Supreme Court upholds Ameer Muhammad’s conviction for 2017 ABQ stabbing death

• The New Mexico Supreme Court upheld Ameer Muhammad‘s conviction on felony murder
• The justices rejected arguments that Muhammad’s mental illness prevented him from waiving his Miranda rights
• He received a mandatory life sentence, with parole after 30 years.

See the full case write-up or previous stories about this case

SANTA FE, N.M. — The New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously upheld the felony murder conviction of Muhammad Ameer, 26, who stabbed Aaron Sieben to death in 2017.

The justices rejected his defense attorney’s arguments, that District Court Judge Jacqueline Flores refusal to suppress Muhammad’s statement to the police and not allowing a self-defense instruction made the case worthy of a new trial.

Ameer Muhammad

Defense attorney Steven Forsberg wrote in the appeal that the statement should have been suppressed because Muhammad was “in the grips of severe mental illness” when he made the waiver of his Miranda rights and gave a statement to detectives.

Justice Barbara Vigil wrote in the opinion for the court that Flores rejected the initial argument to suppress the statement, “stating that without more information about Defendant’s apparent delusions there was not enough to conclude that those delusions impacted Defendant’s ability to waive his rights.”

She did not, however, address if it was made “knowingly and intelligently.”

In challenging the unsuppressed statement, Forsberg wrote that the Flores used the wrong legal standard to determine if it needed to be suppressed.

Vigil wrote that the defense argued that Muhammad thought it was pointless to exercise his right not to speak to detectives because he had delusions that they would hear his thoughts and therefore they already knew everything. She wrote:

“The recording of the interview at the MDC demonstrates that Defendant’s mental illness did not affect his understanding of his rights but rather his motivation for not exercising those rights. No other evidence was presented concerning Defendant’s claimed diagnosis of schizophrenia or its effect on his ability to comprehend his rights. Because the record otherwise supports the district court’s findings that Defendant was cogent and could accurately articulate his rights and the consequences of abandoning them, the totality of the circumstances demonstrates that Defendant’s waiver was knowing and intelligent.”

As for the argument that a self-defense instruction should have been given, there was no evidence that the Sieben, 30, ever had a weapon, even if he struck first.

“We have held that evidence of a simple battery against a defendant is insufficient for a reasonable jury to find that the defendant acted reasonably by responding with deadly force,” Vigil wrote, before quoting State v. Lucero, a 2010 case, which in turn quotes a 1996 case, State v. Duarte.

There was not enough evidence to support a self defense claim, she wrote.

The case

On July 27, 2018, a jury found Ameer, 26, guilty of felony murder and armed robbery, although the latter charge was dropped as the predicate felony for felony murder. The jury acquitted him on a charge of tampering with evidence.

According to court documents, victim Aaron Sieben and Ameer allegedly got into some kind of argument while Sieben was in his truck on March 19, 2017, parked at a Circle K gas station in Albuquerque.

After Ameer allegedly fled from Sieben, Sieben pursued him, leading to a fist fight. As the fight progressed, Ameer allegedly produced a knife and stabbed Sieben two to three times. After stabbing Sieben, Ameer allegedly took his wallet. Sieben died at the scene and Ameer allegedly fled, only to be arrested shortly thereafter.

District Judge Jacqueline Flores sentenced Ameer to life in prison, which is a term of 30 years, on Sept. 25, 2018, according to court documents.

Continue reading “Supreme Court upholds Ameer Muhammad’s conviction for 2017 ABQ stabbing death”

Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez asks for reconsideration after guilty verdict

• A jury found Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez guilty of second-degree murder
• His attorney wants a mistrial for three issues, including a lack of a self defense instruction

DEMING, N.M. — A Florida man is asking for a mistrial, after a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder for the strangling death of a woman outside Hachita in 2017.

The jury found Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez guilty of second-degree murder on Aug. 20, 2020, following a four-day trial and a single hour of jury deliberation, according to logs of the trial.

Isaias Loabto-Rodriguez

Lobato-Rodriguez’s attorney, George Harrison, gave three reasons for a new trial in his motion:

• An improper comment by prosecutor Matthew Bradburn, during opening statement over Lobato-Rodriguez asserting his right to remain silent, citing the 2007 case State v. Rodriguez.

• A failure to correct an improper translation in which Lobato-Rodriguez mumbled that he thought the victim told him he would “be dead that day.”

• The denial of a previous motion to suppress, previously denied twice by the judge.

A hearing on the motion to reconsider is set for 10 a.m., Oct. 26, 2020, along with his sentencing hearing.

On March 17, 2017, Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez, of Florida, allegedly tied a belt around Connie Lopez’s neck, strangling her in the front seat of her rented mini-van, two miles east of Hachita in Grant County, according to a statement of probable cause.

He allegedly told two Border Patrol agents, one of whom found Lopez’s body, that she was going to kill him and his family and that he was with other people in a berm in the desert. The agents could find neither footprints nor signs of anyone else.

For more details on the killing of Connie Lopez, see the case write-up.

Improper comment

Harrison wrote in this motion that telling the jury that Lobato-Rodriguez asserted his right to remain silent was not a harmless error. Specifically, Bradburn said:

Agent (Moises) Mascorro then went to the Deming State Police office which is where Mr. Lobato Rodriguez has been taken from the scene. He got brought back from there to Deming and he wasn’t free to leave, and he he he was the suspect I mean, that’s it, and so, Mr. Agent Mascorro did engage in conversation with Mr. Lobato Rodriguez and Mr. Lobato Rodriguez asserted his right to remain silent.”

The prohibition on mentioning a defendant asserting his right to remain silent has existed since the Miranda rights were established and is “well known to all attorneys,” Harrison wrote.

“There is no reason to mention exercising Miranda rights in opening statement other than to prejudice the defendant,” he wrote.

After Bradburn made the statement, Harrison moved for a mistrial, which the judge denied.

In a response to the motion to reconsider, Bradburn wrote that the judge “fully considered” the objection and request for a mistrial and evaluated it according to another 2007 case, State v. Pacheco, and the judge offered a “curative instruction” which Harrison objected.

“The Court fully considered this issue on more than one occasion during trial and made its ruling,” Bradburn wrote. “There is nothing asserted by the defendant in his Motion to Reconsider to justify the Court reversing its trial ruling.”

Translation error

Harrison wrote that Lobato-Rodriguez said the victim, Connie Lopez, told him “he would be dead that day.” The interpreter did not translate the phrase during the “case in chief” and the statement was “essential to the defense theory of the case.”

“The interpreter did interpret other statements of the defendant which had much different meaning without that statement. Counsel for the defendant told the Court that some statements were not being interpreted but could not tell the substance. The defendant had no way to know his statement was not translated for the jury,” Harrison wrote.

Interpreter Heidi Swanson tried to clarify the problem later, outside of the presence of the jury. Harrison wrote, from the tapes of the trial:

“-Heidi Swanson interpreter: The interpreter needs to clarify statement of earlier what have done I was interpreting for Mr. Lobato he was asked am about and when he was going to go with Mrs. Connie, Ms. Connie; and about the mountains and I don’t remember know exactly what the whole statement that was asked, but he said that he was going to go and that she asked him to look to the right to see that beautiful or the pretty mountains and because he was never going to see it again and then at that point he said mumbled something and the interpreter I asked for repetition he was asked for repetition but he did not repeat the same statement so interpreter I just interpreted what he had said which he did not repeat the part which where she said that he was not going to see the mountains anymore because he was going to be dead and so that part was not repeated for Mr. Lobato and so the interpreter did not repeat that part.”

