Trudy Martinez sentencing postponed after Cibola jail stops transporting inmates

  • Judge William Johnson postponed Trudy Martinez‘s sentencing hearing
  • The private Cibola detention center is no longer transporting inmates for in-person court hearings

See the case write-up or read past stories

MILAN, N.M. — Trudy Martinez sentencing hearing, set for Nov. 30, 2020, has been postponed indefinitely because the Cibola County Correctional Center is no longer transporting inmates to courthouses for in-person hearings.

Photo of Trudy Martinez
Trudy Martinez

In an order issued Nov. 24, 2020, federal District Judge William Johnson wrote that suspension in transports is a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Court therefore vacates the 11/30/2020 Sentencing hearing pending further notice,” Johnson wrote in the docket.

Martinez, who had been held at the Santa Fe County Detention Center, previously requested her case be continued so that she could have an in-person pre-trial interview, conducted by the probation department to determine what her sentencing guideline should be. It appears she was transferred from Santa Fe on Sept. 18, 2020, according to a jail booking sheet.

Martinez pleaded guilty, March 16, 2020, to voluntary manslaughter and a firearm enhancement for shooting and killing her sister-in-law with an AR-15 in April 2019. Magistrate Judge Paul Briones accepted her plea and deferred final acceptance to the sentencing judge. Federal prosecutor Thomas Aliberti signed the plea deal and filed the criminal information charging her with voluntary manslaughter and the firearm enhancement.

Although Martinez was charged with an open count of murder for shooting her sister-in-law, Cornelia McCabe, 36, Aliberti filed the criminal information charging her with voluntary manslaughter. The case was never presented to a grand jury for an indictment.

Her sentence range is 10 to 15 years. Ten years is the minimum for the firearm enhancement and 15 is the maximum for voluntary manslaughter.

Johnson wrote in an Aug. 18, 2020 order that Martinez is not entitled to an in-person pre-trial interview and that the family of her victim may have to virtually attend the sentencing hearing depending on physical court closures.

Improperly sealed?

It is not clear if the defense or prosecution filed sentencing memorandums in the case.

Martinez’s two defense attorneys, Alonzo Padilla and Irma Rivas, appear to have improperly filed at least one motion under seal and 15 of the docket entries are missing, or 28 percent of the total docket.

The motion to delay Martinez’s sentencing because she wanted to be interviewed in person by probation officers appears to have been filed under seal, although the prosecution opposition to it was not, nor was the judge’s order referencing it.

Padilla did not return a request for comment and information on his presumably sealed motion.

Documents 38 and 39 appear to be sealed, as do documents 42 and 43 and seven documents, starting with 45 and ending with 52. Johnson’s order, continuing the sentencing because of COVID-19, is document 53 and the only public document before that was 44, resetting the sentencing hearing from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 30, 2020.

Writing in New Mexico In Depth, Jeff Proctor illuminated a pattern and practice by prosecutors and public defenders to improperly seal documents in federal criminal cases, contrary to local and federal rules on sealing procedures.

“Judges, not lawyers, are supposed to decide which documents are made available to the public and which should remain secret through an established protocol based in part on decades of case law: Attorneys must submit a written request asking a judge to seal records and a judge must consent before records are sealed,” Proctor wrote.

The killing

Investigators talked to McCabe’s daughter who told them she came home from school and saw Martinez outside the house, cleaning up the yard, before she went into the house, FBI Agent Jeffrey Wright wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

Martinez first pushed her mother inside the house before going back to her truck to retrieve an AR-15 carbine, which she then loaded in the house. McCabe is referred to as “Jane Doe” in his affidavit.

“DOE attempted to take the rifle away from Martinez,” Wright wrote. “As DOE approached MARTINEZ at the entrance to the Hogan, MARTINEZ pointed the rifle at DOE and fired the weapon two times. The first round missed DOE, but the second round struck DOE in the abdomen, after which DOE fell to the floor.”

Read past stories on this case or see the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

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Joshua Gutierrez pleads to voluntary manslaughter for To’Hajiilee shooting

  • Joshua Gutierrez  pleaded guilty ahead of a grand jury indictment
  • The plea sets his sentence at 12 years, but final acceptance is at the discretion of the sentencing judge
  • He pleaded guilty to charges of voluntary manslaughter and discharging a firearm

See past stories or the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A To’Hajiilee man pleaded guilty Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in federal court to voluntary manslaughter and discharging a firearm for fatally shooting another man in an early-morning incident on March 29, 2020, on the reservation.

Joshua Gutierrez, 21, appeared via Zoom from a Cibola County detention center before Magistrate Judge Paul Briones who accepted Gutierrez’s guilty plea to a criminal information and set sentencing before a District Court judge at an undetermined time.

According to the plea deal, it is binding and Gutierrez will be sentences to 12 years. Final acceptance of the plea was deferred until sentencing by the district court judge, according to the form minutes.

Federal agents charged Gutierrez with murder in the death of Llewyn Platero, 36, on March 30, and Gutierrez has been in detention since.

The Route 66 Casino. Photo by Ken Lund/Flickr. CC-BY-SA

Gutierrez was staying at his girlfriend’s house on March 29 in To’Hajilee when guests of his girlfriend’s father including Platero, identified as “John Doe” in charging documents, and Platero’s brother, identified as “MK” began to scuffle, Assistant U.S. Attorney Allison Jaros said. Jaros signed the plea deal.

“My girlfriend entered the room and told them to leave,” Jaros said, reading aloud the facts of the case from Gutierrez’s point of view. “Shortly thereafter I armed myself with a handgun and began walking down the hallway. John Doe exited the room. As we passed each other in the hallway, John Doe swung at me. I shot John Doe in the chest.”

Gutierrez pointed the firearm at MK and another witness, JL, telling them, “I’ll shoot you too!” according to MK, FBI agent Dibiassi Robinson’s affidavit for a criminal complaint alleged. JL allegedly told MK “he’ll do it!”

MK and JL drove Platero toward Albuquerque, dialing 911 and stopping at the Route 66 Casino, according to Robinson.

Gutierrez “fled” the house on foot, Robinson wrote, and was found at his own home 1 1/2 miles away.

Another man, JG, told Robinson that Gutierrez “confided in him that he had shot DOE,” he wrote.

“JG told GUTIERREZ to ‘lay down, the cops will be here,'” Robinson wrote.

After being read his Miranda rights, Gutierrez allegedly told investigators he shot John Doe because he attempted to “assault” him and that the gun he used was at JG’s house. A .380 caliber pistol and one spent cartridge were found at that house.

Gutierrez’s plea deal waives any claim of self-defense, Jaros said.

When Briones asked Gutierrez if he felt he had enough time to talk about the case with his public defender, Sylvia A. Baiz, Gutierrez said, “Yeah, somewhat.”

