Huerta sentenced to 11 years in prison for death of former Press editor

By Gaige Davila

Ronnie Huerta, seen here in a Port Isabel Police Department mugshot, was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Monday, September 30, for the death of Elizabeth Sweeten. Huerta was convicted of manslaughter for killing Sweeten while riding his motorcycle.

After two days of deliberation, a jury sentenced Ronnie Huerta, who is now convicted in the death of former Press editor Elizabeth “Liz” Sweeten, to 11 years in prison, with no fines. 

Huerta, while riding his motorcycle between 60 to 70 miles an hour, collided with Sweeten as she was walking home from a nearby Stripes convenience store on Highway 100, as he was coming off the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway. Huerta was riding in the shoulder lane. The speed limit of Highway 100, in Port Isabel, is 30 miles per hour. 

Sweeten was killed instantly during the accident, while Huerta collided with a nearby palm tree, rendering him unconscious and with severe injuries. Huerta, who was arrested in October 2018 at his home in Mercedes, seven months after the accident, is still confined to a wheelchair. Port Isabel Police Chief Robert Lopez told the PRESS last year that the severity of Huerta’s injuries delayed his arrest. 

Huerta’s punishment trial began last Tuesday, September 24, in the 138th District Court of Cameron County, where he was facing 2 to 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine for manslaughter. Huerta pled guilty to manslaughter on May 13 of this year, after initially pleading not guilty. Huerta initially pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and intoxication manslaughter in November 2018, but there were not enough jurors in the pool to select a jury for the penalty, the PRESS previously reported on May 16, 2019, with potential jurors being excused, leaving an insufficient number to select a panel from.

Huerta’s motorcycle soon after colliding with Sweeten, then a nearby palm tree, in this March 2018 photo from the Port Isabel Police Department.

On Monday’s sentencing, Huerta sat near the back of the courtroom with his family, moving to the side of the room near his attorney, Victor Raimirez, just before the jury entered the court. 

Before the jury entered the court, they sent a note to presiding judge Arturo Nelson, asking who would be responsible for paying any fines given to Huerta. Nelson sent a note back saying the jury’s responsibility was to deliberate on the evidence presented to them in court. 

Soon after, the jury entered the court and gave their verdict. Nelson, after reading the jury’s verdict, instructed the court officer to take Huerta in custody. Huerta turned off his phone and handed it to his family, who said goodbye to him before he was taken out of the courtroom. 

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