Episode 046: Jenna Hernandez

June 27, 2022

When the body of a young woman is found in the bay, Texas authorities must find out who she is and what happened to her. What they uncover is a complicated web of violence and hatred.

Episode Media
Jenna Hernandez
Lawrence Mireles (KIIITV)
Joshua Davis and Johnny Lee Davis (KRIS 6 News)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you the tragic story of a teenage girl who was caught in a web of violence and hatred. Unfortunately, there is very little information available about the victim, but I believe her story deserves to be told. This episode discusses sensitive topics, so listener discretion is advised.

The story takes place in the small town of Aransas Pass, Texas. Just across the bay from Corpus Christi, Aransas Pass is a diverse community with many wonderful qualities, but it also has an incredibly high rate of violent crime. The larger Corpus Christi area is no stranger to gang activity, with many organizations tied to drug cartels and white supremacy groups.

So when the body of a young woman was discovered on the banks of Redfish Bay on June 28, 2012, investigators were determined to find out who she was and what had happened to her.

Officers on the scene noted that the woman appeared to be very young and of Hispanic descent. All of her clothing was intact, and it didn’t appear that there had been a struggle. From what they could tell, she had been in the water for a few days. An autopsy would later reveal that she had been killed by a single gunshot to the head.

The young woman was identified as 16-year-old Jenna Hernandez. She had been reported missing three days earlier by her mother when she didn’t return from a sleepover at a friend’s house.

According to Jenna’s mother, Jennifer Lanier, her daughter had spent the night at a friend’s house on Monday, June 25th. The friend said that Jenna had left around midnight after she got a text message from an ex-boyfriend. Jenna had said she was going to hang out with him. She left the house and didn’t return.

Investigators began looking into Jenna’s ex-boyfriend, 18-year-old Lawrence Mireles. But Lawrence proved difficult to track down. On more than one occasion, officers from the Aransas Pass Police Department had showed up at Lawrence’s house only to discover that Lawrence had run out the back door. When they were finally able to question him, Lawrence said that he hadn’t talked to Jenna in weeks, but eventually he admitted that he had texted her a few times.

Lawrence claimed that he was at a graduation party in nearby Rockport the night Jenna disappeared. According to Lawrence, Jenna had texted him and asked for a ride, but Lawrence decided against it – he had had too much to drink and didn’t want to make the 15-minute drive back to Aransas Pass.

When detectives asked Lawrence to show them the text messages, Lawrence said that his phone automatically deleted messages after two hours.

Unfortunately for Lawrence, his story didn’t seem to sway the detectives. He was arrested for the murder of Jenna Hernandez.

Lawrence’s attorney, Steve Fischer, spoke to local news outlets and claimed his client was being railroaded. “I think they have the wrong person, because I interviewed him and then I went and interviewed the witnesses…There’s people who were with him the whole night, and they’re not relatives. I talked to them. They don’t seem like they’re lying…. People are rushing to judgment… Wait, the truth will come out.”

While Lawrence Mireles sat in jail awaiting trial, investigators continued to dig. And what they uncovered was a web of conspiracy that stretched much farther than they had anticipated.

In the months before her death, Jenna had been dating 18-year-old Joshua Davis. Joshua was violent and abusive. In the spring of 2012, he and Jenna had gotten into a fight in which Joshua hit Jenna and began choking her. In self-defense, Jenna stabbed Joshua with a knife. Joshua was arrested for assault.

Several months later, Joshua was facing a hearing in which the state wanted to revoke his parole. Jenna was going to testify at the hearing, which was scheduled for June 28, 2012 – the same day her body was found.

Now investigators had a new trail to follow. Joshua Davis was the one with the motive to get rid of Jenna, so why had Lawrence Mireles pulled the trigger? Joshua and Lawrence were best friends, but would they really kill for each other?

Soon, detectives would have another lead. A man named Jason Phillips contacted the Aransas Pass Police Department and said that he had information about the case. In an interview with Detective Kyle Rhodes, Phillips said that he had been approached multiple times by Johnny Lee Davis – Joshua’s father – and asked to help “take care” of Jenna Hernandez. According to Phillips, Johnny was angry about his son’s assault charge and wanted to get revenge on Jenna. He had offered Phillips $10,000 to kill Jenna.

This information prompted detectives to look more deeply into the Davis family. According to court records, Johnny Lee Davis was a member of the Dirty White Boys gang, a local white supremacist group. Jason Phillips – the man who provided information to the police – was a leader of the Aryan Circle, another white supremacist group. He was also Joshua Davis’ godfather.