Briones asked Gutierrez several additional questions about Baiz’s representation in which Gutierrez responded positively. With the plea deal, Gutierrez waives any appeal attempts except on the grounds of his representation.

Baiz said Gutierrez reached the plea deal ahead of a grand jury indictment deadline, which she said would have brought additional charges against Gutierrez.

Jaros said Platero’s family listened into the hearing, and would speak at sentencing.

Gutierrez’s next hearing was not scheduled at the conclusion of the plea hearing.

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Wheeler Cowperthwaite contributed to this report.

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Appeals court suggests no double jeopardy in Scott Bachicha case

• A Court of Appeals judge suggested the appeal be dismissed as Scott Bachicha does not face a double jeopardy violation
• Judge Brett Loveless stayed the case pending the appeal
• The case has been going on for over three years and was initially dismissed after a prosecutor missed deadlines

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Court of Appeals filed a proposed disposition that Scott Wade Bachicha’s right against double jeopardy would not be violated if prosecutors moved forward with a firearms enhancement in the involuntary manslaughter case against him.

Scott Bachicha

In a proposed summary disposition filed on Sept. 10, 2020, Court of Appeals Judge Miles Hanisee wrote that the New Mexico Supreme Court rejected the basis of the double jeopardy claim Ramczyk used in State v Baroz, where the supreme court found that a firearms enhancement did not violate double jeopardy even though the use of a firearm is an element of the charge.

“Given the holding in Baroz, we propose that the firearm enhancement in this case does not violate double jeopardy,” Hanisee wrote. “Accordingly, we propose to reverse the district court’s order dismissing the firearm enhancement.”

District Judge Daniel Ramczyk dismissed the firearms enhancement in an order on Nov. 20, 2019, following a hearing. Prosecutors James Grayson and Mia Rubin then filed an interlocutory appeal of his decision on Jan. 29, 2020. The case has been stayed since the appeal was filed.

According to a flow chart provided by the Court of Appeals, Bachicha’s attorney has 20 days to file a memo in response. The court could then issue another notice or issue an opinion. Once an opinion is issued, his attorney could file a motion for a rehearing.

The case

Bachicha, 35, allegedly shot and killed girlfriend Mindy Stuart, 30, with a shotgun blast to the neck on April 16, 2017. In court documents, Bachicha’s attorneys argue the shooting was purely accidental but Albuquerque Police Department detectives initially charged him with an open count of murder, followed by a grand jury indictment on a charge of first-degree murder on May 2, 2017. (Read more details about the case in the write-up.)

After Second Judicial District prosecutor John Duran missed a series of deadlines, he dismissed the case without prejudice on Feb. 12, 2018 and then brought a new indictment on charges of involuntary manslaughter with a firearm enhancement and tampering with evidence, on Dec. 4, 2018. He left the case after Bachicha’s attorney tried to call him as a witness.

On April 17, 2020, District Judge Brett Loveless granted a stay in the case, requested by Rubin, pending the outcome of the appeal on the firearms enhancement.

Among the motions that are now stayed pending the appeal is a speedy trial motion Maestas filed on Jan. 10, 2020.

“In this case, the nearly three-year delay from Mr. Bachicha’s arrest on April 16, 2017 and charging to the present trial setting of March 26, 2020 (total: 1,066 days) is simply unconstitutional,” he wrote.

Also pending is a motion to suppress statements as involuntary.

No further hearings are scheduled in either the appeal or in the case proper.

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Judge rules Trudy Martinez has no right to in-person pre-sentence interview

  • Judge William Johnson wrote Trudy Martinez has no right to an in-person interview with the probation officers preparing her pre-sentence report
  • Martinez pleaded guilty in March 2020 to voluntary manslaughter and a firearm enhancement
  • Alonzo Padilla’s motion does not appear in court records and he did not respond to questions about the possible improper sealing of his motion

See the case write-up

Update: Trudy Martinez’s sentencing hearing has been moved to 1:30 p.m., Nov. 30, 2020.

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Trudy Martinez, 29, of Twin Lakes, has no right to an in-person interview with the federal probation officers tasked with preparing a pre-sentence report and determining the range of her suggested sentence, a federal district court judge ruled.

Trudy Martinez

Martinez pleaded guilty on March 16, 2020, to voluntary manslaughter and a firearms enhancement for shooting her sister-in-law Cornelia McCabe with an AR-15 on April 26, 2019. She faces a sentence of 10 to 15 years.

In an Aug. 18, 2020 order, District Judge William Johnson wrote he would grant Alonzo Padilla‘s motion to continue sentencing the case, but only because there was good cause and not because he agreed with Padilla’s position that Martinez was entitled to an in-person interview. He continued sentencing until Nov. 30, 2020.

“To be clear, Defendant is not entitled to an in-person interview with Probation for the purposes of completing her PSR,” Johnson wrote. “In fact, the Court finds her insistence on an in-person interview to be unreasonable, especially when she cites no legal authority which would require an in person interview, or even that an interview is required at all.”

Either Padilla or Irma Rivas, the other attorney representing Martinez, filed a motion on July 21, 2020, and in it said that he wanted a 90-day continuance “in order for an in-person presentence interview to be conducted given ‘the serious nature of this case,'” according to a response in opposition filed on July 23, 2020, by prosecutor Thomas Aliberti.

Padilla’s motion was numbered 36 and does not appear in the court docket. It also does not appear that Padilla filed a motion, or for permission to seal his motion to continue the case. Padilla, a public defender, did not return a request for information about his motion.

Writing in New Mexico In Depth, Jeff Proctor illuminated a pattern and practice by prosecutors and public defenders to improperly seal documents in federal criminal cases, contrary to local and federal rules on sealing procedures.

“Judges, not lawyers, are supposed to decide which documents are made available to the public and which should remain secret through an established protocol based in part on decades of case law: Attorneys must submit a written request asking a judge to seal records and a judge must consent before records are sealed,” Proctor wrote.

At the heart of Padilla’s request, which may be sealed in violation of court rules, is the demand that she be interviewed in person by probation. In-person interviews are problematic because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to court filings.

“The Court has no way of determining how long the pandemic and the corresponding ban on in-person visits at the Santa Fe Detention Center will last, or when an in-person interview can be safely conducted in the foreseeable future.” Johnson wrote.

Probation officers are “routinely” interviewing people in other criminal cases, leading Johnson to be at a “total loss to understand how Defendant is prejudiced if she’s interviewed by Probation with her
counsel participating utilizing videoconferencing or telephonic equipment.”

Johnson wrote he was admonishing Padilla that he will not grant further continuances solely because she wants an in-person interview.

