Executor gets life: Mexican woman who betrayed and killed friend will spend life in prison

Sabrina Garcia is taken from the Liberty County Courthouse on Thursday to begin her life sentence in the Texas prison system for the 2016 murder of Esmerelda Pargas of Houston.

A once-trusted friendship ended in the most horrific way imaginable as one woman was sentenced to prison for the murder of her former friend in the Liberty County Courthouse on Thursday, July 13.

On the surface, the trial in the 253rd State District Courtroom of the Honorable Chap Cain was another grisly story about a heinous act committed by one human being against another. However, the murder of a beloved and devoted mother of five, Esmeralda Pargas, in August 2016, is particularly chilling as it is a tale of betrayal, claims of a kidnapping by a Mexican drug cartel, Santeria ritual cleansings, the theft of tens of thousands of dollars, and the devastating grief that the murder caused for both the family of the victim and the family of the defendant, Sabrina Garcia.

Despite the life sentence handed down by Judge Cain on Thursday, and the audible cries of relief that Pargas’ family expressed upon hearing the verdict, there are no winners in this case. Pargas’ five daughters, four of whom testified, and Pargas’ grandchildren and family members must go on with life without their beloved matriarch. With her being sentenced to Life in prison, Garcia’s four children also are now deprived of both parents. Garcia’s husband, and the father of her children, Ruben Acosta, was murdered in 2015 in an alleged robbery attempt outside the Club Escapade nightclub in Houston.

Esmeralda Pargas was shot to death on a vacant lot in the Colony Ridge area south of Plum Grove in August 2016.

There was no guilt-innocence portion of Garcia’s trial. She previously accepted a 10-year plea deal from prosecutors, which was rejected by Judge Cain. Garcia was given the option of taking her case before a jury and rescinding her guilty plea, or continuing with the guilty plea and begging for the court’s mercy in assessing the sentence, which ranged from 50 years to Life.

After hearing the testimony in the trial, Cain ordered that Garcia be sentenced to Life in prison. The sentence provides eligibility for parole in 30 years, though there is a great possibility that parole will be denied for years after she is eligible. Garcia, now 46, will be at least 76 years old by then. She also has an Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold that should see her deported to her home country of Mexico if she is ever released from prison.

Pargas’ daughters, one by one, testified about their last memories of their mother and how, upon meeting Garcia and her husband, Jose, they developed an immediate distrust of them. Jose, who has not been charged in the crime, is alleged to have been involved in the commission of the murder. According to the daughters’ testimonies, Sabrina Garcia was always asking Pargas for money.

Pargas, who worked as a restaurant manager, was saving up for a home and had accumulated around $25,000 as a down-payment. The home was intended for herself, four daughters and two grandchildren, including a special-needs granddaughter. Garcia knew about the money Pargas had saved and claims to have been paid by Pargas to perform “cleansing ceremonies” to ward off evil spirits that might cause her harm.

During the trial, Andrea Salinas-Pargas testified that the Pargas family is Roman Catholic but that Garcia had introduced Esmeralda Pargas to Santeria, a crossover religion that is a combination of Yoruba and Roman Catholicism, and involves animal sacrifice and the wearing of amulets, among other things.

“Their relationship revolved around it,” said Andrea, speaking of Santeria.

Sabrina Garcia was described by Pargas’ daughters as someone who latched onto their mom and would frequently visit their home and the restaurant where Pargas worked six days a week. While Sabrina’s presence in their home and their mother’s life was upsetting, they were more concerned about Garcia’s husband, who has reportedly been deported to Mexico.

Another of Pargas’ daughters, Esme, testified to hearing Garcia claim that she needed to borrow money from Pargas to pay the ransom for Garcia’s brother who was being held hostage by Mexican drug cartel members in Mexico. Sources close to Garcia say that Garcia’s ex-husband, Jose, was a high-ranking member of a Mexican drug cartel, but could not say if the alleged kidnapping of Garcia’s supposed brother was by a rival gang.

Grecia Salina-Pargas said she was leery of Sabrina and Jose.

“I know we are not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I told my mom that I didn’t feel it was right for Sabrina to constantly be coming over to our house. I just didn’t trust her,” Grecia said.

Her distrust started with the Santeria cleansings, which involved displaying statues of Santa Muerte, the personification of death in Mexican culture.

“It’s not something my mom believed in before meeting Sabrina. At the time, Sabrina’s husband would be with her at my mom’s house. I didn’t like his vibe,” Grecia said.

