Feb 21, 2022

Flores prosecutor talks evidence, witnesses and waiting for a verdict

ADA Calvin Dollarhide
Fontaine murder trial: Jury Deliberations Day 1

Late Friday afternoon, closing arguments wrapped up in the Benito Flores contentious trial, and court adjourned for the weekend.

As he left the courthouse, prosecutor Calvin Dollarhide spoke briefly to reporters.

Crime Beat: On Friday, you sounded very confident that the jury will find Benito Flores guilty. Still, this must be a very tense time, waiting for the verdict.

Calvin Dollarhide: There's always some tension just because of the waiting, but at this stage, it's a little more like impatience to hear the verdict. On those rare occasions where deliberations drag out for days, it can become stressful, but we're not expecting that to happen this time.

CB: You think the jury will come back quickly?

CD: I hope so. This entire process from the night Philip Fontaine was murdered all the way through to today has been very painful and upsetting for the Fontaine family, so for their sake, I hope justice is done swiftly.

CB: And of course, you're expecting a guilty verdict.

CD: I am. The evidence against Benito Flores is strong, and I think the jury will see through the defense's smoke and mirrors.

CB: You're not at all concerned that the defense may have convinced any of the jury members that Grant Fontaine killed his father?

CD: No. The defense painted a very melodramatic picture, but this isn't a soap opera. The jurors will see that tale for what it is: a desperate attempt to escape punishment by throwing blame on someone else.

CB: You mentioned the Fontaine family a moment ago. How did they respond to the defense's accusations against Grant Fontaine?

CD: I won't presume to speak for the Fontaines. My guess is what the defense did only made this situation more painful for them, but you'd have to ask them.

CB: How involved were Ashley and Grant Fontaine in your prosecution?

CD: We work closely with all victims' families, and we did the same with the Fontaines.

CB: In what ways did you work closely with the Fontaines specifically?

CD: I'm not going to get into specifics, but generally, we've kept them informed of developments in the case. They contacted us regularly for updates. They provided additional information about Philip Fontaine when we requested it. We worked together to see Mr. Fontaine's killer brought to justice.

CB: The Fontaines are a very prominent family in town. Did that influence the strategy or direction of your prosecution?

CD: Absolutely not. The social standing of a victim or a victim's family has no bearing on how a case is prosecuted.

CB: Because Mr. Flores and his attorney have argued that he is being prosecuted because he's a poor Latino and the person they claim is the real killer is a wealthy white male.

CD: Just because they said it doesn't mean it's true. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Race is not a factor. Income level is not a factor. Social standing is not a factor. We go where the evidence leads us, and in this case, the evidence led us to Mr. Flores and no one else.

CB: One significant piece of evidence was the $15,000 cash that Philip Fontaine had the day he was killed. You allege that Benito Flores stole that money, but the money itself has never been found. What do you expect the jurors to make of that?

CD: First, I would say that the money hasn't been found – yet. After Mr. Flores is convicted, he may feel motivated to tell us where he hid it.

CB: You're assuming he'll be convicted.

CD: Yes, I am.

CB: But since you didn't find the money in his possession, why should anyone believe that he ever had it at all?

CD: Because people saw him with it on the night of the murder.

CB: But Mr. Flores admitted to selling drugs, and that's a cash-only business. Why assume the cash he had that night came from Philip Fontaine rather than Flores' own criminal activity?

CD: He would have to be the most successful drug dealer that Yoknapatawpha County has ever seen to have that much cash in his pockets from one night's sales. We're talking about a street-level dealer, not some kingpin. Multiple witnesses testified that they'd never seen him with that much cash before, and these are people who saw him on a regular basis. No, he stole that money from Philip Fontaine after he killed him.

CB: You don't have even a sliver of a doubt that Benito Flores is the killer?

CD: Absolutely not. I don't prosecute people I think are innocent. Mr. Flores killed Philip Fontaine, and he is being held to account for that.

CB: You said earlier that you're hoping for a quick verdict. How soon do you expect the jury to come back?

CD: I've been doing this too long to think I can say for certain what a jury will do or how soon they'll do it.

CB: Fair enough. Then at what point will you start to worry that the jury isn't leaning your way? After two days? Three? More?

CD: That's something no one can predict. We'll just have to see what happens.

CB: If the deliberations do go on for several days or more, would you consider offering Benito Flores a plea deal?

CD: I have every confidence that the jury will find Mr. Flores guilty soon. If that doesn't happen on the timetable we're hoping for, well… we'll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it.

As of 4:30 PM CST, the jury is still deliberating.

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