When Sandra Melgar was convicted last month of murdering her husband in 2012 and then staging the scene to look like a home invasion, perhaps no one else was more dismayed than the couple’s daughter.
“A gasp went through the courtroom,” Elizabeth Rose, 32, tells PEOPLE of the Aug. 23 guilty verdict. “It was a complete shock.”
Melgar, 57, was sentenced to 27 years in prison following her first-degree murder conviction — despite her insistence that she and husband Jaime Melgar, 52, were the victims of someone else’s crime.
Not so, prosecutors successfully argued, pointing to Jaime’s $250,000 life insurance policy and the couple’s religious beliefs as Jehovah’s Witness, which made a divorce difficult, as likely motive for murder.
“She [Sandra] told a story that didn’t make sense,” Harris County, Texas, prosecutor Colleen Barnett tells PEOPLE of the home-invasion claim. “It didn’t add up and the jury didn’t believe it.”
Sandra’s defense team did not return a request for comment. But her daughter is standing by her and is vowing to appeal.
“I am pretty outraged and pretty upset,” Rose says. “This has been a huge miscarriage of justice. I never thought it would get this far, I didn’t think she would ever be convicted. I thought she had a fantastic shot of having this dismissed and here we are.”
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‘A Perfect Timetable’?
Family members arriving for a wedding anniversary party on Dec. 23, 2012, in the Melgars’ Houston home found Sandra tied up in the couple’s bathroom closet and Jaime dead in a closet in the bedroom.
Sandra told police that they were victims of a home invasion and that she may have suffered a seizure during the attack and could remember nothing. But police didn’t buy her story, instead suspecting that Sandra fatally stabbed her husband with a kitchen knife and then tied herself up to make it look like a break-in.
Barnett, the prosecutor, says the murder wasn’t something Sandra “just dreamed up.”
“It was a perfect timetable of being able to tie herself up in the closet because someone would come over and rescue her,” she says.
At trial prosecutors cited inconsistencies in Sandra’s version of events and introduced evidence suggesting Jaime was already dead when he was tied up. They also pointed to a cloudy fingernail on Sandra’s right hand indicating that she had used cleaning solution to wipe up evidence at the crime scene.
“I think this was a plan in action for a while,” Barnett says. “I think all of those details had been worked out before that day.”
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As a motive, Barnett points to Jaime’s hefty life insurance policy and Sandra’s faith: as a a Jehovah’s Witness, Barnett says, a marriage breakup would have led to her being shunned.
“The witnesses testified that they view Jaime as being asleep now [that he is dead],” Barnett explains. “Jehovah’s Witnesses are not allowed to divorce unless the spouse has committed adultery, which Jaime had not done, so I think that was part of the motive — that if she killed him and wasn’t found out, she could still socialize with her Jehovah’s Witness friends and it is all okay, because he is just asleep.”
‘They Were Best Friends’
Rose doesn’t buy the prosecution’s arguments and says Sandra was incapable of killing Jaime, her high-school sweetheart and husband of 32 years.
She says her parents were happy together and lived a low-key life in Houston, where her father worked as a computer programmer and her mother owned a medical billing and coding business.
“They were best friends,” she says. “They weren’t just husband and wife. They just belonged together.”
While her parents had sporadic disagreements, Rose says, their relationship was never violent. “It was never yelling or screaming or being abusive,” she says. “They never called each other names. I never even heard them say ‘shut up’ to each other.”
Rose believes detectives had tunnel-vision from the start and failed to look at other potential suspects.
Sandra’s defense echoed this concern in their own presentation at her trial. She “got sucked into this by a couple of cowboys [in the sheriff’s office] who came up with some theories and game over,” defense attorney Mac Secrest said in his closing argument, according to the Houston Chronicle.
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The defense also pointed out that the lead investigator in the killing was later forced to resign after backdating a search warrant in an unrelated murder case, the Chronicle reports.
“Where are the real killers? Are we going to see them in the courtroom anytime soon?” Secrest said. “I wouldn’t bet on it.”
Rose says she doesn’t plan on giving up and will do everything she can, including hiring a private investigator, to prove that the jury got it wrong.
“We are going to appeal and hope that eventually we do get justice,” she says. “There is someone out there. There is a murderer still walking freely while an innocent woman sits in jail.”