Bradburn said in closing statements that Lobato-Rodriguez did not say Lopez posed a threat, Harrison wrote.

“The State conceded that the omitted testimony would change the course of the trial during argument to correct the interpretation,” Harrison wrote.

Judge Jared Hofacket also denied a a self defense jury instruction, Harrison wrote.

Harrison also filed a motion specifically to correct the error.

Bradburn wrote in response that Hofacket found Lobato-Rodriguez “had a full and fair opportunity to testify on cross examination” and on re-direct.

“Whatever the claimed shortcomings of the court interpreter, the defendant and his attorney had a complete opportunity to communicate the defendant’s version of events to the jury,” Bradburn wrote. “Noteworthy in this connection, the defendant only articulated this claim to the Court after the close of all evidence in the case. ”

Motion to suppress

Harrison also raised a previous motion to suppress that had been twice denied before, where he argued that Lobato-Rodriguez was in custody when he was questioned by U.S. Border Patrol agents.

“This is a Mexican National who came to a Border Patrol Agent and admitted he was here illegally. He was not free to go. He was ordered to sit on the ground. At trial the Court learned that the statements made to the first officer were not I killed her but an untranslatable phrase. Further questioning after being detained by border Patrol should be suppressed. When mirandized he requested an attorney,” Harrison wrote.

Bradburn wrote in response that the judge “should decline the defendant’s invitation to second guess itself” and the motion presented no new issues.

Continue reading “Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez asks for reconsideration after guilty verdict”

Mansoor Karimi asks for new sentence after 8 years imposed in remote hearing

Mansoor Karimi is asking for a sentence reconsideration after District Judge Mary Marlowe-Sommer gave him eight years
A jury found him guilty of two counts of vehicular homicide by reckless driving
• The reconsideration comes after he was sentenced by video conference
• Karimi’s attorney argued the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office offered disparate pleas for similar charges

Read the case write-up

SANTA FE, N.M. — After receiving eight years in prison for the deaths of two men following a reckless driving crash, Mansoor Karimi‘s attorney is asking for less prison time because he was sentenced over video and prosecutors have offered more lenient pleas and sentences for “worse driving behavior than committed by the Defendant.”

Mansoor Karimi

On Feb. 18, 2020, a jury found Mansoor Karimi, 42, guilty on two counts of vehicular homicide by reckless driving for the deaths of Ian Sweatt, 33, and Christopher Bryant, 30, after he T-boned their car on Dec. 16, 2016, according to jury verdict slips.

On July 17, 2020, District Judge Mary Marlowe-Sommer sentenced Karimi to eight years in prison and suspended an additional four years, of a possible 12-year sentence, which he will spend on supervised probation, according to a judgement and sentence.

According to Phaedra Haywoood of the Santa Fe New Mexican, Marlowe-Sommer told Karimi, before she sentenced him, he was driving too fast, “blew through a stop sign” and that the crash was avoidable.

She sentenced Karimi to four years for the death of Sweatt and four years for the death of Bryant. He received credit for five months time served.

Karimi’s attorney, Tom Clark, filed a motion to reconsider the sentence on Aug. 18, 2020. He wrote that Karimi should have been sentenced in person, as his sentence could have been so high because the video feed affected Marlowe-Sommer’s ability to “fully assess” his remorsefulness

“That the absence of any degree of humanity, in a proceeding done entirely by video and audio, affects the ability of the Court to impose a sentence consistence with a just and fair sentence,” Clark wrote.

Clark previously asked the case be moved to the July date so Karimi could be sentenced in person. Marlowe-Sommer continued it to then. She noted that it was anticipated that in-court hearings could be held by then.

On July 7, Marlowe-Sommer designated the sentencing hearing as being held remotely, citing Supreme Court Order 20-8500-025, which requires all hearing, except for jury trials, be done remotely, unless the judge finds a “compelling need” to physically appear.

“There is nothing that cannot be communicated through audio-video connection by Defendant and counsel, and by audio-video or telephonic connection by the victims or any other persons,” she wrote. “The particular circumstances of this case fail to demonstrate a compelling need for an in person sentencing hearing.”

Clark wrote in his motion that he believed Karimi’s due process rights were violated by the “impersonal, constraining, and awkward presentation of his sentencing argument by video.”

“Defendant asserts that this potentially is a reason that contributed to the sentence in this case which exceeded the seven (7) year sentence requested by the State,” Clark wrote.

Clark wrote in his motion that Mansoor also deserved to have his sentence reconsidered because prosecutors with the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office treated Mansoor differently than the defendant in a similar case.

“Additionally, a few weeks after Mr. Karimi was sentenced, the State, by and through a different Assistant District Attorney presented this Court with a plea to a misdemeanor sentence in a case involving vehicular homicide by reckless driving, alleging worse driving behavior than was committed by the Defendant while Mr. (Kent) Wahlquist requested less than the maximum sentence, no such pre-trial resolution was ever offered to Mr. Karimi,” Clark wrote.

Judge's portrait
District Judge Mary Marlowe-Sommer

Clark appears to be referring to the case of Ryan Palma, charged with vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident for the death of a 20-year-old motorcyclist. A grand jury indicted Palma on charges of vehicular homicide by reckless driving, knowingly leaving the scene of an accident causing death, tampering with evidence and failure to give immediate notice of accidents.

Haywood reported on Palma’s case and that Marlowe-Sommer rejected a plea deal, July 31, 2020, where Palma would plead no contest to knowingly leaving the scene of an accident and have all the other charges dropped.

Haywood wrote that prosecutor Julie Gallardo said her office was offering Palma a plea of no contest to knowingly leaving the scene of the accident and all the other charges would be dismissed. The proposed plea deal for Palma does not appear in court records and it is not clear if the offer was for the misdemeanor form of leaving the scene of an accident or the felony form.

Clark wrote in Karimi’s case that his client was only offered a plea with no agreement as to sentence. He went on to write:

“It is at best, an arbitrary and unfair charging decision against an individual without a valid explanation. Such non-uniform plea policies, varying drastically from one prosecutor to the next, are inherently unfair, and raise troubling questions about the charging decision in case;

While the Court rejected the plea, it certainly appears that justice, by way of plea policies, has less to do with the facts of any particular case and more to do with the individual prosecutor, or the individual charged. It is not about the facts of the case.”

No new hearing has been set in the case.

Continue reading “Mansoor Karimi asks for new sentence after 8 years imposed in remote hearing”

Kasey Weaver asks for a sentence reduction in DWI homicide

Kasey Weaver killed boyfriend Kit Francis II in a drunk car crash in 2017
• She wants the judge to reconsider her sentence because of her record and good behavior

See the case write-up

SANTA FE, N.M. — Kasey Weaver asked the judge who sentenced her to eight years in prison, followed by five years of supervised probation, to rethink that sentence.

