DA dismisses murder charge against Anthony Wagon

• Prosecutor Brian Decker dismissed murder case two weeks after a judge ordered one of Anthony Wagon‘s interrogations be suppressed
• A judge suppressed Det. Jason Solomon‘s interrogation, where Wagon allegedly admitted to running down Jeremy Beard
• Wagon spent over three years in jail after initially being released on bond

See the case write-up

AZTEC, N.M. — A prosecutor dismissed the murder case against Anthony Wagon, 23, three weeks after a judge suppressed Wagon’s interrogation by a Farmington detective, and three years after a judge ordered him held without bail pending trial.

Anthony Wagon

San Juan County District Attorney’s Office prosecutor Brian Decker filed the nolle prosequi dismissing the case on June 23, 2020, after District Court Judge Daylene Marsh suppressed Farmington Det. Jason Solomon‘s interrogation of Wagon following Jeremy Beard’s death on April 24, 2017.

After Marsh suppressed the statement on June 2, 2020, in which Wagon allegedly said he ran down Beard after being tackled by him during a fight over a beer, Decker immediately filed an appeal.

Marsh wrote, in her order suppressing his statements to Solomon, that he was never read his rights. His attorney, Craig Acorn, also made the argument that Wagon was too drunk to consent to an interrogation, but her decision made his intoxication a moot point.

“The inadequacy of the advisement of rights requires the exclusion from use at trial of Defendant’s statement to Detective Solomon and whether Defendant knowingly and intelligently waived his rights has become moot,” Marsh wrote.

Marsh cited State v Serna, a Court of Appeals case from 2018. In that case, the Appeals Court found that a Miranda warning requires “that a person be warned, at least implicitly, that they have a right to counsel prior to questioning.” In the case of Ernest Serna, Sandoval Sheriff’s Deputy Sal Tortorici, reciting a Miranda warning from memory, told Serna he had a right to an attorney during questioning. The court found this to be “inadequate.”

While Solomon never read Wagon his rights, Det. Chris Stanton and Sgt. Travis Spruell did after they illegally seized him from the Navajo Nation.

On June 4, 2020, Decker filed a motion to dismiss his appeal and for Marsh to reconsider her suppression order.

He wrote that Stanton read Wagon the correct Miranda warning and that, when he testified during a motion hearing, it was from memory and not the card he carried. Marsh granted his motion and set a hearing for July 7, 2020.

On June 23, Decker dismissed the case, writing it was in the “best interest of justice.”

Prosecutor Dustin O’Brien told the Farmington Daily Times that “the district court followed what is mandated by state law and the Farmington Police Department was issuing Miranda warnings consistent with law at the time.”

Police Spokeswoman Nicole Brown told the Daily Times that the case was “dismissed pending further investigation” following Marsh’s ruling and that the police department “is still pursuing and investigating the incident.”

Wagon was initially released on a bond following his arraignment in magistrate court but after the case was bound over, former district judge John Dean ordered Wagon held without bail on May 26, 2017.

Dean wrote in his order that Wagon’s step-mother testified against him, as did Solomon.

“Based on the testimony of Tina Wagon, Defendant’s step-mother, Mr. Wagon has a history of anger issues than can cumulate (sic) in aggression and violence — particularly when Defendant does not get his way,” Dean wrote. “In fact, Ms. Wagon testified that Mr. Wagon one time became so upset he shoved her and caused her to fall.”

Dean wrote that Wagon “fled through a non-direct path” to his parent’s home on the reservation, that that he was “indifferent to the consequences of his actions” and that Wagon was a danger to the community.

A civil case filed by Beard’s father is still pending as is a battery on a peace officer case stemming from Wagon’s three years in jail.

Do you have information about this case? NM Homicide needs your assistance to tell the stories of homicide victims. Please fill out this form.

Continue reading “DA dismisses murder charge against Anthony Wagon”

Joel Arciniega-Saenz: Benjamin Montoya — 4-22-2017

Suspect: Joel Arciniega-Saenz (charges dismissed)

Victim: Benjamin Montoya, 21

Charges: First-degree murder (dismissed)

Status: Dismissed by prosecutors on April 20, 2018

Date of incident: April 22, 2017

Agency: Las Cruces Police Department

Location: 2205 W Picacho Ave #105, Las Cruces, NM, 88007

Magistrate case number: M-14-FR-2017-00305

District case number: D-307-CR-201700437

Prosecutor: Rebecca Duffin

Summary

On April 22, 2017, Benjamin Montoya and his pregnant girlfriend were staying at their friend Joel Arciniega-Saenz’s motel room.

After a fight, someone shot Montoya in the chest. Arciniega-Saenz claimed a petite woman shot his friend, but Montoya’s girlfriend, Dakota Ocampo, alleged that Arciniega-Saenz was the shooter.

