true crime

Estella Ybarra helped put an innocent man in jail for life. 27 years later, she tried to get him out.

75-year-old Estella Ybarra was cleaning out her drawers one afternoon in 2017 when she stumbled across an old envelope. 

When she opened it, she was taken back to a moment in time, 27 years earlier. A moment when in time, when she sat on the jury that found Carlos Jaile guilty of kidnapping and raping an eight-year-old girl. 

She looked at the envelope's contents - a juror's certificate. An award for her hard work, still in pristine condition. 

"By accepting this difficult and vital responsibility of citizenship in a fair and conscientious manner, you have aided in perpetuating the right of trial by jury, that palladium of civil liberty and the only safe guarantee for the life, liberty and property of the citizen," the award stated. 

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She recalled receiving it, and tossing it in the drawer in disgust where it remained, untouched, until this day. 

Ybarra had never believed Jaile was guilty, yet she was one of 11 jurors who sent him to prison for life plus 20 years, just a few days before she received that letter in the mail. 


For three days, Ybarra had sat in an El Paso courtroom, holding Jaile's fate in her hands. From the beginning, the evidence didn't sit right with Ybarra. The case was entirely hinged on the little girl's identification of Jaile, yet her description of her attacker didn't match what Ybarra had seen of Jaile, including the clothes he wore on the day.

He had a solid alibi with three witnesses to verify it. 

Although Ybarra was certain he wasn't guilty, she had never served on a jury before and she'd only recently felt comfortable speaking English. 

At 48 years old and standing just four foot nine, she was intimidated by the entire court and judicial process.  

During deliberations, it became clear only a few believed Jaile was innocent. The white men on the jury believed he was guilty and pushed hard for the verdict. They referred to the victim's identification of the accused - she'd stood and pointed directly at him during the trial. 

Eventually, the remaining jurors - mostly Hispanic women - gave in and found Jaile guilty. Ybarra hung her head as the verdict was announced, and Jaile was sentenced to life in prison. 

Although her life went on, Ybarra couldn't quite forget the man she helped send to prison. Every year, around Christmas, she'd think about him - about what his life might be like had he been set free, about how he spends Christmas now. And why she hadn't stood her ground.  


Why was Carlos Jaile charged?

In 1989, just after his lunch break, a police car pulled up at his business - Jaile Enterprises. They were looking for Carlos Jaile, they said, attracting the attention of a couple of his employees. The married businessman replied: "That's me. How can I help you?"


The police had a warrant for his arrest, they said. He was surprised, protesting his innocence. But he was handcuffed and taken away. 

Two years earlier, an eight-year-old girl named Maria was approached by a man, who claimed he was her mum's mechanic. He looked like a mechanic and spoke to her in Spanish, so she accepted his offer for a ride. She was then driven to the desert where the man raped her. 

She described the man and a composite drawing was created. A few hairs were found on her body, and the trial went cold.  

Two years later, Jaile appeared in a lineup for a separate crime, catching the attention of investigating police. He looked just like the composite drawing Maria had helped create. 

He was asked to appear in a lineup for Maria, now ten years old, who pointed to Jaile, claiming she recognised him immediately. 

The case. 

When Ybarra arrived for jury duty, she was nervous. Eight were women, mostly Hispanic. Three were men. 

There was no physical evidence, and Jaile had a strong alibi based on the testimony of three witnesses. He was wearing different clothes to what the rapist wore on the day of the attack too. 

To have raped Maria, Jailes would have had to change clothes, switch cars, find his victim, kidnap her, drive into the desert, assault her, return her, switch cars again, change back into his suit, return to his office, then attend an appointment around 4pm. 


But the eyewitness was too powerful. Maria herself took the stand, pointing to Jaile as her attacker. 

Although she was intimated by the other jurors, Ybarra expressed her doubts as best she could. The discussion became heated, and she was the last of the jurors to maintain her position of not guilty. In the end, she gave in. 

Jaile received life in prison plus 20 years, and was taken away in handcuffs. 

That night Estella lay awake rehashing conversations from the jury room, full of regret. 

Finally taking a stand. 

Ybarra was 75 when she rediscovered the juror's award. 

"This is what I got for putting an innocent person in jail for life," she said to her husband. 

She'd always felt regret, but something stronger was stirred in her this time. This time, she decided to take a stand.  

She called the El Paso Police Department and explained the situation, that she didn't believe Jaile was guilty. The woman on the other end of the phone hung up. She called again and spoke to someone else. This time she was advised to call the district attorney, which she did. 

Her determination paid off. Jaile's case was looked into and it became clear several rules had been ignored. But the biggest revelation was a series of letters between the FBI lab and the El Paso Police Department, addressed to the lead detective who had taken the statement from Maria, the young rape victim. 


The letter revealed that Jaile's DNA didn't match the semen on the victim. These results could have made him the first Texan to be cleared by DNA.

The investigation also revealed both the district attorney and Jaile's defence attorney knew about the testing too. In January 1990 the assistant district attorney filed a motion asking to delay the trial because of the testing being done. 

It seemed everybody knew about the DNA testing, and despite the results indicating Jaile wasn't the rapist, nobody did anything about it.

In July 2018 Jaile was sitting in his cell when he found out he would be returning to court. Only this time, he might be going home. He was 60 years old. 

The judge blamed everybody involved in the case for failing Jaile, while acknowledging DNA testing was new at the time. 

"But that doesn't excuse the prosecution in failing to turn it over," the judge said.

Ultimately, the charges were dismissed. On September 12, 2019, carrying a small bag and a Bible, Jaile walked out of the prison. After 29 years, Ybarra had finally made things right. She had set him free. 

Feature Image: Getty.