Kasey Weaver

In a hand-written motion on May 14, 2020, Weaver, 27, of Albuquerque, noted she has no prior convictions and, since being sent to prison, has not received any discipline.

“Further, I have been enrolled in multiple programs starting with Matrix in Santa Fe County Jail, Sober Living shortly after my transfer to Springer Womens Facility, and most recently with the completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Treatment Program on the 27th of March, 2020,” Weaver wrote.

Attached to the motion are a series of certificates noting the programs she completed.

No hearings have been set and no other entries appear on the court docket.

Weaver and her boyfriend, Kit Francis II, 24, were driving from Santa Fe to Albuquerque after drinking at Meow Wolf on April 16, 2017 when Weaver crashed into a car after she tried to stop at a red light at Cerrillos Road, before the exit to the I-25 interstate.

She was arrested initially for DUI great bodily harm. Francis, who was not wearing a seat belt, was ejected from the car and died later at an Albuquerque hospital.

A jury found her guilty of DUI vehicular homicide on Nov. 16, 2018. On April 19, 2019,  District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer sentenced Weaver to eight years in prison followed by five years of supervised probation. Weaver faced a maximum sentence of 15 years.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, many of Francis’s family members attended the sentencing hearing, including the mother of Francis’ 6-year-old daughter, who spoke of her daughter’s struggles with her father’s death.

Most of Francis’ relatives asked for the maximum sentence, 15 years, while Kit Francis Sr. asked for her to “do enough time so that she gets it and understands,” according to the Albuquerque Journal.

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Continue reading “Kasey Weaver asks for a sentence reduction in DWI homicide”

Oral arguments scheduled for Muhammad Ameer murder appeal

Muhammad Ameer is appealing two issues from his trial
• The case is scheduled for a year after the last brief was submitted to the court in July 2019

See the full case write-up
Update: Listen to the oral arguments

SANTA FE, N.M. — Justices will hear oral arguments in Muhammad Ameer‘s appeal of his felony murder conviction on July 7, 2020, although it may be done via teleconference.

Muhammad Ameer

The case is scheduled for oral arguments 10:15 a.m., July 7, 2020, but whether it will be in person or via video is still up in the air because of the coronavirus pandemic.

On July 27, 2018, a jury found Ameer, 26, guilty of felony murder and armed robbery, although the latter charge was dropped as the predicate felony for felony murder. The jury acquitted him on a charge of tampering with evidence.

According to court documents, victim Aaron Sieben and Ameer allegedly got into some kind of argument while Sieben was in his truck on March 19, 2017, parked at a Circle K gas station in Albuquerque.

After Ameer allegedly fled from Sieben, Sieben pursued him, leading to a fist fight. As the fight progressed, Ameer allegedly produced a knife and stabbed Sieben two to three times. After stabbing Sieben, Ameer allegedly took his wallet. Sieben died at the scene and Ameer allegedly fled, only to be arrested shortly thereafter.

District Judge Jacqueline Flores sentenced Ameer to life in prison, which is a term of 30 years, on Sept. 25, 2018, according to court documents.

Although four issues were initially raised in a statement of issues for Ameer’s automatic appeal to the Supreme Court, in the June 10, 2019 brief in chief, Assistant Appellate Defender Steven Forsberg, with the Law Office of the Public Defender, only challenged two issues: the judge not suppressing Ameer’s statement to the police and the lack of a self-defense instruction.

In challenging the unsuppressed statement, Forsberg wrote that the Flores used the wrong legal standard to determine if it needed to be suppressed.

A Miranda rights waiver has to be both voluntary and knowing and intelligent, but Flores stated she believed police coercion was required to suppress the statement. However, that is only required to find if a statement was given voluntarily; a statement can still fail to meet the knowing and intelligent threshold in the absence of coercion, Forsberg wrote.

He wrote that Ameer was “in the grips of severe mental illness” when he made the waiver.

The statement was also the only evidence Ameer was the initial aggressor. When the defense argued for a self-defense instruction, the judge said she could not discount his statement to police. Forsberg wrote:

None of the eyewitnesses saw what caused Ameer to flee from Mr. Sieben’s truck while Mr. Sieben chased him, but Ameer in his statement said he had held a knife to Mr. Sieben. None of the witnesses could provide a motive for those events, until Mr. Muhammad said during his statement, according to the detective, “that he wanted to get meth; to get high; to kill himself, and he made statements that he killed him because he did not want to continue to ask people for money.” [8 Tr. 23:24-25:15] Due to his mental state, Ameer’ s statements were not knowing (let alone reliable).

When the defense was arguing for a self-defense instruction, the trial court judge emphasized the importance of the statement: “I think the problem for me is you really want me to discount the Defendant’s statement, and I can’t” [8 Tr. 56:16-56:18] Ameer’s unknowing statement kneecapped any defense he might have had.

Forsberg wrote that the Supreme Court should either reverse his conviction and remand for a re-trial, with the statement suppressed, or remand the case to the District Court for a new hearing on the suppression issue.

Should the trial court, on remand, find the statement unknowing, then a new trial would be required. If, on the other hand, the trial court held that the statement was knowing and intelligent, then Mr. Muhammad could appeal that decision to this Court.

In the answer brief for the prosecution, filed June 20, 2019, Assistant Attorney General Maris Veidemanis wrote that, although Ameer was experiencing delusions during the police interrogation, he was “coherent and articulate” and that the defense presented no information that Ameer did not understand the Miranda warning.

If there had been an error, it wouldn’t have mattered because there was ample evidence to convict him of felony murder, predicated on armed robbery, Veidemanis wrote.

As to the self-defense instruction, Veidemanis wrote that really, the Flores’ decision was based on the lack of evidence that Ameer had been attacked and pointed to State v Abeyta, which states that self defense must be reasonable in relation to the threat posed and that excessive force in self defense “renders the entire action unlawful.”

On July 10, 2019, Forsberg filed a reply brief and focused on Veidemanis’ emphasis on the voluntariness of Ameer’s statement. He wrote that the trial court should be ordered to consider evidence of Ameer’s mental state in determining if he knowingly and intelligently waived his rights.

He wrote that Veidemanis’ claims that the case could have stood without his statement was contradicted by the trial prosecutor, who fought the suppression motion and highlighted the statement during his closing arguments.

The case is scheduled for oral arguments at 10:15 a.m., July 7, 2020.

Continue reading “Oral arguments scheduled for Muhammad Ameer murder appeal”

Sentencing for double vehicular homicide in Santa Fe reset to July

• A jury found Mansoor Karimi guilty for vehicular homicide by reckless driving for the deaths of two men
• He faces a maximum sentence of 12 years

Read the case write-up

SANTA FE, N.M. — The sentencing hearing for a Santa Fe man found guilty of killing two men in a reckless driving crash has been set for July 17, 2020, after the courts reopen for in-person hearings.

Mansoor Karimi

On Feb. 18, 2020, a jury found Mansoor Karimi, 42, guilty on two counts of vehicular homicide by reckless driving for the deaths of Ian Sweatt, 33, and Christopher Bryant, 30, after he T-boned their car on Dec. 16, 2016, according to jury verdict slips.