“The PSR will be completed, with or without Defendant’s cooperation,” Johnson wrote. “The Court will consider Defendant’s ability to participate waived if she refuses to cooperate unless the interview is conducted in-person.”

Johnson wrote that Padilla also asked for more time to interview members of Martinez’s family, on the Navajo Nation, who are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Sentencing is currently set for 9:30 a.m., Nov. 30 in the Cimarron courtroom in Albuquerque and will likely be available via video conference. (Update: Sentencing has been moved to 1:30 p.m.)

According to the plea deal, Martinez intentionally killed McCabe during a sudden quarrel and therefore, without malice.

One of McCabe’s children told investigators she witnessed her mother’s killing and that Martinez first pushed her mother before going back to her truck to retrieve an AR-15 carbine, which she then loaded in the house, FBI Agent Jeffrey Wright wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant. McCabe is referred to as “Jane Doe” in his affidavit.

“DOE attempted to take the rifle away from Martinez,” Wright wrote. “As DOE approached MARTINEZ at the entrance to the Hogan, MARTINEZ pointed the rifle at DOE and fired the weapon two times. The first round missed DOE, but the second round struck DOE in the abdomen, after which DOE fell to the floor.”

See the case files on Google Drive or on Document Cloud or See the full case write-up.

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Judge stays ABQ involuntary manslaughter case for prosecution appeal

• Prosecutor John Duran initially dismissed murder charges after he missed a series of deadlines
• Judge Brett Loveless overruled the order of the previous judge in the case to allow the case to continue, even though the case has been going on for over three years
Scott Wade Bachicha is now facing a charge of involuntary manslaughter

See the full case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After years of delays that lead to an initial dismissal of a murder charge, an Albuquerque man will have to wait even longer for his day in court after a judge ordered a stay in his case while prosecutors appeal a dismissal of a firearms enhancement.

Scott Bachicha

Scott Wade Bachicha, 35, allegedly shot and killed girlfriend Mindy Stuart, 30, with a shotgun blast to the neck on April 16, 2017. In court documents, Bachicha’s attorneys argue the shooting was purely accidental but Albuquerque Police Department detectives initially charged him with an open count of murder, followed by a grand jury indictment on a charge of first-degree murder on May 2, 2017. (Read more details about the case in the write-up.)

Second Judicial District prosecutor John Duran missed a series of deadlines and dismissed the case without prejudice on Feb. 12, 2018 and then brought a new indictment on charges of involuntary manslaughter with a firearm enhancement and tampering with evidence, on Dec. 4, 2018.

Bachicha’s attorney, Raymond Maestas, filed a motion to dismiss the firearms enhancement on Oct. 8, 2019. District Judge Daniel Ramczyk dismissed the firearms enhancement in an order on Nov. 20, 2019, following a hearing. Maestas also tried to call Duran as a witness and have the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office removed from the case.

After Ramczyk dismissed the firearms enhancement, prosecutor Mia Ulibarri filed a motion for Ramczyk to reconsider his dismissal of the firearms enhancement on Nov. 18, 2019. He denied that request and prosecutors James Grayson and Mia Rubin then filed an interlocutory appeal of his decision on Jan. 29, 2020.

On Jan. 31, 2020, Rubin filed a motion to stay the case pending the appeal of the firearms enhancement.

Ramczyk heard that motion on Feb. 12, 2020 and orally denied the motion, but never filed a written order. On Feb. 21, 2020, Ramczyk recused himself from the case, but listed no reason.

District Judge Brett Loveless was assigned to the case on Feb. 27, 2020, after three other judges recused themselves and on March 11, 2020, Meastas again argued against the stay.

On April 17, 2020, Loveless granted the motion to stay the appeal. According to the docket, all proceedings are suspended.

“Inefficiencies may result from ruling on Defendant’s pending motions as they may dispose of the case without approval from or knowledge of the appellate court,” Loveless wrote. “This Court will not rule on those matters while the appeal is pending.”

Among the motions that are now stayed pending the appeal is a speedy trial motion Maestas filed on Jan. 10, 2020.

“In this case, the nearly three-year delay from Mr. Bachicha’s arrest on April 16, 2017 and charging to the present trial setting of March 26, 2020 (total: 1,066 days) is simply unconstitutional,” he wrote.

Also pending is a motion to suppress statements as involuntary.

No hearings or pleadings have been filed in the prosecution’s appeal of the firearm enhancement dismissal.

Continue reading “Judge stays ABQ involuntary manslaughter case for prosecution appeal”

Woman pleads guilty in 2019 Twin Lakes killing

  • Trudy Martinez pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and a firearm enhancement
  • Martinez shot her sister-in-law, Cornelia McCabe, in the abdomen in Twin Lakes, in front of at least one of the woman’s children
  • She faces a minimum sentence of 10 years and a max of 15 years
  • Sentencing is tentatively set for Aug. 24, 2020

See the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A Twin Lakes woman pleaded guilty, March 16, 2020, to voluntary manslaughter and a firearm enhancement for shooting and killing her sister-in-law with an AR-15 in April 2019.

mug of Trudy Martinez
Trudy Martinez

Trudy Martinez, 29, of Twin Lakes, will spend at least 10 years in prison for killing Cornelia McCabe, 36, her sister-in-law. She is identified in court documents as C.M.

Martinez pleaded guilty in front of federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones who deferred acceptance of the plea to the district judge sentencing her in the case, according to the minutes.

When she was first arrested, Federal Bureau of Investigations agents charged her with an open count of murder.

Federal prosecutor Thomas Aliberti signed the plea deal and filed the criminal information charging her with voluntary manslaughter and the firearm enhancement. Voluntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 15 years while the firearm enhancement carries a minimum 10-year sentence.

According to the plea deal, Martinez intentionally killed McCabe during a sudden quarrel and therefore, without malice.

One of McCabe’s children told investigators she witnessed her mother’s killing and that Martinez first pushed her mother before going back to her truck to retrieve an AR-15 carbine, which she then loaded in the house, FBI Agent Jeffrey Wright wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant. McCabe is referred to as “Jane Doe” in his affidavit.

“DOE attempted to take the rifle away from Martinez,” Wright wrote. “As DOE approached MARTINEZ at the entrance to the Hogan, MARTINEZ pointed the rifle at DOE and fired the weapon two times. The first round missed DOE, but the second round struck DOE in the abdomen, after which DOE fell to the floor.”

Sentencing is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 24, 2020, at 10 a.m. in the Cimarron Courtroom in Albuquerque in front of District Court Judge William Johnson. It was moved to August after Martinez’s attorney, Irma Rivas, filed an unopposed motion to push out the sentencing date because Martinez wants her pretrial interview to be in person but the coronavirus pandemic has eliminated in-person visits at the Santa Fe County Detention Center, where she is being housed.