She had previously spurned Arciniega-Saenz’s affections and told him she viewed him as a brother.

Arciniega-Saenz was charged with an open count of murder and was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder on May 4, 2017 according to the docket.

Prosecutor Rebecca Duffin dismissed the case on April 20, 2018, without prejudice, “because new information has come to light that requires further investigation in this matter.”

[cmtoc_table_of_contents]

The incident

On April 22, 2017, Benjamin Montoya was shot in the chest at the Town House Motel on West Picacho in Las Cruces.

With him were his on-again, off-again girlfriend, Dakota Ocampo and his friend, Joel Arciniega-Saenz, Las Cruces Police Department Detective Ricky Bardwell wrote in an affidavit for Arciniega-Saenz’s arrest.

All of them were at Arciniega-Saenz’s room at the motel. Ocampo and Montoya had come to spend the night there.

Alleged Eye Witness Dakota Ocampo’s version

Joel Arciniega-Saenz

Ocampo told Bardwell that she has been friends with Arciniega-Saenz for the past five years and she considered him to be a brother. At the same time, she had been in the relationship with Montoya for the past few months, Bardwell wrote, based on his interview with Ocampo.

“(Joel) met with her at Joel’s apartment to stay with her,” Bardwell wrote. “(Joel) has had a crush on her, and she told him she valued for friendship too much and did not to ruin it.”

Ocampo treated Arciniega-Saenz as a confidante, and told him all about her intimate relations.

She claimed that she fell asleep when she woke to Montoya arguing with a tall, thin man with shaggy hair whom she did not know. Because she did not have her glasses on, she could not recognize the man’s face, but noticed he was wearing a white shirt.

“(During) the argument between Benjamin and the Male she is struck in the mouth,” Bardwell wrote. “(Benjamin) and the male begin got physically (sic) fight. The fight moved towards the area where the refrigerator is located, and eventually back towards the bed.”

Montoya is pushed onto the bed and the unknown man pulled a gun and shot him, then ran out of the apartment.

“(Benjamin) screams for help, and walks out of the apartment towards the parking lot,” Bardwell wrote.

Shortly thereafter, Ocampo alleged that Arciniega-Saenz walked into the apartment, told her not to worry and to stay in the apartment before walking back outside.

“(Dakota) mentioned to the Affiant Benjamin had confronted her the previous night about being pregnant, and it had become a topic of conversation throughout the night,” Bardwell wrote. “Affiant asked Dakota if she is able to recognize people in the same room without her seeing glasses? She stated yes.”

She told Bardwell that the assailant was wearing the same clothes as Arciniega-Saenz, then said she was only 60 percent sure.

“Affiant asked if Joel was the person who shot Benjamin?” Bardwell wrote. “Dakota began to cry and stated yes.”

Interrogation of Joel Arciniega-Saenz

When he talked to Arciniega-Saenz, the latter allegedly said that Montoya and Ocampo were inside sleeping when he woke up and went outside to smoke. Bardwell did not write if he read Arciniega-Saenz his Miranda rights before questioning him.

“(He) sees a female approach him and ask for Dakota,” Bardwell wrote. “He thinks she is a friend of Dakota, and allows her to enter the apartment. (During) this time Benjamin and Dakota are still asleep. (While) he was outside doing his thing, he began to hear arguing coming from inside the apartment.”

He allegedly told Bardwell he heard a gunshot, hid behind a bush and watched as the skinny woman, whom he described as resembling a drug addict, ran out of the apartment, into the parking lot and left in a silver car. He also claimed he never approached Montoya or went back into the apartment.

Interview of neighbor Annette Martinez

His neighbor, Annette Martinez, told Bardwell that Arciniega-Saenz lives a few doors down from her.

Town house motel
Town House Motel, Las Cruces, NM. Photo by Thomas Hawk/Flickr. CC BY-NC

“(For) several days, Mrs. Martinez has been hearing Joel, Dakota and Benjamin argue, yell or make a commotion,” Bardwell wrote, based on his conversation with Martinez. “(On) today’s date, Mrs. Martinez hears Dakota and Benjamin arguing outside of room 105, which is Joel’s room. (They) continued to argue but took the argument back into the house where she could still hear them.”

Shortly after, she heard a bang. Initially she did not see anything. A short time later, Ocampo and Arciniega-Saenz were allegedly standing over Montoya’s body, he wrote.

“(Mrs.) Martinez is familiar with Joel and has witnessed him to become more aggressive lately and that he has recently made comments as to wanting to kill someone,” Bardwell wrote.

Bardwell claimed in the affidavit that Montoya’s injuries were not consistent with the shot being fired by a petite woman. He did not list his reasoning.

