LUBBOCK, Texas — A Texas man awaiting trial in the death of his girlfriend’s 10-month-old daughter -- who was stuffed into a backpack for hours -- is asking a judge to release him on bond due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Trevor Marquis Rowe, 27, of Lubbock, is charged with capital murder in the death of 10-month-old Marion Jester-Montoya. The baby was placed into a backpack and left in a car trunk for more than five hours Jan. 7, 2020, while Rowe went about his workday, authorities said.
When he returned to the vehicle, the baby was dead.
KETK in Tyler reported that Rowe’s petition argues that his continued jailing cannot be justified under the circumstances.
“The government’s interest in continued incarceration cannot be justified where incarceration itself exacerbates an ongoing and devastating public health crisis and brings a heightened risk of illness and death to people inside and outside the jail,” read the petition obtained by the news station.
The defense also argues that Rowe has not yet been indicted for the crime. Texas law grants prosecutors 90 days to convene a grand jury for a felony indictment.
That deadline has passed in this case. Rowe was arrested on the murder charge Jan. 8.
According to Texas’ Code of Criminal Procedure’s chapter dealing with bail, a defendant in jail awaiting trial for a felony “must be released either on personal bond or by reducing the amount of bail required” if that 90-day deadline has passed without an indictment.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order March 29 suspending the part of the code pertaining to situations like Rowe’s.
“I hereby order that no authority should release on personal bond any person previously convicted of a crime that involves physical violence or the threat of physical violence, or any person currently arrested for such a crime that is supported by probable cause,” Abbott’s proclamation stated.
He also suspended the section of the code that requires automatic personal bond for prisoners whom the state is not yet ready to take to trial.
“Releasing dangerous criminals makes the state even less safe, that also complicates and slows our ability to respond to the disaster,” Abbott said at the time, according to KETK.
The ACLU of Texas, along with other civil rights groups and a total of 16 Harris County judges, filed a lawsuit April 8 challenging Abbott’s executive order.
“In just months, the COVID-19 pandemic has transformed our world,” the petition said. “Since social distancing is the only way to slow the spread of this deadly virus, people across Texas and the world follow the advice of public health experts by staying home and avoiding interaction with others.”
Read the entire lawsuit below.
Schools, stores, restaurants and other public places have shut down as government officials attempt to mitigate the effects of the outbreak, the lawsuit said. That includes those officials in charge of the jail and prison populations.
“Because social distancing is nearly impossible in detention and people in jails are disproportionately at risk for serious complications, the risk of outbreak is especially dangerous for detention facilities, where an outbreak would cripple the healthcare system of the broader community,” the petition stated.
The governor has an essential role in the mitigation efforts, a role described in both the state’s Disaster Act and the Texas Constitution.
Abbott’s executive order, GA-13, exceeds both of those documents, the lawsuit said.
“The Disaster Act does not permit the Governor to suspend substantive provisions of criminal law,” the document said. “The Texas Constitution grants that power of suspension only to the Texas Legislature.”
“This Court should declare GA-13 ultra vires (beyond Abbott’s powers) and unconstitutional,” the petition argued.
Judge Lora Livingston of the 261st Civil District Court granted a temporary restraining order two days later blocking the governor’s order.
“The court finds there is evidence that harm is imminent to plaintiffs, and if the court does not issue the temporary restraining order, plaintiffs will be irreparably injured by the ultra vires and unconstitutional provisions of executive order GA-13,” Livingston wrote.
A hearing is scheduled for Friday to determine if a temporary injunction should be granted until the issue goes to trial, according to Livingston’s ruling.
“We are pleased that the Court recognized the urgency of this matter and the need to press pause while it is heard in full,” the ACLU of Texas said in a statement. “Gov. Abbott has an important role to play in responding to this pandemic, but he cannot impede the ability of judges to use their discretion to release particular individuals, especially when lives are at risk.”
Rowe remained in the Lubbock County Jail Wednesday. Records indicate his bail remains set at the original amount of $2 million.
Lubbock police officials said officers were called shortly before 5 p.m. Jan. 7 to a call of a child who wasn’t breathing. Paramedics took the girl to University Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.
Police officials said in a news release that Rowe picked Jester-Montoya up from her mother at the home they shared and took her to work with him. According to the affidavit, he “crammed” the girl into a backpack and left her on the front passenger floorboard of his car, checking on her periodically through the morning.
“After his lunch break, Rowe moved the child through the backseat pass through to the trunk,” the news release said. “Several hours later, Rowe checked on the child and found that she was not breathing.”
Rowe called 911 and drove to a rural intersection, where he began CPR and waited for paramedics, authorities said.
The arrest affidavit said when Rowe checked on Jester-Montoya during the morning, he found that she had wiggled her way out of the backpack. He returned her to the bag, zipped it up and went back to work, continuing to check on her occasionally.
After he ate, he placed the backpack in the trunk with the girl still zipped inside. He left her there for more than five hours.
When he finished work at 5 p.m. and returned to the car, Jester-Montoya was no longer breathing, investigators said.
Rowe, who is not the girl’s father, was arrested in her death after he admitted stuffing her into the backpack and leaving her in the car all day, the news station reported.
They said they believe if Montoya had been granted custody, Jester-Montoya would still be alive.
Montoya said the Texas Department of Child Protective Services had been called three times over concerns about the situation in the home Rowe shared with Jester-Montoya, his own children and Jester-Montoya’s mother. Montoya made two of the calls himself, the news station reported.
The first call to CPS was placed after Montoya took his daughter to the emergency room because she would not stop crying, he told Fox34. Tests came back positive for methamphetamine.
A second call was placed by another person concerned over the conditions at the home.
“Trevor Rowe’s house is filthy, messy, there’s poop everywhere, his kids (are) filthy and literally roll in dog poop at his house,” Montoya told Fox34.
Montoya made the third call to CPS after Jester-Montoya developed a bleeding rash down her leg.
The grieving father said he saw the dangerous path his daughter was being forced upon.
“This is getting progressively worse and I’m going to get a call one day and that something bad is going to happen and I don’t want that call,” Montoya told the news station. “Something needs to be done now.”
That call came the evening of Jan. 7, the Montoya family said.
CBS7 reported that court records show Jester-Montoya’s death is not the first time Rowe has been accused of mistreating children. He was arrested in 2018 and charged with endangering the welfare of a child after police said he left his two children unattended at his home.
Rowe told police he used a bicycle to go for food while the children were asleep. He said he was gone for about 30 minutes.
Court records indicate officers called CPS, but no caseworkers were located to respond to the home, CBS7 reported.
The news station said the charges against Rowe were later dropped.