Continue reading “Woman pleads guilty in 2019 Twin Lakes killing”

Trudy Martinez: Cornelia McCabe — 4-26-2019

 

Summary

On April 26, 2019, Trudy Martinez fatally shot her sister-in-law, Cornelia McCabe, 36, in the abdomen with an AR-15 before fleeing with her children, according to court documents. On May 9, FBI agents arrested her in Gallup on a murder warrant.

On March 16, 2020, Martinez pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and a firearms enhancement. There is no agreement as to the sentence, although it can only be between 10 and 15 years. Ten years is the minimum for the firearms enhancement and 15 is the maximum for voluntary manslaughter. Sentencing was set for Nov. 30, 2020, but was cancelled and has not been reset.

The shooting

On April 26, 2019, Trudy Martinez, 28, of Twin Lakes, allegedly shot her sister-in-law, identified in court documents as McCabe, 36, once in the abdomen with an AR-15 assault-style rifle in her Twin Lakes home, Federal Bureau of Investigations Agent Jeffrey Wright wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant dated April 30.

mug shot of Trudy Martinez
Trudy Martinez

Investigators talked to McCabe’s daughter who told them she came home from school and saw Martinez outside the house, cleaning up the yard, before she went into the house, Wright wrote.

“She was upset and complained that no one was helping her clean,” Wright wrote. “DOE was inside watching over her children. C.M. observed MARTINEZ enter the home and push Doe. The two began to have a physical altercation. Martinez yelled at DOE and DOE’s children to leave the house.”

McCabe saw Martinez walk outside and get the carbine from a truck parked nearby. Martinez allegedly brought it into the house and loaded it, he wrote.

“DOE attempted to take the rifle away from Martinez,” Wright wrote. “As DOE approached MARTINEZ at the entrance to the Hogan, MARTINEZ pointed the rifle at DOE and fired the weapon two times. The first round missed DOE, but the second round struck DOE in the abdomen, after which DOE fell to the floor.”

Martinez allegedly pointed the gun at the girl and yelled something at her. She ran next door to her grandmother’s house and the girl’s aunt, referred to as E.T., went back to the house with her to take care of McCabe, he wrote.

In her own interview, E.T. told investigators that she was at her house making jewelry with her husband. Sometime during the evening, one of the children ran to her and said that “Trudy shot my mom,” he wrote.

“The children explained that their mother (DOE) was laying on the floor in her house,” Wright wrote. “E.T. did not hear a gunshot, but noted that music was playing while she worked on the jewelry.”

When she went to the neighboring house, McCabe was sitting against a bed, awake and talking, he wrote.

“DOE stated ‘Trudy shot me,'” he wrote. “DOE than said that she needed to go to the hospital.”

Near Twin Lakes, NM on U.S. Highway 491. Photo by Steve Lyon/Flickr. CC BY-SA

E.T. told investigators that Martinez was in the attached home, shouting “What the fuck are you looking at?!” Wright wrote.

“She then stated to E.T., ‘she was beating me up,'” he wrote. “MARTINEZ explained to E.T. the altercation originated with the trash.”

E.T. then told other family members to get the truck, which they drove to McCabe’s house. They loaded her into it and drove to the gas station in Tolikai to meet the ambulance, he wrote.

“E.T. noted that approximately two weeks prior to the shooting, MARTINEZ was outside her home shooting a gun,” Wright wrote.

McCabe’s daughter also told the investigators the carbine used was the same kind that police officers were carrying at the crime scene and that Martinez would shoot the rifle at the back of the house.

That same day, investigators spoke to G.M., identified as Martinez’s brother. He told them Martinez called him after the shooting.

“MARTINEZ told G.M. that she had ‘done something wrong,'” Wright wrote. “G.M. asked MARTINEZ what was it that she had done. MARTINEZ responded that she had ‘shot Corn.’ ‘Corn’ is a nickname used by DOE.”

Martinez’s niece, K.M., said she had previously talked to Martinez about the AR-15 and that she had posted a photo of herself holding it on Facebook.

Fugitive

While Wright only applied for arrest warrant on April 30, 2019, the following day, the FBI offered a $1,000 reward for information on Martinez’s whereabouts.

FBI spokesman Frank Fisher wrote that Martinez fled from the scene of the killing with her children, a 10-year-old girl, a 9-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy.

“She should be considered armed and dangerous,” Fisher wrote.

FBI agents arrested her in Gallup on May 9, 2019, according to a press release.

Court proceedings

Arraignment and detention

On May 14, she was ordered held without bail by federal Magistrate Judge Steven Yarbrough and she waived a preliminary hearing.

Martinez waived a preliminary hearing and grand jury presentment seven times, the last on Feb. 21, 2020.

Plea

On March 16, 2020, Martinez pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging her with voluntary manslaughter along with a firearms enhancement.

Mug shot of Trudy Martinez from the Santa Fe County Detention Center
Trudy Martinez

Voluntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 15 years while the firearms enhancement carries a minimum sentence of 10 years.

Federal prosecutor Thomas Aliberti signed the plea deal and and it was accepted by federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones, although final acceptance was deferred until sentencing by a district court judge, according to the minutes.

According to the plea deal, Martinez intentionally killed McCabe during a sudden quarrel and therefore, without malice.

Martinez’s sentence is at the discretion of the sentencing judge but prosecutors agreed she is entitled to multiple reductions in the sentencing guidelines because she accepted responsibility.

Both prosecutors and Martinez’s defense attorney can argue for whatever sentence they want, according to the plea.

Pending sentencing

Sentencing was set for Aug. 24, 2020, at 10 a.m. in the Cimarron Courtroom in Albuquerque in front of District Court Judge William Johnson.

On April 13, 2020, Martinez’s attorney, Irma Rivas, filed an unopposed motion to push out the sentencing date because Martinez wants her pretrial interview to be in person but the coronavirus pandemic has eliminated in-person visits at the Santa Fe County Detention Center, where she is being housed.

On July 21, one of her attorneys, Alonzo Padilla, or Irma Rivas, appears to have filed a motion under seal to push out her sentencing until probation officers could interview her in person.

District Judge William Johnson admonished Padilla and wrote that Martinez has no right to an in-person interview and set sentencing in the case for 9:30 a.m., Nov. 30, 2020.

On Nov. 24, 2020, Johnson cancelled the sentencing hearing, noting that the Cibola detention center, where she is being held, has stopped doing transports for in-person court hearings.

No new sentencing date has been set.

Improperly sealed?

Martinez’s two defense attorneys, Padilla and Rivas, appear to have improperly filed at least one motion under seal and 15 of the docket entries are missing, or 28 percent of the total docket.

