Selena, the one-named Tejano star, was sometimes called the Mexican-American Madonna, after that other one-named pop superstar. After winning the Tejano Music Award for best female vocalist as a teenager, Selena went on to earn the title nine more times — including two posthumous wins following her murder at age 23.
Her death, 20 years ago today, on March 31, 1995, rocked the Latin music community and devastated millions of fans. The Grammy-winning performer was a fashion icon and a role model for many young women. As TIME described her shortly after her death, “[s]he was the embodiment of young, smart, hip, Mexican-American youth, wearing midriff-baring bustiers and boasting of a tight-knit family and a down-to-earth personality — a Madonna without the controversy.”
When she died, she had just recorded her first album in English and, per CBS News, “was poised to become a crossover success when her death turned her into a legend.”
Her death was even more shocking because it came at the hands of a woman once considered one of Selena’s biggest fans: Yolanda Saldivar, who had founded Selena’s fan club in San Antonio.
Saldivar had also been hired to manage Selena’s clothing boutique, Selena Etc., but was fired a few weeks before the shooting when Selena’s family discovered that she had been embezzling money, Selena’s father told the New York Times in 1995. Selena demanded that Saldivar return some of the boutique’s financial documents, and they agreed to meet at a Days Inn motel in Selena’s hometown of Corpus Christi. But Saldivar refused to turn over the documents, shot the singer and then fended off police during a nine-hour standoff while she sat in a pickup truck in the motel parking lot, holding a gun to her own head.
While Selena has retained her fan base and even attracted a new generation of fans following her death, Saldivar remains in prison, where she is serving a life sentence for the murder. (She will be eligible for parole in 2025.) She has filed a string of unsuccessful appeals, arguing, among other things, that prosecutors coerced her confession and that she received ineffective legal counsel.
She may be better off in prison, however, given the fury of Selena devotees. In 2012, Saldivar’s brother told TMZ that she was still being held in solitary confinement for her own safety. Selena’s father recently told a Corpus Christi TV news reporter that he thought an early release would be a harsher punishment than life in prison.
“Not very many people like her,” he said.
Read TIME’s original coverage of Selena’s death, here in the TIME Vault: Death of a Rising Star
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