(Seguin) --- After four hours of deliberation, a Guadalupe County jury has found a man guilty for murdering his girlfriend. After six days of testimony, 32-year old Michael Lewis Arce was not only found guilty for the capital murder of 30-year-old Vivian Cases but was also sentenced to life in prison.
Jennifer Smith, 1st assistant county attorney, says this unfortunate crime of passion warranted the automatic sentence.
"When a person who is 18 years of age or older is found guilty of a capital offense and the state decides not to seek the death penalty which is the situation we had here -- the sentence is automatic and it's life without parole. So shortly after the verdict was rendered (Monday) night by the jury, the judge sentenced the defendant to life without parole pursuant to the statute. As you know, we don't have to prove motive at trial. The closest we can come to making an assessment of how this came about was an argument between a boyfriend and a girlfriend that went seriously out of control," said Smith.
A few months after the 2015 crime, a competency hearing for Arce was conducted. The hearing was held in the courtroom of 25th Judicial District Judge William D. Old III -- the same state district judge who handed down the life sentence at around 9 p.m. Monday at the Guadalupe County Justice Center.
Arce originally was declared unfit to stand trial and spent months in a maximum mental health security unit.
Smith says because of the multitude of components involved, this case has taken nearly three years to finally come to trial.
"Murder investigations are complicated, complex. They require a lot of work. There's usually a lot of evidence that gets tested at the DPS (Department of Public Safety) crime lab and that takes a certain amount of time to get those results back. Further in this particular case, the defendant was struggling with some mental health issues. He was evaluated and was determined at one point, not to be competent to stand trial. That's not to say he was sane at the time of the offense. It's a totally different evaluation. The same doctor that said he wasn't competent to stand trial was the same doctor that found that he was sane at the time of the offense -- that he knew the difference between right or wrong. But you have to be competent to stand trial. That is you have to be able to assist your attorney in your defense and for a period of time, he was not able to do that. He subsequently was reevaluated and determined to be competent and so we proceeded with a trial date. The combination of all those factors is probably the sum total of the reasons why this case took almost three years to get to trial," said Smith.
According to the Seguin Police Department, Arce is believed to have killed Cases by hitting her in the head with a rock or other unknown object "while attempting to sexually assault her."
After days of being reported missing, the woman's body was found in a shallow grave on property near the railroad tracks located near Sunset Street. The woman's family reported her missing after noting a physical disturbance by the couple a few days earlier at a home located in the 700 block of Braden Street.
Achieving justice for the victim, however, took a team effort. Smith says prosecutors thank all those who had a hand in this week's outcome.
"The Seguin Police Department was the first law enforcement agency involved. The head detective on the case was Lance Wright. He was instrumental in bringing other agencies and resources to the investigation as it developed. For instance, they enlisted the services of the Texas Rangers, the Texas Attorney General's Office, the Alamo Area Search and Rescue Team and their K-9's and then once a possible burial site was found, the Seguin Police Department made sure to call in Texas State University's Forensic Scientists to come and excavate the burial site," said Smith.
Smith says she hopes the verdict also sends out a message that domestic violence crimes will not go unpunished in Guadalupe County.
"Our office takes family violence very seriously. We have a family justice unit and we have specially trained prosecutors who focus on family violence cases. They appear to be the most often type of repeat offender crimes. They are also the most dangerous for our law enforcement to show up at. They're also the ones that can easily end in murder. So our county attorney's office is very committed to prosecuting people who commit family violence especially repeat offenders and certainly in those situations where a victim is killed. I am hopeful that this verdict sends a message to the community about how seriously we take these types of offenses and encourage people that if they find themselves in a similar situation to reach out and get help," said Smith.
According to original reports, some members of Arce's family stated that the couple had only known each other for a couple of months prior to the crime. Public arrest records also showed that Arce had a lengthy criminal record which included charges of parole violations, evading arrest, arson and possession of drug paraphernalia.