Aug. 2, 2016, was the last day that most of Pargas’ children last saw her alive. A creature of habit who was always home at night with her family, Pargas left home that day without explanation and never returned. By that evening, Pargas’ children were worried that harm had come to their mother. They called friends and family members, but nobody had heard from her. Calls to her cell phone went straight to voicemail. When she failed to turn up the next morning, her daughters filed a missing persons report with Houston Police Department. Then they waited and waited in vain for her to return.

When human remains were found on a grassy lot in the Grand San Jacinto subdivision in the Colony Ridge community south of Plum Grove, the daughters recalled reading news articles, including those on Bluebonnet News, about efforts to identify the remains. Liberty County Sheriff’s Investigator James McQueen Jr., who at the time was a patrol deputy, was the first on scene after the remains were found by a contractor clearing the land.

McQueen testified during the trial about finding human bones scattered around the property and locating shell casings and spent bullets in the ground. More shell casings were recovered the following day. For a while, the case went dormant, but McQueen was determined to solve the crime when he was made an investigator a couple of years ago, and he began pursuing leads.

“From the get-go, Sabrina Garcia was identified by Houston Police Department as a suspect. They believed she was involved in the disappearance of Ms. Pargas,” McQueen told Bluebonnet News after the trial on Thursday. “I felt we had a pretty strong case. Garcia’s phone pinged in the area where Ms. Pargas was murdered. Pargas’ phone also pinged to that area but it was never recovered.”

In February 2018, after two brutal years of waiting for answers in their mother’s disappearance and after submitting DNA samples to be matched, Pargas’ daughters finally learned that human remains found in the Plum Grove area belonged to their mother.

Maricruz Salinas, another of Pargas’ daughters, recalled her feelings about learning the news.

“From the time my mother was missing to the time that it took for the DNA results, as her daughter, as she was my best friend, you don’t want to believe it was her. We lived by faith. I prayed every day for her to come back to us. I didn’t care if she came back with a hurt leg or whatever, I just wanted her back,” Maricruz said. “It was agony seeing my sisters in pain. My little sister became suicidal. Esme has panic attacks. It has been traumatizing to see my sisters suffer ever day. There is not one day that goes by where my sister Ruby is completely happy. She was 8 when our mother was taken.”

In their testimonies, the daughters suggested that hearing the details of the crime from Sabrina Garcia might bring them some peace, some closure.

“You play this narrative in your head. What did she go through? Did she suffer? How did they kill her? How long had they been planning this? This was her friend. This wasn’t someone she met on the street. Where did they take her?” Maricruz said.

Despite their pleas, Garcia refused to testify during the trial. Instead she sent information to be shared with the Pargas family by Private Investigator LinMarie Garsee, who was assigned to the case and worked with Defense Attorney Dan Bradley.

In a private meeting with the Pargas family after the trial, Garsee told them that Sabrina admitted that she and her ex-husband drove Pargas to the property and killed her, firing two fatal shots at her. According to her account, Pargas died immediately and was not dismembered as some of her family members feared.

The details of the murder shared afterward might have answered some lingering questions for the Pargas family, but Assistant District Attorney Mark Boemio had pushed for Garcia to make these statements in the official record of the trial.

“This family really wanted to know what happened and they wanted to hear that from the mouth of the person who admitted to the murder, and they will never have that,” Boemio said. “If you are going to tell the truth, I want to hear it from you. I want to be able to watch you tell me what happened. They’re never going to have that. It was years before they even knew that the body that was found in Plum Grove was their mother. Imagine that. Your mother’s gone, not knowing.”

Boemio is satisfied with the sentence and credits Liberty County Sheriff’s Investigator James McQueen Jr. for doggedly pursuing evidence in the case.

“McQueen is the one who actually picked up and completed the investigation to the point it could be completed, but by then, a lot of time had passed,” he said.

McQueen, not willing to take credit for the case, told Bluebonnet News that the entire Criminal Investigation Division at the sheriff’s office contributed to the successful conviction of Garcia.

“When something like this happens, all the CID investigators come out and work as a team. Not one person is responsible for the success of any case,” he said, adding that they pull from each other’s strengths.

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Before creating Bluebonnet News in 2018, Vanesa Brashier was a community editor for the Houston Chronicle/Houston Community Newspapers. During part of her 12 years at the newspapers, she was assigned as the digital editor and managing editor for the Humble Observer, Kingwood Observer, East Montgomery County Observer and the Lake Houston Observer, and the editor of the Dayton News, Cleveland Advocate and Eastex Advocate. Over the years, she has earned more than two dozen writing awards, including Journalist of the Year.


  1. If you murder someone in cold blood like that!! You deserve to be punished the same way you took there life!!! If her husband was involved he deserves the same.

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