According to Phaedra Haywoood of the Santa Fe New Mexican, it took the jurors less than two hours to render a verdict following the five-day trial. Another charge, of failure to render aid, was thrown out following a directed verdict.

Karimi blew through a stop sign, at the intersection of Camino Carlos Rey and Plaza Verde, at 60 to 70 mph. The speed limit was 25 mph, according to court documents.

Following the verdict, District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer ordered Karimi be remanded into custody pending sentencing and to undergo a 60-day evaluation to determine a sentence. He faces a maximum sentence of 12 years.

Sentencing had initially been set for May 13, 2020, but Karimi’s attorney, Tom Clark, requested it be set for a day when in-person court hearings were allowed again.

“To conduct this sentencing by video and/or audio limits counsel’s ability to effectively advocate on the Defendant’s behalf,” Clark wrote.

Jury trials in the state are set to resume, on a case-by-case basis, between June 15 and July 15.

In an order dated May 18, Marlowe Sommer set the sentencing hearing for 11 a.m., July 17 in Santa Fe.

“The Court anticipates that appropriate precautionary measures to safely conduct jury trials and in-person evidentiary hearings will be in place on or about July 15, 2020,” she wrote.

Lawsuit

On April 22, 2019, Sweatt’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit (D-101-CV-2019-01095) against Karimi and General Motors, which manufactured the Chevy Cobalt that Bryant was driving. That lawsuit is covered in this story.

To learn more about this case, please read the case write-up.

Continue reading “Sentencing for double vehicular homicide in Santa Fe reset to July”

Kasey Weaver: Kit Francis II — 4-16-2017

Suspect: Kasey Weaver

Victim: Kit Francis II, 24

Charges: DWI Vehicular Homicide

Status: Guilty of DWI vehicular homicide (jury trial)

Sentence: 8 years followed by 5 years supervised probation

Date of incident:  April 16, 2017

Agency: Santa Fe Police Department

Location: Cerrillos Road’s I-25 entrance/exit

Magistrate case number: M-49-FR-2017-00439

District case number: D-101-CR-201700480

Sentencing judge: Mary Marlowe Sommer

Judicial District: First Judicial District

Prosecutor: Blake Nichols

Prosecuting Agency: First Judicial District Attorney’s Office

 

Summary

At 8:25 p.m., April 16, 2017, Kasey Weaver, of Albuquerque, crashed into a car after she tried to stop at a red light. Her boyfriend, Kit Francis II, who was the only passenger in the car, received extensive injuries and later died as a result. A Santa Fe Police Department officer alleged Weaver was intoxicated, on an antihistamine and alcohol, when she crashed.

On June 15, 2017, a Santa Fe grand jury indicted her on a single charge of DUI vehicular homicide.

A jury found her guilty of DUI vehicular homicide on Nov. 16, 2018 and Chief District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer sentenced her to eight years in prison on April 10, 2019.

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The incident

On April 16, 2017, Kasey Weaver, of Albuquerque and her boyfriend, Kit Francis II, 24, had allegedly been drinking and were headed back to Albuquerque, after drinking at Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, when Weaver crashed into a car, around 8:25 p.m., after she tried to stop at a red light at Cerrillos Road, before the exit to the I-25 interstate.

Kasey Weaver

Francis was transported to the hospital, but he had sever injuries. A few days later, he died from those injuries.

Officer Heinz A. de Luca was called to investigate the crash and Sgt. Anthony Tapia told him that Weaver was the driver. She was being attended to by medics with the Santa Fe Fire Department, de Luca wrote in a statement of probable cause for Weaver’s arrest.

Tapia alleged he could smell alcohol coming from Weaver’s breath.

After Weaver was helped onto a gurney in one of the ambulances on the scene, de Luca followed behind. He did not write if he read her a Miranda warning.

“I asked Ms. Weaver what had occurred and she explained that she was traveling on Cerrillos Road and headed to I-25 Southbound en route to her residence in Albuquerque,” de Luca wrote. “Ms. Weaver added that as she approached the intersection, she noted that the traffic control light was red, attempted to stop and collided with the other vehicle.”

De Luca noted that Weaver’s eyes were allegedly bloodshot, her speech was slurred and he could smell alcohol coming from her breath.

Weaver allegedly said she had three to four drinks during the entire day and was coming from Meow Wolf.

While she was in the gurney, her neck immobilized, he administered two field sobriety tests, which appeared to indicate her alleged intoxication.

“I asked Ms. Weaver if she had consumed any other substances aside from alcoholic beverages,” de Luca wrote. “Ms. Weaver stated that at about noon that day, she had taken a pill of a drug she described as ‘hydroxyzine’  for the treatment of anxiety. I asked Ms. Weaver how many more she took and Ms. Weaver admitted taking a second pill sometime in the afternoon, and that she did not remember when.”

Hydroxyzine is an antihistamine that is also used to treat anxiety as it also acts as a sedative, depressing the central nervous system.

De Luca then had Weaver recite the numbers back from 74 to 52, which she did not do well on. He then arrested her, although she was transported to the Christus St. Vincent’s Regional Medical Center. There, she agreed to have her blood taken for a drug and alcohol test at 9:30 p.m., although de Luca also got a search warrant for the blood at 11:30 and a second vial of blood was taken at 11:30 p.m.

PC - Kasey Weaver - 4-16-2017

Indictment, trial and sentence

Judge's portrait
District Judge Mary Marlowe-Sommer

On June 15, 2017, a Santa Fe grand jury indicted Weaver on a single charge of DUI vehicular homicide.

On Nov. 13, 2018, a trial began on the DUI vehicular homicide charge and on Nov. 16, 2018, a Santa Fe jury found her guilty of the single charge.

On April 10, 2019, First Judicial Chief District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer sentenced Weaver to eight years in prison followed by five years of supervised probation. Weaver faced a maximum sentence of 15 years.

Weaver received 643 days (1.7 years) of credit for time served while she was awaiting trial, including 500 days she spent out of custody, but while being electronically monitored. In New Mexico, time spent on electronic monitoring counts toward the time served calculation.

Request for reduced sentence

In a hand-written motion on May 14, 2020, Weaver noted she has no prior convictions and, since being sent to prison, has not received any discipline.

“Further, I have been enrolled in multiple programs starting with Matrix in Santa Fe County Jail, Sober Living shortly after my transfer to Springer Womens Facility, and most recently with the completion of the Residential Drug Abuse Treatment Program on the 27th of March, 2020,” Weaver wrote.

Attached to the motion are a series of certificates noting the programs she completed.

No hearings have been set and no other entries appear on the court docket.

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Matthew Rodriguez: Mitchell Daniel — 3-25-2017

Suspect: Matthew Rodriguez, 34

Victim: Mitchell Daniel, 64

Charges: First-degree murder, aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon and tampering with evidence; pleaded down down to second-degree murder

Status: Plea to second-degree murder

Sentence: 10 years followed by 5 years supervised probation

Date of incident: March 25, 2017

Agency: Santa Fe Police Department

Location: 1713 Fifth Street, Santa Fe

Magistrate case number: M-49-FR-2017-319

District case number: D-101-CR-2017-311

Judicial district: First judicial district

 

Summary

On March 25, 2017, Matthew Rodriguez, 34 at the time, allegedly stabbed his 64-year-old neighbor, Mitchell Daniel, in the chest repeatedly, compelled by the voices in his head. He allegedly admitted to stabbing the man, who appeared to be living in a van outside of Rodriguez’s apartment complex.