The motion to delay Martinez’s sentencing because she wanted to be interviewed in person by probation officers appears to have been filed under seal, although the prosecution opposition to it was not, nor was the judge’s order referencing it.

Padilla did not return a request for comment and information on his presumably sealed motion.

Documents 38 and 39 appear to be sealed, as do documents 42 and 43 and the seven documents, starting with 45 and ending with 52. Johnson’s order, continuing the sentencing because of COVID-19, is document 53 and the only public document before that was 44, resetting the sentencing hearing from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 30, 2020.

Writing in New Mexico In Depth, Jeff Proctor illuminated a pattern and practice by prosecutors and public defenders to improperly seal documents in federal criminal cases, contrary to local and federal rules on sealing procedures.

“Judges, not lawyers, are supposed to decide which documents are made available to the public and which should remain secret through an established protocol based in part on decades of case law: Attorneys must submit a written request asking a judge to seal records and a judge must consent before records are sealed,” Proctor wrote.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story referred to victim Cornelia McCabe as C.M., the initials used in court documents, because her name was not available when the story first published.

Read stories on this case or see the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Scott Wade Bachicha: Mindy Stuart — 4-16-2017

Summary

On April 16, 2017, Scott Wade Bachicha, 32, allegedly shot live-in girlfriend Mindy Stuart, 30, in the neck with a shotgun, killing her.

During an interview with a police detective, Bachicha allegedly said the gun went off accidentally, he panicked and threw it on a near-by roof.

Despite his claims of the killing being an accident, he was charged in Albuquerque Metro Court with an open count of murder.

On May 2, 2017, he was indicted by a grand jury for first-degree murder and tampering with evidence. On Feb. 12, 2018, prosecutor John Duran dismissed the case without prejudice after the judge denied a motion to extend the deadlines for scientific evidence that same day.

According to a defense motion to dismiss, the Albuquerque Police Department failed to analyze the ballistics evidence and prosecutors refused to let a defense expert analyze first, because APD wanted the first chance.

On Dec. 4, 2018, he was indicted, this time for involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence and a jury trial is tentatively set for March 16, 2020.

While first-degree murder carried a life sentence, involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence are fourth-degree felonies with a maximum sentence, each, of 18 months.

Trial on the charge of involuntary manslaughter was set for March 16, 2020.

The incident

On April 17, 2017, Albuquerque Police Department officers were dispatched to a house in the 2400 block of Madeira NE in reference to a shooting, Detective Andrea Ortiz wrote in a criminal complaint for Scott Wade Bachicha’s arrest.

Shortly after officers arrived at the scene, they arrested Bachicha on a count of open murder for allegedly killing his live-in girlfriend, Mindy Stuart.

Officer Jacob Perea, dispatched at 6:35, was flagged down by three neighbors standing in front of the house.

Scott Bachicha

The neighbors, Fletcher Johnson, Tamika Johnson and Brian Garcia, told Perea that they had been told to come to the house by Bachicha. He had allegedly told them someone shot Stuart.

“Officer Perea made entry into the home and he advised he observed broken glass and blood near the front entrance,” Ortiz wrote. “The officer advised he observed Scott Wade in the living room and Scott was covered in blood. Officer Perea advised he saw a female who was lying on a mattress that had been placed in the living room.”

Stuart had a large amount of blood pooling under her head.

“Brian Garcia told the officer that Scott Wade had moved Mindy Stuart from the couch in the living room to the mattress before the arrival of officers,” Ortiz wrote.

Perea searched the house and found a Glock pistol case and two shotgun shells near Stuart.

“Officer Perea advised he saw a large fist size hole in the sheet rock near the victim,” Ortiz wrote. “This hole had blood around it. Rescue arrived on scene and pronounced the victim deceased.”

Perea read Bachicha his Miranda rights, including his right to remain silent, and Bachicha allegedly agreed to talk to him and alleged that that someone shot Stuart.

“Scott told him he and Mindy had been watching a movie and he fell asleep,” Ortiz wrote. “He was awakened by Mindy shouting ‘What the fuck?’ and he then heard a loud bang. Scott advised he saw a shadowy figure leaving the home.”

Several people who were outside when they heard the gun go off said they saw no one fleeing the area or from Bachicha’s house.

“The only person they saw exiting the residence was a male subject who appeared to be covered in blood,” Ortiz wrote.

Ortiz walked through the house, after getting a search warrant for it.

“I noticed several blood drops throughout the residence,” Ortiz wrote. “The back door facing north appeared to have blood on the door handle. On the exterior side of the door had smudge marks also appearing to be blood.”

He then went to the Albuquerque Police station to interview Bachicha, who was in custody. He read Bachicha his Miranda rights again and again, Bachicha allegedly agreed to talk.

“Scott advised he and his ‘wife’ Mindy returned to their residence after Easter celebration,” Ortiz wrote. “He fell asleep on a mattress located in the living room while his wife was watching television.”

Bachicha allegedly said he woke when he heard a gunshot.

“He turned toward the couch and noticed Mindy was bleeding from her head,” Ortiz wrote. “He saw a dark shadow exit his residence out his front door. Scott couldn’t locate his cell phone and was in a panic, exited his residence, and ran to Brian’s residence requesting they telephone 911.”

After Ortiz alleged that Garcia told officers that Bachicha had recently bought a shotgun, that they found shotgun shells at the house and that no one was seen leaving the house after the gunshot went off, Bachicha allegedly began to cry.

“(He) advised he was messing around with his shotgun while seated on the mattress in the living room,” Ortiz wrote. “Mindy was seated on the couch directly behind him. As Scott manipulated the shotgun it suddenly discharged. Scott turned around and saw Mindy had been shot on the right side of her neck.”

Bachicha allegedly told Ortiz that he panicked, held Stuart in his arms, but knew that she was already dead, then took the shotgun and the spent shells and left out the back door.

“He threw the shotgun and the shotgun shell on the roof of the building directly west of his residence and across his
back alley,” Ortiz wrote. “Scott returned inside his residence and ran out his front door to request assistance from his neighbor Brian. He advised he did not wipe down the shotgun. The interview was concluded.”

PC - Scott Bachicha - 4-17-2017

Dismissed and re-indicted

After the Albuquerque Police Department failed to test ballistics by deadlines imposed by the court and the prosecutor, John Duran, refused to allow a defense expert to test the evidence before the Albuquerque Police Department, Bachicha’s defense attorney, Christopher Dodd, filed a motion to dismiss the case on Feb. 7, 2018.

Following a hearing five days later, Duran dismissed the entire case against Bachicha without prejudice, meaning the charges could be re-filed.

Duran did just that, after securing a new indictment, this time on charges of involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence, on Dec. 4, 2018.