Detective Rhodes began to put together a timeline. After Phillips refused Johnny Davis’ offer to kill Jenna, Johnny continued to seek his revenge. In the week before Jenna’s death, Johnny called Joshua in jail multiple times, and in two of those calls, he made references to his plans. On June 20th, Johnny told Joshua to “have Little Lawrence take care of that bullshit.” On June 27th, the day before Jenna’s body was found, Johnny told Joshua, “One way or another, you’re getting out of there tomorrow.”

Presumably, Joshua got in contact with Lawrence Mireles and convinced him to kill Jenna. In the early morning hours of June 26th, Lawrence texted Jenna and lured her out of her friend’s house. He then drove her to the bay and shot her in the head, leaving her body on the shore. Lawrence then deleted the incriminating text messages, which were later recovered by computer forensic specialists. The last text between Lawrence and Jenna was sent at 12:18am.

After Lawrence was arrested, Johnny and Joshua focused on helping him get away with murder. Joshua and his friend John Johnson allegedly threatened witnesses with physical harm if they testified against Lawrence. Joshua and John were both members of a white supremacist group, so their threats had weight behind them. One witness fled the state after testifying before the grand jury, terrified of retaliation. Joshua and John were both arrested in October of 2013 and charged with obstruction.

In November of 2013, Lawrence Mireles went to trial for the murder of Jenna Hernandez, but it ended in a hung jury – they were deadlocked 6-6. The judge declared a mistrial.

A year later, his second trial began. The state had a strong case against Lawrence, bringing out cell phone records and DNA evidence. One expert testified that DNA consistent with Lawrence Mireles was found under Jenna’s fingernails. Another testified that Lawrence and Jenna had exchanged over 70 text messages. The only ones Lawrence had deleted were the ones in the time period right before her death.

Several witnesses also testified. Lawrence’s girlfriend, Keilani Lasher, told the jury that Lawrence had broken down in front of her and confessed that he helped kill Jenna. His friend Brian Downham testified that Lawrence had confessed to him as well. He also said that he believed Johnny and Joshua Davis had used Lawrence to lure Jenna out of the house.

John Johnson testified that Johnny had offered Lawrence $2,600 to kill Jenna. Multiple witnesses commented on the fact that it was common knowledge in their friend circle that the Davises had put a hit out on Jenna. And several of them said they were afraid to testify because they feared retaliation from the white supremacist gangs.

Throughout the trial, Jenna’s family watched and waited, hoping for justice. Her mother told reporters, “At 16, she doesn’t have a voice. She can’t speak up. So I’m here to speak up for her, and that’s all I want, is justice.”

On October 2, 2014, Lawrence Mireles was found guilty of the murder of Jenna Hernandez. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

But this was just the beginning of justice.

Five months later, Johnny Lee Davis and Joshua Davis were arrested and charged with solicitation to commit murder. It would be another two years before Johnny would stand trial.

Much of the information presented at Lawrence’s trial was brought up again this time around. Detective Rhodes testified to the timeline of Jenna’s murder, laying out how Johnny orchestrated the entire plot. Sergeant Paul Lisowski from the Corpus Christi Gang Unit provided information about how the white supremacist gangs operated in Texas. According to his statement, Johnny Davis would have approached Jason Phillips about killing Jenna because Phillips was a higher-ranking gang member and would have been the one to approve such a request.

Phillips testified that the first few times Johnny asked, he thought he was joking. But when he kept asking, saying things like, “the girl can’t go to court”, Phillips realized that Johnny meant what he was saying. Phillips’s girlfriend Kim Longbine confirmed his testimony, saying that she had been present when Johnny offered $10,000 to get the job done. She also told the jury that Johnny Davis “would do anything to keep his kids out of prison.”

Sergeant Lisowski also explained that Jenna stabbing Joshua would have very likely led to retaliation from gang members. Both Joshua and Johnny were members of violent white supremacist groups; Jenna’s act of self-defense would have been seen as an attack on the entire gang.

On February 9, 2017, Johnny Lee Davis was found guilty of solicitation of murder and sentenced to 18 years in prison.

After the verdict was read, prosecutors found a note left behind in the jury room: written in red marker were the words “Rest in peace, Jenna”.

In the years since, Lawrence Mireles and Johnny Lee Davis have appealed their convictions multiple times. All appeals have been denied. Unfortunately, it’s unclear what happened in the case of Joshua Davis. There is no court information past his arrest in 2015, at least none that I could find. It’s possible that prosecutors did not have enough evidence to convince a grand jury to move forward.

Although little is known about the life of Jenna Hernandez, that doesn’t make her story any less important. She was a teenage girl trying to make the right choices. She was ready to stand up to her abuser, to use her voice for justice. She deserved better than what she got. She deserves for her voice to be heard.

If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or text START to 88788. Calls are free and confidential.