“Affiant observed a red substance to be blood on Joel’s sleeve, which is not consistent with the statement Joel gave of not making contact with Benjamin or enter the apartment after he is shot,” Bardwell wrote. “(Joel’s) statement and knowledge of the bullet wound to Benjamin is not consistent with him not making contact with Benjamin or entering the room after he is shot.”

When he looked at the bottom of Arciniega-Saenz’s shoes, he allegedly saw blood, as well as a large amount of blood at the entrance to the apartment, he wrote.

“Upon observation of Dakota, injuries were observed upon her body to include scratches upon her neck and an injury upon her mouth,” Bardwell wrote. “Due to affiant’s training and experience, the injuries that were observed were consistent to someone being involved in a physical domestic altercation which is consistent to Mrs. Martinez’s observations.”

Arciniega-Saenz was charged with an open count of murder.

PC Joel Arciniega-Saenz - 4-24-2017

 

Case dismissed

On June 1, 2017, a Las Cruces grand jury indicted Joel Arciniega-Saenz on a single charge of first-degree murder.

On Oct. 20, 2017, his attorney, George Harrison, filed a motion to review the conditions of his release. Arciniega-Saenz had previously been ordered held on a $500,000 bond. In his motion, he wrote that the prosecution had not provided any forensic evidence and that the evidence that was collected corroborated his statement to police and asked the bail be reduced to $10,000.

According to Det. Ricky Bardwell, Arciniega-Saenz allegedly said a skinny woman came up to him while he was outside smoking, then went into the room he was staying in. He heard an argument, then a gunshot. He hid behind a plant, then saw the skinny woman run out of the room.

Following a hearing on Nov. 27, 2017, the District Court judge reduced his bail to $10,000, the amount requested by the defense.

On Dec. 1, 2018, prosecutor David Ruark, filling in for Rebecca Duffin, filed an emergency motion to reconsider a previous motion for a continuance for a trial that was scheduled to start on Dec. 4, 2017. He wrote that the prosecution’s case was “almost entirely” dependent on Ocampo’s testimony. He was filling in for Duffin because she had a family emergency.

Investigators with the Third Judicial District Attorney’s Office thought Ocampo was being held in a jail in El Paso, Texas, but found she had been released. Subsequently she was arrested in Las Cruces and police allegedly found a .38-caliber pistol on her, the same caliber weapon used to kill Montoya. The gun used was never recovered from the scene.

The trial was moved to Jan. 29, 2018 and on Jan. 24, 2018, Duffin filed a motion to continue the case a second time because detectives received information about another possible witness.

“The State is attempting to follow up on the latest lead and determine if there is a witness with either inculpatory or exculpatory information about the crime,” Duffin wrote.

She wrote she also sprained her ankle and would be in an ankle boot during the duration of the trial, which would hinder her ability to prosecute the case.

The same day, the judge reduced his bond to $2,500.

On April 20, 2018, Duffin dismissed the charges.

Duffin wrote she was dismissing the case, without prejudice, “because new information has come to light that requires further investigation in this matter.”

See the case documents on Google Drive

Joel Arciniega-Saenz - 4-20-2018 - Nolle Prosequi

Ruth Rivera: Arthur Rivera — 12-28-2016

Suspect: Ruth Rivera, 54

Victim: Arthur River, 81

Charges: First-degree murder, tampering with evidence, embezzlement over $20,000 and two counts of forgery over $20,000.

Status: Dismissed after Ruth Rivera committed suicide before she was set to plead guilty

Date of incident: Dec. 28, 2016

Agency: State Police

Location:  580 State Road 3 in Ribera, San Miguel County

Magistrate court number: M-48-FR-2017-00001

District court number: D-412-CR-201700044

Summary

Arthur Rivera’s daughter-in-law, who was also his caretaker since 2011, allegedly stabbed him 20 times, 15 in the body and five to the head.

Ruth Rivera claimed her father law law, Arthur Rivera, 81, had fallen in the bathroom.

According to the criminal information filed Jan. 31, 2017 in San Miguel District Court, Ruth Rivera allegedly stole $79,300 from Arthur Rivera between June 28, 2016 and December 28, 2016.

Rivera had been scheduled to to take a plea on Oct. 1, 2018, but she was found dead before then from what authorities said was a suicide.

[cmtoc_table_of_contents]

The incident

On Dec. 28, 2016, Ruth Rivera called 911 and said her father-in-law had fallen and she needed help getting him up. When El Pueblo Fire Department firefighters got to the trailer, they found it was filled with smoke and started opening the windows. They found Arthur Rivera on the ground in the bathroom, with a large amount of blood around his body. They covered him with a blanket, State Police Agent Hector Vacio wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

Ruth Rivera had been Arthur Rivera’s caretaker since 2011. She had experience taking care of her elderly father before he died, but she allegedly described not wanting to take care of her father-in-law.