Although prosecutors did not write their rationale for either dismissing the murder case or for bringing the new charge of involuntary manslaughter, according to a July 18, 2019 motion to disqualify the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office from prosecuting the case, Detective Andrea Ortiz previously testified that the shooting had an “upward shot trajectory” and that would match Bachicha’s statements that the shooting was accidental.

“The investigation (criminalistics and OMI) revealed an upward trajectory of as much as 19 degrees,” defense attorney Raymond Maestas wrote.

Maestas was trying to get the the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office removed from the case because, he alleged, a witness gave a statement to Duran that he had not previously disclosed and he wanted to call Duran as a witness.

He withdrew that motion on Aug. 30, 2019, after prosecutors wrote that they would not call that witness.

The case had been set for a tentative trial of March 16, 2020.

Dismissal of firearms enhancement

On Oct. 8, 2019, Meastas filed a motion to dismiss the firearm enhancement accompanying the involuntary manslaughter charge.

He wrote that the firearms enhancement is not supposed to be applied to an involuntary manslaughter charge, per a 1993 decision by the New Mexico Court of Appeals in State v. Franklin.

In that case, the Appeals Court found that the firearms enhancement was subsumed within the charge involuntary manslaughter and keeping the enhancement would constitute double jeopardy.

Prosecutor Mia Ulibarri wrote in a response that, in this case, the firearms enhancement didn’t constitute double jeopardy because ” there is no charge by the State for the misdemeanor of negligent use of a firearm.”

District Judge Daniel Ramczyk dismissed the firearms enhancement in an order on Nov. 20, 2019, following a hearing.

After Ramczyk dismissed the firearms enhancement, Ulibarri filed a motion for Ramczyk to reconsider his dismissal of the firearms enhancement on Nov. 18, 2019. He denied that request and prosecutors James Grayson and Mia Rubin then filed an interlocutory appeal of his decision on Jan. 29, 2020.

In a docketing statement, Grayson wrote that Ramczyk should have been following precedent set in State v. Baroz, but did not state what precedent in Baroz the judge was supposed to follow.

Case stayed pending prosecution’s appeal

On Jan. 31, 2020, Rubin filed a motion to stay the case pending the appeal of the firearms enhancement.

Ramczyk heard that motion on Feb. 12, 2020 and orally denied the motion, but never filed a written order. On Feb. 21, 2020, Ramczyk recused himself from the case, but listed no reason.

District Judge Brett Loveless was assigned to the case on Feb. 27, 2020, after three other judges recused themselves and on March 11, Meastas again argued against the stay.

On April 17, 2020, Loveless granted the motion to stay the appeal.

“Inefficiencies may result from ruling on Defendant’s pending motions as they may dispose of the case without approval from or knowledge of the appellate court,” Loveless wrote. “This Court will not rule on those matters while the appeal is pending.”

Among the motions that are now stayed pending the appeal is a speedy trial motion Maestas filed on Jan. 10, 2020.

“In this case, the nearly three-year delay from Mr. Bachicha’s arrest on April 16, 2017 and charging to the present trial setting of March 26, 2020 (total: 1,066 days) is simply unconstitutional,” he wrote.

Also pending is a motion to suppress statements as involuntary.

No hearings or pleadings have been filed in the prosecution’s appeal of the firearm enhancement dismissal.

Appeals court proposes overturning dismissal

In a proposed summary disposition filed on Sept. 10, 2020, Court of Appeals Judge Miles Hanisee wrote that the New Mexico Supreme Court rejected the basis of the double jeopardy claim Ramczyk used in State v Baroz, where the supreme court found that a firearms enhancement did not violate double jeopardy even though the use of a firearm is an element of the charge.

“Given the holding in Baroz, we propose that the firearm enhancement in this case does not violate double jeopardy,” Hanisee wrote. “Accordingly, we propose to reverse the district court’s order dismissing the firearm enhancement.”

According to a flow chart provided by the Court of Appeals, Bachicha’s attorney has 20 days to file a memo in response. The court could then issue another notice or issue an opinion. Once an opinion is issued, his attorney could file a motion for a rehearing.

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Richmond Sam: Jefferson Herrera — 7-30-2015

  • Suspect: Richmond Sam
  • Victim: Jefferson Herrera
  • Charges: Second-degree murder, possession of a firearm by a felon, using a firearm to commit a violent offense
  • Status: Guilty plea to involuntary manslaughter; binding plea agreement
  • Sentence: 1 year, 3 months (15 months)
  • Sentence range: 15 to 21 months, per plea deal
  • Date of incident: July 30, 2015
  • Agency: FBI
  • Location: Counselor, Navajo Nation, San Juan County
  • District case number: 15-cr-03051
  • Prosecutor: David Adams
  • Plea judge (magistrate): Karen Molzen
  • Sentencing judge (district): James Browning

The summary

On July 30, 2015, Jefferson Herrera, 29, and his three brothers went to Richmond Sam‘s house, trying to get him outside to fight and destroying his property. Sam went to a neighbor’s house, got a gun and started shooting. He hit no one the first time he shot, according to court records.

Sam claims he was fired upon first. The people involved, described as being unreliable witnesses, said they never shot first, according to court records.

He then opened fire a second time, after the assailants, including Herrera, were driving away. He may, or may not have, fired the shot that killed him. According to court records, the autopsy report casts doubt that Sam was low enough to the ground, or close enough, for the trajectory of the bullet that killed him, according to court records.

Sam’s lawyer posited that it is possible one of Herrera’s own brothers accidentally shot him while fleeing, according to court records.

Sam was initially charged with second-degree murder and possession of a firearm by a felon, according to court records.

He took a binding plea for involuntary manslaughter with a minimum sentence of 15 months and a maximum of 21. Federal District Judge James Browning gave him the minimum, 15 months, according to court records.

The incident

On July 29, 2015, a group of four men, all brothers, bought some Old English malt liquor and started drinking. The victim’s brother, only identified as JH, told his brothers, one of whom was victim Jefferson Herrera, Richmond Sam owed him $45 for gas money. The debt was accrued several months prior, FBI Agent Ross Zuercher wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

Photo taken near Counselor, NM
Near Counselor, NM. Photo by Chris Sale/Flickr. CC BY

“Around midnight of July 30, 2015, the four men arrived at SAM’s residence shouting that he owed JH money, and to pay his debts,” Zuercher wrote. “The men tried to call SAM out of the residence to confront him.”

After Sam refused to come out, they started smashing the windows of the two cars parked at his house.

“The windows were smashed with iron fence posts obtained from the property,” Zuercher wrote. “JH stated that he saw a man, although he could not make out his face, begin to fire live ammunition at the four brothers.”

After being shot at, the men got into their own car and fled. Herrera was driving, he wrote.

