HPD Sgt. Sean Rios' murder trial postponed again after suspect's lead attorney undergoes surgery

Robert Soliz's trial is scheduled to resume Nov. 7.

Mycah Hatfield Image
Tuesday, August 23, 2022
Trial in HPD sgt.'s murder, which started in July, to resume Nov. 7
EMBED <>More Videos

A lead attorney's illness and a juror's positive COVID test stretched out the recess already. Now, that attorney's health issues are forcing a nearly three-month postponement.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- The trial for the man accused of shooting and killing a Houston police sergeant almost two years ago is experiencing yet another delay, according to officials.

Robert Soliz is accused in the murder of 47-year-old Sgt. Sean Rios, a 25-year-veteran of the Houston Police Department, on Nov. 9, 2020 in a shootout on the side of the North Freeway.

Jurors returned to the courtroom Monday, after a three-week recess, for a matter of minutes before Judge Ana Martinez told them they would be in recess another two and a half months.

Lead defense attorney Paul Looney experienced a medical emergency and had to undergo surgery during the break, according to a motion for a mistrial. It will take several months for him to recover.

Rather than grant the defense's motion for a mistrial, Judge Martinez recessed court until Nov. 7 when Looney will hopefully be able to return to court. It is unclear why that decision was made.

The court has experienced delays since the trial started on July 26.

Prosecutors put 17 witnesses on the stand in three days during the last week of July and planned to rest on Aug. 4.

On Aug. 1, Looney was ill and the court was canceled for the day.

When they returned the following Monday, the court learned that a juror tested positive for COVID-19.

Rather than putting an alternate into place, jurors were told to return on Aug. 22.

On Aug. 16, Soliz's defense team filed a motion for a mistrial because of Looney's unexpected health issue.

The trial is scheduled to resume on Nov. 7, almost exactly two years after the deadly shooting.

"Mr. Soliz wants his lawyer to be present for this. Obviously, anybody in his position would want that. He has a right to that," defense attorney Wade Smith said.

South Texas College of Law Professor Kenneth Williams said he could not think of a reason why the judge would not have granted the mistrial.

"There are many, several reasons, why the jury should be dismissed, and it's hard to come up with a good reason for not dismissing the jury at this moment," Williams said.

By the time court resumes on Nov. 7, it will have been more than three months since jurors heard testimony. Judge Martinez did not allow jurors to take notes during the trial so they could concentrate on the testimony.

"It is certainly unreasonable to expect jurors to remember every detail about a case they haven't even been able to take notes about," Williams said.

Jurors were also ordered not to consume any media regarding the trial between now and when they resume, which Williams said will be challenging.

Williams said a delay in a trial like this can favor the defense. He said it is harder to get witnesses to show up to court and recall the details of what happened as vividly.

He went on to say that if Soliz is convicted, the many delays will make for a very strong case in an appeal.

Williams is not convinced this case will not end up in a mistrial.

If everything goes according to plan, the judge told jurors trial should wrap up in two weeks' time.

During the recess, Soliz will remain behind bars and held without bond. No mention was made during court of changing that.

"The delay is not the prosecution's fault. It's not the defendant's fault. It's the defense attorney who is not able to proceed, so it's not as compelling as, let's say, there was a problem with the prosecutor getting sick," Williams said.

Looney is recovering and expected to be back in the courtroom to defend Soliz in November, according to Smith.

For more on this story, follow Mycah Hatfield on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

SEE ALSO: Sgt. Sean Rios murder: Jury shown Robert Soliz's Snapchat video after HPD officer's killing