On Oct. 19 or Oct. 22, 2018, Rodriguez pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for Daniel’s death and, per the plea deal, received a sentence of 10 years followed by five years of supervised probation.

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The incident

On March 25, 2017, Matthew Rodriguez, 34 at the time, allegedly stabbed his 64-year-old neighbor, Mitchell Daniel, in the chest repeatedly, compelled by the voices in his head.

Although Daniel was transported after the stabbing to the hospital, he died from his injuries shortly thereafter.

Officers were first called to the scene following a 911 call that a man had been either shot or stabbed. Rodriguez allegedly took credit for making the call after he had been arrested, Detective Tony Trujillo wrote in a statement of probable cause for Rodriguez’s arrest.

Matthew Rodriguez

Officers found four men at the scene when they arrived, including Rodriguez and took all four of them into custody.

After Rodriguez was put into the back of the police car, he allegedly started punching himself in the face. After being handcuffed, he then allegedly started banging his head on the divider in the police unit. He was taken to the Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center for his head injury.

“While in the emergency room at the hospital being treated by the attending physician and nursing staff Matthew Rodriguez made a statement ‘how’s the fuck I stabbed doing’? and ‘I called 911 about the stabbing; I didn’t realize that I did it,” Trujillo wrote. “These statements were heard by attending physician and nursing staff.”

At the police department, Trujillo talked to Gary Brown, who described himself as an acquaintance and told Trujillo that he was one of the people who called 911.

“Mr. Brown was at the apartment with Matthew Rodriguez approximately one hour prior to making the 911 emergency call. Mr. Brown stated Matthew Rodriguez suddenly told him ‘you need to leave,’ and ‘fucking neighbor,'” Trujillo wrote. “Mr. Brown told Affiant Matthew Rodriguez is schizophrenic and hears voices in his head. Mr. Brown told Affiant this was not unusual to him because Matthew Rodriguez on other occasions had told him ‘you need to leave’ for no reason at all.”

He gathered his belongings and left the apartment. While outside, he heard someone yelling to call 911 and he went up to the apartment and saw Daniel lying on the ground, bleeding.

“Mr. Brown called 911,” Trujillo wrote. “Mr. Brown also told Affiant that Matthew Rodriguez always carries a kitchen knife with him.”

While Rodriguez was being held at the police department, an officer walked up and asked if he wanted a cup of water.

“Matthew Rodriguez responded ‘the person that I stabbed,
what’s going on with him?'” Trujillo wrote.

Later on, Rodriguez was interviewed and he agreed to waive his Miranda rights.

“In this statement Matthew Rodriguez admitted to stabbing Mitchell Daniel,” Trujillo wrote. “Matthew Rodriguez stated he did not mean to kill him, saying ‘I was just angry at the voices in my head.'”

He allegedly described the knife as being nine inches long with a black handle and he allegedly threw it into the sink after the stabbing, Trujillo wrote.

“Matthew Rodriguez stated he stabbed Mitchell Daniel inside Mitchell Daniel’s van which Mitchell Daniel had been living out of and parked in the driveway of 1713 Fifth Street,” Trujillo wrote.

Below is the statement of probable cause for Matthew Rodriguez’s arrest.

 

PC-CC - Matthew Rodriguez - 3-27-2017

 

Indictment, competency and plea deal

On April 13, 2017, Rodriguez was indicted on charges of:

  • First-degree murder under the depraved-mind theory
  • Aggravated burglary: a kitchen knife
  • Tampering with evidence

At his May 1, 2017 arraignment, District Court Judge T. Glenn Ellington placed a no-bond hold on him.

Bisbee Court, Santa Fe, NM. Photo by Wheeler Cowperthwaite. CC BY

On May 5, 2017, a notice was filed that Rodriguez’s competency was in question and on July 5, 2017, Ellington suspended the proceedings.

On Feb. 9, 2018, Rodriguez’s attorney withdrew the question of his competency and filed a notice that Rodriguez would plead not guilty by reason of insanity and an incapacity to form specific intent.

On April 17, 2018, prosecutors filed a motion to have Rodriguez moved from the Santa Fe Detention Center to the custody of the Department of Corrections, as well as a motion to close the courtroom to hear the motion.

On April 24, 2018, the Santa Fe Reporter published an article by Justin Horwath about Rodriguez’s confinement in the Santa Fe Detention Center and his extensive stay in solitary confinement.

According to the article, on Sept. 21, 2017, Rodriguez attacked two separate inmates, who declined to press charges against him.

Judge's portrait
First Judicial District Judge T. Glenn Ellington

“A corrections officer wrote in an incident report that Rodriguez said he assaulted the two inmates because they ‘are mind-control freaks,'” Horwath wrote.

On Sept. 21, 2018, prosecutors and the defense reached an agreement for a plea deal. That plea deal was signed by Ellington on Oct. 19, 2018 although the docket states the hearing took place on Oct. 22.

During that hearing, Rodriguez pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

According to the plea deal, which Ellington accepted, Rodriguez will spend 10 years in prison, sans credit for time served. Prosecutors agreed to drop charges of aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon and tampering with evidence.

Ellington, acting according to the plea deal, sentenced Rodriguez to a total of 15 years, but suspended five and ordered that they be served on intensive supervised probation.

According to the judgement and sentence, Ellington ordered that the Department of Corrections place Rodriguez in “an appropriate Mental Health Unit where Defendant’s medical regimen can be fulfilled by the New Mexico Department of Corrections” and receive his required medication and mental health treatment.

 

See the documents on Google Drive

Ameer Muhammad: Aaron Sieben — 3-19-2017

Suspect: Ameer Muhammad

Victim: Aaron Sieben, 30

Charges: First-degree or felony murder, armed robbery, tampering with evidence, shoplifting under $250

Status: Jury conviction on felony murder and shoplifting; acquittal on tampering with evidence; armed robbery vacated by the judge. Upheld by the Supreme Court.

Sentence: Life with the possibility of parole after 30 1/2 years (mandatory)

Location: Circle K gas station at 900 Eubank Boulevard NE, Albuquerque

Investigating agency: Albuquerque Police Department

Date of incident: March 19, 2017

District case number: D-202-CR-201701237

Metro case number: T-4-FR-2017001669

Supreme Court number: S-1-SC-37364

Judicial district: Second judicial district

Prosecuting agency: Attorney General’s office

Former prosecuting agency: Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office

Prosecutor: Mark Probasco, Attorney General’s Office

Former prosecutor: Les Romaine, Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office

Defense attorneys: Robert Martin, Matthias Swonger

Appellant defense attorney: Steven Forsberg

Trial/sentencing judge: Jacqueline Flores

Supreme Court opinion writer: Justice Barbara Vigil

 

Summary

On March 19, 2017, Aaron Sieben and Ameer Muhammad allegedly got into some kind of argument while Sieben was in his truck, parked at a Circle K gas station.