Herrera is not identified in court records but he is identified in his obituary and in his autopsy report.

“As the vehicle sped away down SAM’s driveway, several more shots were fired at the vehicle,” Zuercher wrote. “One round broke the back window of the vehicle. One of the rounds fired entered the back of John Doe’s neck, and exited the oral cavity. JH stated that he saw his brother, John Doe, slump forward with blood coming out of his mouth. John Doe had made painful moaning noises as he slumped forward.”

The car crashed into a ditch, JH got out of the vehicle, grabbed Herrera from the driver’s seat and put him in the rear.

“JH could not recall where the other two brothers went,” Zuercher wrote.

JH then drove to their mother’s house, four miles away. At 5 a.m. that same morning, Sam surrendered at the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office.

When officers conducted a search of his property, they found an AK-47 and a loaded drum magazine.

“The rifle was found wrapped in a blanket and placed inside a bush,” he wrote.

In his own statement to officers, Sam said he had been watching a movie when he heard a loud commotion coming from outside, and someone trying to break his door down.

“SAM held the door shut with his body weight,” Zuercher wrote. “While holding the door closed, SAM said that he heard a loud bang that sounded like a gunshot. Eventually the intruders lost interest into gaining access to the residence. SAM said that he heard a vehicle shift into drive, and believed it to be the best chance to escape from his residence.”

Sam told the officers he then ran to his cousin’s house, told him about the intruders and asked for a weapon and his cousin gave him the AK-47. He went back to his own house and positioned himself next to a wood pile.

“SAM then said that he was fired upon twice by what he believed to be a rifle,” Zuercher wrote. “SAM said that he thought it was a rifle because he could see the light reflecting off what looked to be a long barrel. SAM said he returned fire and shot approximately five times. SAM saw approximately four to six men scatter.”

He saw them get into a car and begin to drive away. He then moved closer, to a metal structure, and fired five more times. After he heard the vehicle crash, he wrapped the gun in a blanket and put it in a bush, he wrote.

Below if the affidavit for an arrest warrant.

Criminal Complaint - Richmond Sam - D.N.M._1-15-cr-03051_2_0

Court proceedings

Previous incident

Richmond Sam was on probation for previously shooting at a deputy who tried to pull him over for drunk driving. When he killed Herrera, he was still on probation.

Indictment and plea

On Aug. 24, 2015, a federal grand jury indicted Richmond Sam on charges of second-degree murder, felon in possession of a firearm and using a firearm during a crime of violence.

After a series of motions and the case was about to go to a jury trial, Sam pleaded guilty, instead, to involuntary manslaughter on Dec. 31, 2015.

In federal law, involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of eight years in prison. However, the plea agreement, which District Judge James Browning signed, dictated that Sam would receive a sentence of a year and three months (15 months) to a year and nine months (21 months).

Federal prosecutor David Adams proffered that binding plea deal and federal Magistrate Judge Karen Molzen initially accepted it although it was up to Browning to determine the final sentence.

Prosecutors filed a criminal information, dropping the other charges and decreasing second-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter.

Plea - Richmond Sam - D.N.M._1-15-cr-03051_53_0

Sentencing

When it came to sentencing, Adams requested Browning sentence Sam to the maximum, he wrote in a sentencing memorandum.

“Acknowledging that the plea agreement radically reduces the defendant’s exposure to incarceration, the United States urges the Court to accept the agreement based on the fact that grounds for the plea are significantly tied to the facts of the case and the detrimental impact proceeding to trial would likely have on all parties involved,” Adams wrote.

The three brothers were unreliable witnesses and Adams was not sure if they would even show up, if the case went to trial, he wrote. In addition, they had little credibility, considering they attacked Sam’s property.

Photo taken near Counselor, NM
Near Counselor, NM. Photo by Chris Sale/Flickr. CC BY

“If one of the witnesses decided not to show, the government’s case in chief would collapse, the jury would more likely rely upon the Defendant and his version of events, which was well articulated in his statement to law enforcement,” Adams wrote. “A spokesperson for the family had conveyed to the government that the brothers would likely be a no show at the day of trial. The allegation by the Defendant that one of the brothers was firing a rifle from the vehicle would become an even more difficult obstacle to overcome if one of the witnesses decided not to show. The government wasn’t privy to what defenses witnesses would testify to, but the defense had eluded to the fact that one of their witnesses would testify that they heard or saw another weapon being fired, corroborating the Defendant’s version of events.”

Sam’s attorney, Robert Gorence, argued that Sam had a legitimate claim to self defense, Adams wrote.

‘”The United States agrees with the analysis that the Defendant’s self-defense claim could have resulted in an acquittal or at the very least a step down to involuntary manslaughter which would have resulted in a sentence of two to three years,” Adams wrote. “Taking those things into consideration, as well as the criminal history of the victim and his brothers, the parties negotiated a plea that reconciled what would have otherwise been an indeterminate trial dynamic.”

US Sentencing Memo - Richmond Sam - D.N.M._1-15-cr-03051_59_0

Gorence wrote in his own sentencing memorandum that it was a highly contested case, as evidenced by his release appeal (Sam spent the entire time before trial in jail) and the FBI hardly did its own job, and that he wanted Sam to be sentenced at the low end of the sentence spectrum:

“Mr. Sam’s investigation in this case revealed the following that had not been uncovered by the FBI:
1. Mr. Sam had been the victim of repeated threats and violence directed against him and his property;
2. On the night of July 30, 2016, Mr. Sam was not intoxicated and was peaceably minding his business at his residence;
3. That the alleged victim in this case and his brothers, close to midnight, began what would be called an ‘attempted home invasion,’ and, when unsuccessful in breaching the residence, the alleged victim and his brothers proceeded to smash a house window and the windows of Mr. Sam’s vehicles.”

In addition, Sam was not armed in his own house and only retrieved a gun from his neighbor, who tried himself to call 911, but was unable to. In addition, three different neighbors would corroborate that they heard Sam being shot at before he returned fire, Gorence wrote.

“Perhaps of greatest significance in this case is the odd autopsy findings cursorily set forth in paragraph 17 of the PSR (Pre-sentence report),” Gorence wrote. “Although Mr. Sam was at least 15 feet higher in elevation than the alleged victim, the autopsy identified that the alleged victim died from a single bullet which entered his left upper back, went through his left shoulder blade and the left side of his neck, into his oral cavity and exited the right side of his mouth. Given the difference in elevation, this trial would have established great uncertainty as to whether or not Mr. Sam actually fired the fatal shot. Quite conceivably the alleged victim was accidentally shot by one of his brothers either in the vehicle or before entering it. This would explain the bizarre behavior of the victim’s brothers in not transporting him immediately to a hospital and instead going to a sister’s house for a very lengthy period of time. The argument would have been made at trial that the prolonged stay at the alleged victim’s sister’s house was an attempt by his brothers to cleanse themselves of his blood and hide other critical evidence, namely their firearm.”