Ruth Rivera

“NMSP Officer (M.) Velasquez observed a stove inside the residence, which appeared to have damage from an explosion/fire,” Vacio wrote.

Vacio then spoke with Richard Bodell and Edward Madrid who responded to Ruth Rivera’s 911 call. They said there was a lot of smoke in the house and they had to open the windows.

Just before midnight the same day, Vacio went to the Christus St. Vincent’s Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe to speak to Ruth Rivera.

“Ms. Rivera advised she went to work at her father-in-law’s residence since she is his primary caretaker,” Vacio wrote. “Ms. Rivera made breakfast for him and later in the day she remembered him going to the restroom. As he was in the restroom she was cooking food on the stove.”

She allegedly told Vacio that she went to the bathroom after she heard a crashing or thumping noise from the bathroom.

“Ms. Rivera explained the door to the restroom was closed and she began pounding on the door but didn’t know if Arthur was hearing her,” Vacio wrote. “She stated she heard Arthur say ‘ayudame’ (‘help me’) and she went inside the restroom using another door via the closet.”

Inside, she allegedly said she saw Arthur Rivera on the ground with his head near the toilet and blood coming from his mouth. She allegedly tried to pick him up but found that she could not.

“Ms. Rivera left the residence and went to the street to flag individuals down in order to assist her to pick Arthur up,” Vacio wrote. “She does not remember turning the stove off and when she went back to the trailer there was smoke inside of the trailer.”

Vacio asked for River to hand over the clothing she had been wearing that day, which she did, in two plastic bags. Vacio noticed the clothes were damp and he wrote that this meant it appeared someone tried to remove “biological samples/stain” from the clothing by washing or wetting them. Her shirt was missing from the bags.

“The paramedic also observed Ruth Rivera’s clothes were damp,” Vacio wrote. “It is reasonably believed that Ms. Rivera washed/removed any biological samples/stains she had with intent to remove/destroy evidence.”

After getting a search warrant, the State Police Crime Scene team scoured the trailer. and found a silver knife blade and separately, on the stove, the knife handle. Both appeared to have blood on them.

When they first examined Arthur Rivera’s body, they found 17 wounds on his upper chest, face and head.

Later, at the autopsy on Dec. 30, 2016, a pathologist found 15 stab or “incise type” wounds on the man’s upper body and five stab or incise wounds to the head. There were another three incise wounds on his left hand, consistent with defensive injuries.

The following day, Dec. 29, 2016, Vacio spoke to Rivera again.

Ruth Rivera allegedly said didn’t really want to take care of her father-in-law but did so anyways.

She allegedly said in the second interview that she arrived at the house between 9:15 and 9:30 a.m., put groceries away, and cooked breakfast for him. After reading the newspaper and watching TV for two hours, Aruther Rivera went to the bathroom.

Again, she allegedly said she heard the thump or crashing noise and went to the bathroom through the closet.

“Ms. Rivera stated she placed her arns under his armpits and he began to put his weight on her and grab her by the shoulders,” Vacio wrote. “Ruth opened the other restroom door when she started smelling what appeared to smoke from the fire. Ms. Rivera stated she called 911 from her living room. The 911 call was received at 12:41 pm.”

Vacio told her that statement, different from her first that he was on the ground in a pool of blood, was not consistent with the evidence found at the scene. He told her to tell the truth.

“Ms. Rivera stated he was hurting her and he wasn’t understanding that she was trying to help him,” Vacio wrote. “She explained he was hurting her shoulders and back. Ms. Rivera stated she tried to run away from him and began to panic.”

Vacio initially charged her with an open count of murder and tampering with evidence.

Ruth Rivera - 1-3-2016 - Affidavit for Arrest warrant

Criminal information filed

On Jan. 31, 2017, Chief Deputy District Attorney Thomas Clayton filed a criminal information in San Miguel District Court charging Ruth Rivera with an open count of first-degree murder, tampering with evidence, embezzlement over $20,000 and two counts of forgery over $20,000.

The criminal information, filed because she waived her right to a preliminary hearing,

The criminal information alleges that Ruth Rivera stole $79,300 from Arthur Rivera and forged two checks in his name. One check, allegedly forged on July 25, 2016, was for $29,000 and the other, allegedly forged on Aug. 8, 2016, was for $35,000.

She also allegedly forged two checks in Arthur Rivera’s name. The first allegedly forged check was handled on July 25, 2016, for $29,000 and the second was for $35,000. It was allegedly written on Aug. 8, 2016.

Suicide

According to the Las Vegas Optic, Ruth Rivera killed herself around Oct. 1, 2018, before she was set to enter into a plea for Arthur Rivera’s death. She was out on bail at the time.

On Oct. 4, 2018, prosecutors dismissed the case against her because of her death.

See the case documents on Google Drive.