After Muhammad allegedly fled from Sieben, Sieben pursued him, leading to a fist fight. As the fight progressed, Muhammad allegedly produced a knife and stabbed Sieben two to three times. After stabbing Sieben, Muhammad allegedly took his wallet. Sieben died at the scene and Muhammad allegedly fled, only to be arrested shortly thereafter.

Muhammad was indicted by a grand jury on March 30, 2017, on first-degree murder or felony murder, armed robbery, tampering with evidence and shoplifting under $250. After multiple allegations of misconduct by the prosecution and defense, the Attorney General’s Office took over the prosecution. The defense also tried to suppress statements he made to a detective after he asserted his right to an attorney.

On July 27, 2018, a jury found Muhammad guilty of felony murder, armed robbery and shoplifting under $250 while finding him not guilty of tampering with evidence.

On Nov. 7, 2018, Muhammad’s attorneys appealed his conviction and on June 10, 2019, his attorneys filed a brief in chief, arguing his statements should have been suppressed and the judge should have given a self defense instruction to jurors.

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The incident

On March 19, 2017, Albuquerque Police Officers were called to the Circle K gas station at 900 Eubank Boulevard after a husband and wife called in a stabbing.

Ameer Muhammad

When officers arrived, they found Aaron Sieben, 30, dead on Lomas Boulevard NE, Detective Andrew Hsu wrote in a criminal complaint for Ameer Muhammad‘s arrest.

Multiple people were standing over Sieben and one person was trying to administer first aid. After paramedics arrived, a short time later, they declared Sieben was dead.

Officers, given a description of the alleged stabber, were able to locate Muhammad near-by.

Hsu interviewed two witnesses, George and Lindsy Brigham. They were parked on the south side of the gas station. Sieben, in a gray truck, was parked beside them.

“Mr. Brigham also observed a black male adult, later identified as Muhammad Ameer, standing outside the gray GMC pickup truck,” Hsu wrote. “As Mr. Ameer started to leave the vehicle, the decedent got out of the GMC and started to Mr. and Mrs. Brigham, ‘Get that mother fucker!’ Mr. and Mrs. Brigham believed that the decedent was requesting their assistance for an emergency.”

Sieben then chased Muhammad along the sidewalk behind the store while the Brighams got out of their vehicle and watched as the pair engaged in a fist fight, which spilled into the westbound lanes of Lomas Boulevard NE.

“While on Lomas Blvd NE, Mr. Ameer produced a six-to-seven inch knife,” Hsu wrote. “Mr. and Mrs. Bringham saw Mr. Ameer going through the decedent’s pants pockets. Mrs. Brigham observed Mr. Ameer remove a black wallet from the decedent’s right rear pocket. Mr. Ameer then fled the scene on foot eastbound on Lomas Blvd NE.”

The Brigham’s tried to administer first aid until paramedics arrived and Lindsy Bringham called 911 and provided a description of Muhammad and the direction he was headed. George Brigham positively identified him, after officers detained him.

He was initially charged, the day of the alleged incident, on an open count of murder and robbery with a deadly weapon.

Below is the criminal complaint for Muhammad’s arrest.

 

Muhammad Ameer PC -3-20-2017_Redacted

 

Indictment and case movements

On March 30, 2017, a grand jury indicted Muhammad on charges of:

  • First-degree murder, or in the alternative, felony murder
  • Armed robbery
  • Tampering with evidence for allegedly stealing the wallet
  • Shoplifting under $250 for razors blades and a knife allegedly stolen from Wal-Mart

Attempts at disqualifying the DA

On Sept. 7, 2017, Assistant District Attorney Les Romaine accused defense attorneys Robert Martin and Matthias Swonger of “engaging in gamesmanship to try and obtain suppression of witnesses.” On Nov. 7, 2017, after more motions, including ones to remove the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office entered its appearance in the case.

Romaine, in his motion for sanctions, alleged Martin and Swonger were trying to suppress witnesses because of issues related to pre-trial witness interviews and by putting off interviews of police officers until closer to trial, but before the deadline. He also alleged that the defense, both employed by the Law Office of the Public Defender, did not “seem motivated to move forward in the adjudication of this matter.”

He requested sanctions to “deter this sort of behavior.”

Swonger filed a response on Sept. 11, 2017 and wrote that they were splitting the pre-trial interviews and Martin was not available until November 2017.

“The State responded on August 7, 2017 and stated that the ‘interviews in this case cannot be put off any longer,’ despite the fact that the interview deadline in this matter is not
until January 22, 2018,” Swonger wrote about Romaine. “The State gave no further explanation to Defense of why interview dates in November, two months prior to the interview deadline, would be unacceptable to him.”

Swonger also alleged that Grace Fonesca, employed by the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office and who was on the prosecution’s witness list, was trying to avoid being served with a subpeona and had been providing false names to investigators for the defense. (According to an Oct. 27, 2017 court filing by Romaine, Fonesca saw Sieben’s killing.)

On Sept. 18, 2017, the judge set a hearing for the motion for sanctions on Oct. 19, 2017.

On Oct. 18, 2017, Martin filed a motion to dismiss or disqualify the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Martin wrote in the motion that Fonesca allegedly lied to investigators, claimed she was a different person when an investigator tried to serve her with a subpoena and allegedly claimed that Romaine told her she did not have to accept the subpoena.

Martin wrote that Romaine violated Muhammad’s Fifth and Fourteenth rights, as well as state constitutional rights, by “the obstruction and interference of the prosecutor in the service of a lawful subpoena upon the witness in this matter.”

“This was in part due to the inherent conflict of interest by the witness being employed at the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s office and therefore, wanting to please her employer in this matter,” Martin wrote.

Martin wrote that Romaine caused a denial of due process because of bias “formed” by Fonesca being an employee of his office.

“The interplay between the employee witness and the prosecutor has given rise to the appearance of impropriety and a need for a special prosecutor,” Martin wrote.

According to an affidavit by Investigator Milton Rodriguez, and attached to Martin’s motion, Rodriguez went to to Fonesca’s house on Sept. 6, 2017 and a woman was sitting outside on the phone. She claimed her name was “Lisa” and she was the dog sitter. Rodriguez pulled up Fonesca’s driver’s license photo and found he had been duped, he wrote.

On Sept. 11, 2017, Rodriguez found Fonesca’s 17-year-old son outside the house and explained why he was there.

“After explaining to Richard (Fonesca) Jr. the subpoenas I had in hand, Richard Jr. told me he witnessed the same incident in question. Richard Jr. told me, his mother told him not to tell the police what he had seen because she did not want him to get involved,” Rodriguez wrote.

On Oct. 19, 2017, following a hearing, District Court Judge Christina Argyres denied Romaine’s motion for sanctions in a form order.

On Oct. 27, 2017, Romaine filed a response and alleged that he never told Fonesca to refuse service of the subpoena.

On Nov. 7, 2017, prosecutor Mark Probasco, with the Attorney General’s Office, entered his appearance in the case, taking the case away from Romaine and the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

Motion to suppress

Portrait of District Judge Jacqueline Flores
Judge Jacqueline Flores

On April 2, 2018, Martin filed a motion to suppress statements Muhammad made to Det. Andrew Hsu on March 24, 2017, after he had been arraigned, asked for an attorney and was being represented by the Law Office of the Public Defender.