Browning gave him the minimum sentence: 15 months followed by three years of supervised probation, according to the sentencing minutes.

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Hector Marquez: Andy Snider — 12-8-2013 (Police shooting)

  • Suspect: Hector Marquez, Albuquerque Police Department
  • Victim: Andy Snider
  • Date of incident: Dec. 8, 2013
  • Criminal status: Justified shooting/cleared of criminal charges by the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office in November 2016
  • Civil status: Lawsuit settled in 2016
  • Investigating Agency: Unknown
  • Prosecuting/charging agency: Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office
  • Incident Location: Central and University, Albuquerque
  • Judicial District: Second Judicial District
  • Prosecutor: Unknown
  • Police allegation: Andy Snider charged at Hector Marquez and another officer with a hammer in his hand
  • Lawsuit allegation: Hector Marquez shot Andy Snider in the back as he tried to run away from him
  • Cause of death: Shooting
  • Manner of death: Homicide
  • Federal district case: n/a
  • State district case: D-202-CV-201502673
  • Plaintiff attorney: Matthew Garcia
  • Personal Representative: Lisa Snider

Summary

On Dec. 8, 2013, Albuquerque Police Department Officer Hector Marquez fatally shot Andy Snider, 37. Snider was armed with a hammer when Marquez and officer Nathan Cadroy-Croteau chased him into an alley after a report of a man threatening people with a hammer at a 7-Eleven.

Cadroy-Croteau shot Snider once with a beanbag shotgun before Marquez fatally shot him. Cadroy-Croteau shot Marquez with the beanbag gun as he hif behind a car, at the direction of Marquez. After being shot twice, Snider got up and tried to flee with the hammer in his hand. Marquez opened fire, shooting Snider in the wrist, chest and back. The shot to the back was the fatal shot. Their statements to investigators were inconsistent with the lapel footage, attorney Matthew Garcia wrote in a lawsuit complaint.

The Albuquerque Journal reported that Snider “confronted” the two officers with a claw hammer before Marquez shot him.

On April 7, 2015, Lisa Snider filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Marquez and Cadroy-Croteau are both named in the wrongful death lawsuit. The case was dismissed on Oct. 21, 2016, following a settlement.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, unnamed prosecutors cleared Marquez and Cadroy-Croteau of charges in 2016.

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Kevin Sanchez: Mickey Owings — 3-29-2010 (Police shooting)

Summary

On March 29, 2010, Albuquerque Police Det. Kevin Sanchez fatally shot Mickey Owings, 26, as he fled from a Wal-Mart parking lot and after police tried to surround his car. According to police accounts, Owings drove into unoccupied police cars before Sanchez shot him.

The case was named in the federal Department of Justice’s civil rights investigation into the Albuquerque Police Department’s use of force. In the report, federal investigators wrote that Sanchez was driving into unoccupied vehicles in his bid to get away and damage to property did not justify killing him.

Owings’ family sued the city after the report came out and in 2018, the case settled for $375,000, according to the Albuquerque Journal. A state district court judge initially dismissed the lawsuit, filed for a loss of consortium, but that decision was reversed by the Appeals Court and reaffirmed by the New Mexico Supreme Court.

According to the report

From the Department of Justice report:

In March 2010, a plainclothes detective shot and killed Mickey Owings after Owings’ car was boxed in by an unmarked APD vehicle in a commercial parking lot. The encounter began because officers had received information that a stolen car was located in the parking lot. Several officers positioned unmarked cars in the parking lot around the suspected stolen car. Owings then drove a different car into the parking lot and parked directly next to the stolen car. A passenger got out of Owings’ car and started to get in the stolen car, and officers drove one unmarked car directly behind Owings while the plainclothes detective approached Owings’ car on foot. Owings backed his car into the unmarked police car and another civilian’s car, and as he did so, the detective drew his gun, pointed it at Owings, and ran closer to Owings’ car. Owings then drove straight forward into two parked cars. As he did so, the detective shot Owings. Owings continued driving forward and actually pushed the two empty, parked cars in front of him out of the way. Owings then drove out of the parking lot but soon seems to have lost consciousness on a nearby road. His car slowed to a stop, and when officers got to him, he had died. Owings was not armed.

The department’s use of force policy permits officers to fire at the driver of a moving vehicle only when the car itself poses a threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others. (As noted below, the better policy, followed by many departments, is to prohibit officers from firing their weapons at cars altogether.) The use of force policy limits the circumstances in which officers may shoot at drivers because of the substantial risks that are involved: the officer may miss and hit an innocent civilian or fellow officer, or the driver may become incapacitated, leaving the moving car completely out of control. Owings did not pose a threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or anyone else; he was driving straight into unoccupied, parked cars when he was shot. This damage to property, as serious as it was, did not justify taking Owings’ life. The detective who shot Owings could very easily have missed and hit one of the innocent civilians walking through the parking lot; moreover, after Owings was shot, the probability that he would injure someone with his car increased dramatically. Brosseau v.Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 199-201 (2004) (collecting federal appellate cases on police shootings at moving cars and acknowledging that such shootings can be unreasonable); Vaughan v. Cox, 343 F.3d 1323, 1333 (11th Cir. 2003) (“[A] reasonable officer would have known that firing into the cabin of a pickup truck, traveling at approximately 80 miles per hour on Interstate 85 in the morning, would transform the risk of an accident on the highway into a virtual certainty.”). But see Scott, 550 U.S. at 382-84 (2007) (noting that a car can itself be a deadly weapon that can justify the use of deadly force).

False police narrative

Even though Owings was unarmed, and he tried to push through to unoccupied vehicles, that did not stop the Albuquerque Police Department from painting their actions as justified at the outset.

The police narrative is captured by an Albuquerque Journal story from March 30, 2010, as noted in one of the two online headlines:

“Armed Robbery Suspect Fatally Shot by Albuquerque Police”

The unbylined story has a second headline, “ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Shooting occurred as man fled in a vehicle from a Walmart parking lot on city’s West Side.”

The lede, or first sentence, sums up the false narrative:

“Albuquerque police fatally shot an armed robbery suspect in the parking lot of a busy Walmart on Monday after the suspect rammed police vehicles and shoppers’ cars in an effort to get away, authorities said.”

The police chief at the time, Ray Schultz, said Owings actions were “very violent.” He made no mention that the police cars he was ramming into were totally unoccupied, a lie by omission.

The Department of Justice report states that the police department’s policy at the time was that officers could only shoot at cars if “when the car itself poses a threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.”

NM Political Report posted the surveillance footage from the killing. See below:

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