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Dallas couple wrongfully arrested on murder charge spent Christmas in jail

Dallas police searched their home and seized their truck and phones.

DALLAS — It was just before 6 a.m. on Dec. 19 when Rubi Esparza heard a noise at the door.

“I'm thinking somebody's trying to break in,” she said. “I woke up my husband.”

But it was not a burglar. It was the police. They had warrants for her and her husband’s arrest.

“They had rifles pointed at me,” she said.

The warrants accused Esparza, 33, and her husband, Basilio Tovar, 50, of killing an acquaintance – a killing police now concede the couple did not do.

“I think it was a hunch that the detective had,” said their attorney, Chris Mulder. “He thought maybe he could get Ruby to implicate her husband.”

Credit: WFAA
Attorney Chris Mulder represented the couple.

In a statement, Dallas police said, “detectives…had probable cause the suspects were involved in the murder.”

“Upon further investigation, it was determined they did not commit the crime,” the statement said. “We can confirm the paperwork has been filed for the charges to be dropped.”

The statement said police now have a “person of interest.”

Police had believed Esparza and Tovar killed 29-year-old Xavier Ramon Hernandez-Hankins.

He’d been dating Tovar’s sister.

On the night of Nov. 5, they all met up at the Player’s Bar on West Illinois Avenue in Oak Cliff.  Esparza says they didn’t know Hernandez-Hankins well. It was the second time they’d met him.

According to the warrant, Basilio’s sister later told a detective that Hernandez-Hankins got upset and left on foot. The warrant does not indicate why he’d gotten upset.

A shooting call came in at about 1 a.m. not far from the bar. Someone had shot and killed Hernandez-Hankins.

The couple says they’d didn’t find out until later that he’d been killed.

Basilio’s cousin, who was with them at the bar that night, works in Mulder's law office. She told Mulder about the shooting. He says he told her to just wait for police to contact them for a statement.

Neither the cousin nor the couple were contacted for their statements prior to the couple’s arrest.

The couple drives a black Silverado with a bed cover similar to the suspect's vehicle. But Mulder says the rims on their truck are different than that of the suspected shooter’s.

The warrant says video surveillance showed a newer model black Silverado with chrome lining, chrome wheels and a bed cover pulling up next to him and then suddenly driving off.

“When I saw the probable cause affidavit, the warrant of arrest, then that really upset me,” Mulder said. “It basically says, ‘Y'all have a black pickup truck, and a black pickup truck was seen near the offense, time and date. That's it.’”

The couple says when police got them down to the homicide unit, they tried to turn them against each other.

“He said, “Well your wife already told me. You might as well go ahead and tell me why you did it,” Tovar said. “(I said,) I know my wife didn't tell you nothing because there's nothing to tell.”

Esparza says when she told the detective what she recalled from that night, “he came back and said, ‘You’re lying.’”

She says the detective implored her to think about her kids.

“Once I got the hang that he was trying to put something on me and my husband, I said, “No. If I’m a suspect. I need an attorney,’” Esparza said. “So he got upset and he gave me his card and said, ‘Call me if your story changes.’”

Police booked Tovar and Esparza into the Dallas county jail.

“I was crying. I kept thinking about my kids, my husband, and I'm like murder like, this is crazy,” Esparza said.

After the couple’s arrest, Mulder says they began getting tips and information about the identity of the potential suspect. Once he’d gathered up the information, he drove to police headquarters on Dec. 22.

The detective was on vacation, he was told.

Esparza and Tovar spent Christmas in jail.

“When they finally looked at it, it was convincing enough where they cut these folks loose within a day,” Mulder said.

In the meantime, Esparza lost her accounting job. Police seized their truck, which remains in the Dallas police auto pound awaiting its release. They also seized their phones, which they have yet to get back.

Detectives searched their house, too.

“According to my mom, they turned it upside down. They went into our room and just took out everything,” Esparza said.

Esparza’s parents live in a home behind theirs.

“They're screaming back there to open the door and my parents just got shook up,” Esparza said. “When my mom got up, they didn't even let her go back to the room to get the baby."

“It was just something that I watch on TV,” Esparza said. “It's not something that I would expect to happen to us.”

Esparza got out Thursday and spent 10 days in jail. The jail released Tovar Friday.

Esparza is thankful her sons – 8 and 10 – weren’t home when police arrested them.

Mulder says the couple would probably still be in jail if they didn’t have a relative working at a law firm.

Tovar told WFAA the detective called him over the weekend.

“He just called me let me know that he was sorry for making a mistake,” Tovar said.

Credit: WFAA
Rubi Esparza and her husband spent Christmas in jail.

Police also told WFAA they are reviewing how they came to arrest two innocent people.

“Nobody should go through this,” Esparza said. “Police should really do a better job.”

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