses we want in these cases. We went with the evidence we had, which was pretty strong.”

Soto told FOX10 News that judges have a duty to intervene when prosecutors fail to do their duty. He said the facts of this “horrific murder” were difficult to confront – a victim bound to the hogties, stabbed seven times and shot dead.

“The problem with a murder case is that you have these horrible pictures and these horrible facts. And you have a young man who was crushed in the prime of his life,” he said. “And that’s, you know, it’s hard to overcome that kind of emotional impact when they keep presenting these images of these horrible things that happened to this young man.”

Download the FOX10 Weather App. Get life-saving severe weather alerts and alerts for your location, no matter where you are. Available for free at Apple App Store and the Google play store.