She befriended an elderly man in an attempt to steal his fortune. She stood by and watched as a man she hired suffocated the 96-year-old victim to death. And now, nearly five years later, she lost her first appeal.
The 13th Court of Appeals affirmed 52-year-old Monica Melissa Patterson’s capital murder and theft convictions, as well as her automatic life sentence in prison for her role in the Jan. 28, 2015, suffocation death of Martin Knell in his McAllen home.
The high court also confirmed her convictions for stealing more than $100,000 from Comfort House — a McAllen-based nonprofit that provides hospice care, and where Patterson served as the director at the time — to fund trips to Las Vegas as well as a graduation party for her son that cost more than $20,000, as well as her convictions for attempting to steal more than $200,000 from Knell.
In her appeal, Patterson argued the evidence in the case was insufficient to support her conviction for capital murder and the theft from a nonprofit and attempted theft charges. She also argued that double jeopardy barred her conviction for misapplication of fiduciary property.
Additionally, Patterson claimed the trial court issued an erroneous jury charge regarding the law of parties and failed to instruct the jury on accomplice-witness rules regarding the testimony of Celestina Mascorro, a witness to the murder who contacted the Texas Rangers a month after Martin’s killing.
Lastly, Patterson attempted to challenge the testimony of medical examiner Norma Farley and took issue with recorded phone calls and a conversation recorded at Whataburger with Mascorro, who was wearing a wire.
In its 58-page opinion, Justice Gregory T. Perkes overruled each and every one of Patterson’s arguments, affirming the trial court’s judgment.
Patterson, the daughter of a former Hidalgo County commissioner and sister to a local county court-at-law judge, stood trial for nearly six weeks in 2017 during a sensational trial where testimony detailed how over the course of nearly four months, Patterson befriended Knell after learning of his wealth, gained access to his bank accounts and acquired his power of attorney before eventually becoming the executrix of his will.
A little more than a month after she became the executrix of his will, Patterson stood by as then 37-year-old Angel Mario Garza suffocated Knell on Jan. 28, 2015.
“On January 5, 2015, Martin designated Patterson as the ‘pay upon death’ (POD) beneficiary for his Chase Bank accounts,” the ruling stated.
Patterson’s initial relationship with Knell, however, was a bitter one.
Knell’s wife of over 70 years, 93-year-old Thelma Mae Knell, or Penny, was admitted to the Comfort House after Patterson told Greater Valley Hospice that Knell would not let staff move his wife back into his house.
During the dispute, Patterson barred Knell from visiting his wife and even requested law enforcement intervention, alleging Knell had threatened staff and had violent tendencies and access to weapons.
This was in September 2014.
The following month, however, Patterson’s view of Knell changed drastically after she learned of his wealth from Max Grubb, a longtime friend of Knell’s, who accompanied the man to Comfort House in an attempt to visit his wife.
Initially they were refused, with Patterson telling them Knell’s son, Mark, had ordered that his father not be allowed in, a point the victim’s son refuted at trial.
“Grubb then expressed his concerns to Patterson regarding rumors of Mark’s alleged improper financial interest in Martin’s significant fortune,” the ruling stated. “Grubb testified that Patterson’s demeanor thereafter changed, and Martin was permitted to visit with Penny.”
Within a week, Patterson accompanied Knell to his bank to make a large withdrawal, a process repeated over the next few weeks.
“Martin’s balance at the beginning of October was $600,046.78,” the ruling stated. “By the end of the month, Martin’s account reflected $189,589.97.”
However, her scheme began to unravel about a month after the murder when Mascorro went to the Texas Rangers and reported the murder.
“According to Mascorro, Patterson said, ‘I had to put him to sleep because he was accusing you of stealing,’” the ruling stated. “Patterson ordered Mascorro to clean the doorknobs and wait thirty to forty-five minutes before calling the police. Patterson forbade Mascorro from mentioning her presence at the residence.”
Mascorro was never charged with a crime and told the Rangers she was fearful of Patterson because of the woman’s political connections.
Eventually, phone records would place both Patterson and Garza at Knell’s home at the time of the murder and investigators uncovered Patterson’s attempted theft from Knell and her theft from the nonprofit she was supposed to manage.
Testimony from Garza and Mascorro also helped seal her fate.
Patterson is incarcerated at the Christina Melton Crain Unit, a prison for women near Gatesville, which is north of Austin.
As for Garza, now 42, the man who suffocated Knell, he entered a guilty plea to murder after reaching a deal with prosecutors and received a 45-year sentence.
He’s eligible for parole in 2038.