John Moran hasn't worked in law enforcement for 20 years, but he is still helping solve crimes.
Serving as the City of Mineral Wells' Finance Director for the last seven years, Moran two months ago returned to South Texas to testify in a 29-year-old murder case. Moran's testimony was critical in the Austin County case that resulted in a March 13 conviction and life sentence of a Mexican national who spent nearly three decades hiding in Mexico.
Still fresh out of college, Moran at the time was a forensics analyst for the Texas Department of Public Safety assigned to the Texas Rangers station in Houston.
"I remembered a lot about the case," Moran said. "It was one of the first cases I worked down there."
Moran had the awareness and foresight to preserve blood evidence in hopes the suspect would one day be brought to justice. DPS officials kept the evidence in icy storage and were able to access and test it using modern and much more reliable DNA testing than was available in 1991.
The case involved the May 11, 1991, slaying of Brenda Smith in a room in the Stephen F. Austin Hotel in Sealy, located west Houston. Her throat had been slashed after she and her killer argued over a transaction. Investigators quickly identified Blas Tierrablanca, now 66 years old, as the suspect and learned he had crossed the border back into Mexico to avoid capture and prosecution.
Luckily for law enforcement, Tierrablanca changed out of and left behind clothes he was wearing at the time he killed Smith. Her blood was found on his clothing.
"It was really important to show her blood on his clothing because that established he was there," Moran said. "It was also important I was there because some of the people who worked the case were dead."
The FBI and its International Violent Crimes Unit found Tierrablanca in Mexico in 2017. With the cooperation of Mexican officials, he was extradited back to Texas in early 2018.
Knowing who their suspect was, and that he had fled the country, Moran said the decision was made not to conduct DNA testing on the biological evidence then. Forensic DNA testing was still in its relative infancy, was costly and required large amounts of samples to test, Moran said.
"I just preserved everything and hoped one day they would arrest the fellow," he said. "DPS to their credit held on to it all of these years."
Not only did he preserve the blood evidence, Moran said he also was careful to document the evidence and establish chain of custody, which is often key in criminal cases. A slip in records keeping can open the door for the defense.
Moran said he was pleased he was able to help with the prosecution's case.
"The main thing is I am glad for the family they were able to get some closure," he said.
A Mineral Wells native and Mineral Wells High School graduate, Moran graduated in 1988 from the University of Texas at Arlington with a bachelor's in chemistry and microbiology. He handled forensics materials in two cases that tied back to Mineral Wells.
Out of college Moran worked a year for the Southwest Institute of Forensics Science in Dallas. While there, he handled hair samples collected in a burglary investigation at the former K-Bob's steakhouse in Mineral Wells, where Titan Bank is currently located. He testified in that case against the suspect in Palo Pinto in a trial presided over by former State District Judge David Cleveland.
While working forensics for DPS in Houston, Moran became involved with evidence in a 1991 homicide investigation in which Brian Edward Davis killed Michael Alan Foster, a mentally disabled man, inside his Humble apartment. Davis and co-defendant Tina Louise McDonald picked up Foster at a bar and took him to his apartment, where Foster was stabbed 11 times, including seven times in his heart.
Davis was initially sentenced to death after his conviction, but that punishment was overturned and in 2011 a new punishment trial took place, resulting in Davis being sentenced to death a second time. Now 59 years old, Davis has been on Texas' death row over 27 years. He is among 212 people in Texas condemned to die.
Key to the prosecution's case was a black leather jacket taken from Foster's apartment. Moran said part of the zipper was missing from the jacket and left in the apartment. He was able to match the missing part to the jacket found in Davis' possession, along with some of the victim's hair follicles.
Davis is a longtime suspect in the 1988 Mineral Wells robbery and murder of beer barn clerk Keith Blaylock. Davis has never been prosecuted for Blaylock's killing, but evidence from the Mineral Wells investigation was presented for the first time during Davis' 2011 punishment re-trial.
Davis was already on death row when local officials confirmed him as their suspect in 2003 and prosecutors at the time opted not to try the case as long as Davis remained on death row for the Harris County murder.
"I have been involved in some pretty interesting cases," Moran said. "It was ironic I had two that tied back to Mineral Wells."
After his law enforcement career and prior to becoming Mineral Wells' finance director in 2013, Moran served as city manager for the towns of Hubbard, Lorena and Farmersville.