Case against Elsa man who maintained innocence in father’s murder dismissed

On Oct. 31, 2018, Justice of the Peace Jason Peña set then 39-year-old Joseph Robert Nocar’s bond at $2 million.

Joseph Robert Nocar

The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office had charged him with the bludgeoning murder of his father, 76-year-old Frederick Joseph Nocar.

From that moment, Joseph began publicly maintaining his innocence.

He asked Peña why his bond was so high, to which Peña said, “because that’s my bond.”

“Such a high bond for someone who is innocent,” Joseph asked at the time.

Closing in on two years from his initial arraignment, however, state District Judge Bobby Flores dismissed the indictment accusing Joseph of his father’s murder at the request of the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office, which filed a motion for dismissal in the interest of justice.

District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez said he couldn’t go into many details behind the reasoning for dismissal, but said his office asked that the case be dismissed without prejudice, meaning it’s possible that, in the interest of justice, Joseph could be indicted on a charge of murder again.

Only time will tell whether that happens.

As for Joseph, his defense attorney, Alex Ballesteros, says the 40-year-old man is still processing the development.

“For him, right now, this is all surreal,” Ballesteros said. “And he is taking it in slowly becaue up till the hearing this morning, he still wanted a jury trial to prove his innocence.”

Ballesteros said Joseph was ready to fight the case right from the beginning.

“I’m very pleased the District Attorney’s Office did the right thing on finally evaluating the case on its merits and presenting a dismissal for Joseph. From day one he has been wanting to fight this because he knew he was innocent,” Ballesteros said. “Unfortunately, it was delayed for over 18 months based on the evidence not being available and it could have been delayed even more because of COVID. We were fortunate that we kept on insisting on fighting for his rights.”

The investigation into Frederick’s murder began on Oct. 24, 2018, after his daughter called Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office deputies to report that she was unable to reach her father.

At a news conference announcing Joseph’s arrest, Sheriff J.E. “Eddie” Guerra said an autopsy revealed that Frederick died from blunt force trauma to the head after being “chopped” with a blunt object inside his Weslaco home.

The probable cause affidavit for Joseph’s arrest states that an anonymous tipster told authorities Joseph was involved with the murder. Joseph later gave the investigators consent to search his truck where they discovered a drop of blood on the exterior of the driver’s side door.

“A witness then came forward and informed sheriff’s investigators that he was told by Joseph Robert Nocar that he killed the victim and provided information about the injuries sustained by the victim that were not released to the public that were revealed to him by Joseph,” according to the probable cause affidavit.

However, as 2020 arrived, Ballesteros began filing motions with the court that questioned the credibility of the witnesses’ testimony and the blood evidence.

In an affidavit filed by Joseph’s mother, Maria Becerra, the attorney says a witness identified as Becerra’s ex-boyfriend, Raul Zavala, was coerced by law enforcement.

A motion filed by Ballesteros that echoes that affidavit says a “state witness” recanted what he said on at least one occasion.

“The State of Texas secured its arrest warrant and based its indictment on the word of one witness who claimed that Mr. Nocar made an incriminating statement regarding the offense,” the motion read. “The state’s witness has since recanted on at least one occasion and has proven to be not credible. The witness is available and willing to testify live that he was coerced any by law enforcement.”

As for that drop of blood investigators found on Joseph’s car door, it didn’t belong to Frederick. The blood belonged to Joseph.

“The State of Texas, simply put, has no other evidence,” Ballesteros said in the motion.

As for the alleged motive, at the time of his arrest, the sheriff said Joseph was a gang member who had a substance abuse problem and who had assaulted his father in the past when the man declined to give him money to buy drugs.

Throughout the proceedings, Joseph maintained his innocence. He wrote numerous letters to the court and to The Monitor during his incarceration in the Hidalgo County jail.

Joseph has blamed an “unknown assailant” for his father’s murder in the letters to the newspaper and said that HCSO investigators rushed to judgment because of his past, which includes a stint in prison for robbery, and because of his tattoos.

“ My father — god bless his departed soul, was victim of an unknown assailant; and I pray that — justice shall prevail concerning his death,” Joseph wrote in a letter to the court. “I say this both as a son and father myself, but most importantly your Honor I say this as a son who loves his father; for both my father and I are victims of the same unknown — assailant …There are two victims here your Honor.”