San Benito man admits to killing wife

Alvaro Mata Jr., 40, entered a guilty plea Tuesday in front of 197th state District Judge Alfredo Cordova after reaching a plea deal with the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office that asks the judge to consider sentencing him to between 20 and 50 years.

Mata shot his wife, 36-year-old Jessica Cortina, in the chest in front of their son early on the morning of Nov. 14, 2017.

Cortina, who was a special programs teacher at Wilson Elementary School in Primera, ran into her 17-year-old son’s room asking for him to call 911 because his father was going to kill her, Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio said at the time.

Authorities said at the time that Cortina was dead when officers, responding to the domestic violence call, arrived at the home.

Mata, who wore a suit and shackles, did not say much during the court hearing other than answering Cordova’s questions about whether he understood the consequences of his plea agreement.

Cordova ordered a pre-sentence report to assist him in determining Mata’s sentence. That hearing is scheduled for Feb. 28 and will likely include testimony from both the defense and the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office.

After the hearing, Mata’s Edinburg-based attorney, Orlando Jiménez, spoke to reporters on the third floor of the courthouse explaining that Mata decided to take a plea deal before jury selection, which was scheduled for Tuesday morning.

“Mata did this for his family,” Jiménez said, explaining that the man’s four sons were in the house the night Mata shot and killed Cortina. “He didn’t want them to relive this situation again.”

Jiménez said Mata also considered his family and Cortina’s family in deciding to take a plea deal and avoid trial.

Alvaro Mata sat in the 197th state District Court Tuesday morning before pleading guilty to murdering his wife in 2017. (Mark Reagan | The Brownsville Herald)

Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz said he found Mata’s reasoning to be self-serving.

“I find Mr. Mata’s statement to be totally self-serving. He should have thought about that when he was pulling the trigger and murdering his wife and the mother of his children,” Saenz said.

Jiménez said Mata is sorry for killing Cortina.

“Our hearts go out to the victim’s family and we’re very, very sorry for what occurred,” Jiménez said, explaining that the man’s remorse and wanting to protect his sons, family and in-laws from a trial setting influenced his decision to take the plea deal after much prayer. “That’s what his mind was telling him and his heart was pointing in that direction: if I’m a good father, I have to do this for my family.”

After Cortina’s death, Harlingen school district Superintendent Art Cavazos said the entire school district was grieving the loss of a beloved teacher.

“She was an amazing teacher, mother, daughter, sister, and friend,” Cavazos said. “Her handprint is far reaching. Her students and colleagues are walking around with heavy hearts and she will be greatly missed.”

Mata has remained in the Cameron County Carrizales-Rucker Detention Center in Olmito on a $10 million bond.