Martin wrote that Muhammad was “actively hallucinating” during the interrogation by Hsu and he was represented when Hsu interrogated him on March 24, 2017.

On April 12, 2018, Probasco filed an opposition to the motion to suppress statements and he wrote that Muhammad initiated conversation with Hsu on March 27, 2017. It is not clear which date is correct.

Probasco wrote: “After documenting an injury on the Defendant’s hand, the Defendant — without  any question being posed– volunteers ‘Like, uh, never mind. I was going to say, like, I know I did it but that· is that what y’all want to know? Like I did it but I feel like I wasn’t in my right mind at the time though. Like, I feel like everybody in Albuquerque, New Mexico was trying to kill me and shit.'”

“Law enforcement,” although it is not clear if that was Hsu or someone else, stopped Muhammad from speaking and told him he needed to read him his rights, which he did.

District Court Judge Jacqueline Flores denied the motion to suppress for the reasons Probasco outlined.

Flores wrote:

“The waiver in this case comports with the requirements of the Constitution because Defendant initiated his interrogation: he was given repeated and individualized advice of
rights, he repeatedly attempted to discuss his criminal conduct, his demeanor showed relief when he initiated his statement, and his affirmative waiver of rights indicated that
he still wanted to provide a statement to the police in this case despite having on previous occasion asserted his right to counsel.”

Guilty verdict and sentence

Trial began on July 23, 2018 and the jury found Muhammad guilty on July 27, 2018, of felony (first-degree) murder, armed robbery and shoplifting $250 or less.

Flores vacated the armed robbery charge because it was the predicate felony for felony murder. He was acquitted of tampering with evidence.

On Sept. 25, 2018, Flores sentenced him to life in prison, which is a term of 30 years, according to a remand order.

Supreme Court appeal

In an initial statement of issues filed Nov. 7, 2018, Martin raised four issues on appeal:

  • The denial of the suppression of Muhammad’s statements to Andrew Hsu
  • The judge’s denial of a self defense instruction to the jury
  • If the judge erred by allowing Det. Tasia Sullivan to be designated as the case agent, and attend the trial, despite not being the lead agent
  • If there was sufficient evidence to convict Muhammad

In the June 10, 2019 brief in chief, Assistant Appellate Defender Steven Forsberg, with the Law Office of the Public Defender, only challenged two issues: the judge not suppressing Muhammad’s statement to the police and the lack of a self-defense instruction.

However, both of those issues are related because the judge, Flores, used Muhammad’s statements as the basis for not giving a self-defense instruction, Forsberg wrote.

The 42-page brief outlines much of the testimony at trial.

In challenging the unsuppressed statement, Forsberg wrote that the Flores used the wrong legal standard to determine if it needed to be suppressed.

A Miranda rights waiver has to be both voluntary and knowing and intelligent, but Flores stated she believed police coercion was required to suppress the statement. However, that is only required to find if a statement was given voluntarily; a statement can still fail to meet the knowing and intelligent threshold in the absence of coercion, Forsberg wrote.

He wrote that Muhammad was “in the grips of severe mental illness” when he made the waiver.

The statement was also the only evidence Muhammad was the initial aggressor. When the defense argued for a self-defense instruction, the judge said she could not discount his statement to police. Forsberg wrote:

None of the eyewitnesses saw what caused Muhammad to flee from Mr. Sieben’s truck while Mr. Sieben chased him, but Ameer in his statement said he had held a knife to Mr. Sieben. None of the witnesses could provide a motive for those events, until Mr. Muhammad said during his statement, according to the detective, “that he wanted to get meth; to get high; to kill himself, and he made statements that he killed him because he did not want to continue to ask people for money.” [8 Tr. 23:24-25:15] Due to his mental state, Ameer’ s statements were not knowing (let alone reliable).

When the defense was arguing for a self-defense instruction, the trial court judge emphasized the importance of the statement: “I think the problem for me is you really want me to discount the Defendant’s statement, and I can’t” [8 Tr. 56:16-56:18] Ameer’s unknowing statement kneecapped any defense he might have had.

Forsberg wrote that the Supreme Court should either reverse his conviction and remand for a re-trial, with the statement suppressed, or remand the case to the District Court for a new hearing on the suppression issue.

Should the trial court, on remand, find the statement unknowing, then a new trial would be required. If, on the other hand, the trial court held that the statement was knowing and intelligent, then Mr. Muhammad could appeal that decision to this Court.

In the answer brief for the prosecution, filed June 20, 2019, Assistant Attorney General Maris Veidemanis wrote that, although Muhammad was experiencing delusions during the police interrogation, he was “coherent and articulate” and that the defense presented no information that Muhammad did not understand the Miranda warning.

If there had been an error, it wouldn’t have mattered because there was ample evidence to convict him of felony murder, predicated on armed robbery, Veidemanis wrote.

As to the self-defense instruction, Veidemanis wrote that really, the Flores’ decision was based on the lack of evidence that Muhammad had been attacked and pointed to State v Abeyta, which states that self defense must be reasonable in relation to the threat posed and that excessive force in self defense “renders the entire action unlawful.”

On July 10, 2019, Forsberg filed a reply brief and focused on Veidemanis’ emphasis on the voluntariness of Muhammad’s statement. He wrote that the trial court should be ordered to consider evidence of Muhammad’s mental state in determining if he knowingly and intelligently waived his rights.

He wrote that Veidemanis’ claims that the case could have stood without his statement was contradicted by the trial prosecutor, who fought the suppression motion and highlighted the statement during his closing arguments.

The case is scheduled for oral arguments at 10:15 a.m., July 7, 2020.

Conviction affirmed

On Oct. 19, 2020, the New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously upheld Muhammad’s conviction for felony murder, rejecting the two arguments made by his defense attorney: Flores not suppressing Muhammad’s statement to the police and the lack of a self-defense instruction.

Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil, in her opinion for the court, wrote that no self-defense instruction was appropriate because there was no evidence that the Sieben, 30, ever had a weapon, even if he struck first.

Muhammad’s Miranda rights were not violated because, based on the recording of his interview, because his “mental illness did not affect his understanding of his rights but rather his motivation for not exercising those rights,” Vigil wrote.

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Stories on this case

Supreme Court upholds Ameer Muhammad’s conviction for 2017 ABQ stabbing death

Oral arguments scheduled for Muhammad Ameer murder appeal

Mansoor Karimi: Christopher Bryant, Ian Sweatt — 12-16-2016

Suspect: Mansoor Karimi

Victim: Christopher Bryant, 30

Victim: Ian Sweatt, 33

Charges: Two counts of vehicular homicide reckless driving and failure to give information and render aid

Status: Guilty of two counts of vehicular homicide reckless driving following jury trial

Sentence: 8 years (maximum of 12)

Date of incident: Dec. 16, 2016

Agency: Santa Fe Police Department

Location: Intersection of Camino Carlos Rey and Plaza Verde, Santa Fe

County: Santa Fe

Prosecutor: Kent Wahlquist

Prosecuting agency: First Judicial District Attorney’s Office

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

District case number: D-101-CR-2017-00250

 

Summary

On Dec. 16, 2016, Mansoor Karimi was allegedly speeding down Camino Carlos Rey, a residential road with a speed limit of 25 mph, when he blew through a stop sign and crashed into the side of a car driven by Christopher Bryant, 30, pronouned dead at the scene.

