2017-09-13 / Front Page

Change of venue being sought in Tobias case


The defense attorney for Juan Manuel Tobias Jr., accused of killing Nora Rodriguez (Conde) Villalobos, has filed nine motions, including a challenge of the Texas death penalty and an attempt to move the trial to Brownsville.

Attorney Ed Stapleton is attempting to have the possible death penalty removed on the basis that it is cruel and unusual punishment.

Tobias is charged with aggravated kidnapping, alleging he strangled the woman while attempting to kidnap her, or held her against her will, until he allegedly caused her death, for which he is charged in the second count of the indictment, capital murder.

If convicted of capital murder, Tobias could face the penalty of life in prison or execution.

The body of Rodriguez (Conde) Villalobos, 49, was found May 23 south of Lasara near Delta Lake. She was an Army veteran and had recently been working at the Whataburger restaurant in Raymondville. She had been seen 33 days earlier leaving Linda’s Lounge in Raymondville.

Searches by police and volunteers were extensive and a local man who had been a high school classmate had placed newspaper advertisements trying hoping to raise public awareness that she was still missing.

In addition to the nine motions filed in court on Thursday, Stapleton said he plans to file more motions in the case. Those motions will be dealt with at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 19, the judge said.

In court papers filed in 197th state District Court, the attorney is pressing to move Tobias’ trial to Brownsville, claiming there is an overwhelming prejudice against Tobias in Willacy County, making it impossible to select a fair and impartial jury in the county. The victim and his client both have large families and there are too many people in Raymondville and Willacy County who have already formed a strong opinion about the case, one motion states.

A routine motion that was granted by Judge Migdalia Lopez is to allow Tobias to appear at court proceedings in regular clothing rather than a jail uniform.

Four motions have already been sealed by the judge and cannot be seen by the public.

Stapleton is claiming there has been excessive publicity, citing coverage by the Raymondville Chronicle & Willacy County News and on social media. He includes several affidavits from local residents that claim local opinion is strongly against Tobias.

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