His passenger, Ian Sweatt, 33, was transported, then pronounced dead at the hospital.

Officers estimated Karimi’s speed, in a BMW 335i, to be at least 50 mph when he went through the stop sign.

On Jan. 12, 2017, Officer James Plummer submitted an affidavit for an arrest warrant to bring Karimi into custody on two counts of vehicular homicide.

On March 23, 2017, a Santa Fe grand jury indicted Karimi on two counts of vehicular homicide and one count of failure to give information and aid at a crash.

[cmtoc_table_of_contents]

The incident

On Friday, Dec. 16, 2016, Santa Fe Police officers were dispatched to the intersection of Camino Carlos Rey and Plaza Verde for a car crash.

Mansoor Karimi

At the scene, Christopher Bryant, 30, the driver of a blue Chevy Cobalt, was pronounced dead. His passenger, Ian Sweatt, 33 was transported to the hospital by ambulance, where he was also pronounced dead, Officer James Plummer wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant filed on Jan. 12, 2017.

At the scene, Mansoor Karimi, 38, was sitting in a different vehicle, not related to the crash.

Plummer found that Byrant has been driving east on Plaza Verde when he was allegedly T-boned by Karimi, driving a BMW 335i.

“The evidence exhibited on the BMW showed it was going south on Camino Carlos Rey due to the front impact of the vehicle,” Plummer wrote. “After the T- Bone impact, the Chevrolet· Cobalt Traveled 251 feet uphill south of the impact site. The BMW traveled 157 feet uphill south bound on Camino Carlos Rey. With training and experience,and upon viewing both vehicles final resting position, it indicated that the BMW was traveling at a high rate of speed in excess: of the posted 25 mph speed limit, and failed to stop at the posted stop sign in a residential area.”

The point of impact was 44 feet into the intersection, which meant Karimi allegedly blew through it, going at least 50 mph, Plummer wrote.

“With training and experience, the BMW 335i could not have accelerated to a speed that would induce the damage seen at the scene of the crash in that distance if it had come to a complete stop at the stop sign,” Plummer wrote.

An unnamed witness, headed north on Camino Carlos Rey told Plummer that Karimi was allegedly driving an estimated 60-70 mph. The speed limit for the residential area was 25 mph.

“The search warrants on the vehicles confirmed the· reconstruction equations on the Chevrolet Cobalt and the documentation saved in the Airbag Control Module showed the Chevrolet Cobalt within the limits of the speed of the roadway,” Plummer wrote. “The speed of the Chevrolet Cobalt was documented on the Airbag Control Module as 7 mph at the time of the event. The energy of the crash indicates that the black BMW would have had to transfer the rest of the energy to induce the injuries ·reported.”

Later investigation would show that Bryant had a blood-alcohol content of 0.07.

Affidavit for Arrest Warrant - Karimi Mansoor

 

Court proceedings

Indictment

On March 24, 2017, a grand jury indicted Karimi on charges of:

  • Two counts of vehicular homicide (reckless driving)
  • Failure to give information and render aid at the scene of an accident

District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer arraigned him on April 21, 2017 and released him on a $10,000 signature bond.

Missing cell phone

On Nov. 1, 2018,  Karimi’s attorney, Tom Clark, filed a motion to compel the production of the cell phones found in Bryant’s car or, in the alternative, dismiss the case against him.

Judge's portrait
District Judge Mary Marlowe-Sommer

Clark wrote there was a cell phone on Bryant’s seat but it was never entered into evidence. He attached crime scene photos to the motion that show the damaged cell phone on the seat of the car, right after he was removed from the vehicle. In another picture he attached, taken after the crash, the cell phone is missing.

No record existed as to the whereabouts of the cellphone and neither Bryant’s phone, nor Sweatt’s phone were mentioned in any police reports.

“Whether Mr. Bryant was either texting, talking, or otherwise using his telephone at the time of the accident is extremely relevant to this case,” Clark wrote. “If Mr. Bryant was using his telephone immediately prior to, or at the time of the crash, this would be exculpatory evidence for the Defendant.”

If the phones couldn’t be located, the case needed to be dismissed, he wrote.

Prosecutor Kent Wahlquist wrote in a response, Nov. 16, 2018, that the case shouldn’t be dismissed because it did not appear that law enforcement acted in bad faith in not preserving the cellphones.

On Dec. 18, 2018, Marlowe Sommer issued an order to the Santa Fe Police Department to search the cellphone. On Jan. 3, 2019, Clark filed a stipulated motion to continue the trial, that had been scheduled for Jan. 23, 2019, because discovery and the examination of evidence was ongoing.

Guilty verdict

On Feb. 18, 2020, a jury found Karimi guilty on two counts of vehicular homicide by reckless driving for the two deaths, according to jury verdict slips.

According to Phaedra Haywoood of the Santa Fe New Mexican, it took the jurors less than two hours to render a verdict following the five-day trial. Another charge, of failure to render aid, was thrown out following a directed verdict.

Following the verdict, District Judge Mary Marlowe-Sommer ordered Karimi be remanded into custody pending sentencing and to undergo a 60-day evaluation to determine a sentence. He faces a maximum sentence of 12 years.

Sentencing had initially been set for May 13, 2020, but Karimi’s attorney, Tom Clark, requested it be set for a day when in-person court hearings were allowed again.

“To conduct this sentencing by video and/or audio limits counsel’s ability to effectively advocate on the Defendant’s behalf,” Clark wrote.

In an order dated May 18, Marlowe Sommer set the sentencing hearing for 11 a.m., July 17 in Santa Fe.

“The Court anticipates that appropriate precautionary measures to safely conduct jury trials and in-person evidentiary hearings will be in place on or about July 15, 2020,” she wrote.

Sentencing

On July 17, 2020, Marlowe-Sommer sentenced Karimi to eight years in prison followed by four years of supervised probation, of a possible 12-year sentence, according to a judgement and sentence.

According to Phaedra Haywoood of the Santa Fe New Mexican, Marlowe-Sommer told Karimi, before she sentenced him, he was driving too fast, “blew through a stop sign” and that the crash was avoidable.

She sentenced Karimi to four years for the death of Sweatt and four years for the death of Bryant. He received credit for five months time served.

Motion to reconsider sentencing

Clark filed a motion to reconsider the sentence on Aug. 18, 2020. He wrote that Karimi should have been sentenced in person, as his sentence could have been so high because the video feed affected Marlowe-Sommer’s ability to “fully assess” his remorsefulness

“That the absence of any degree of humanity, in a proceeding done entirely by video and audio, affects the ability of the Court to impose a sentence consistence with a just and fair sentence,” Clark wrote.

Clark wrote in his motion that he believed Karimi’s due process rights were violated by the “impersonal, constraining, and awkward presentation of his sentencing argument by video.”

“Defendant asserts that this potentially is a reason that contributed to the sentence in this case which exceeded the seven (7) year sentence requested by the State,” Clark wrote.

Clark wrote in his motion that Mansoor also deserved to have his sentence reconsidered because prosecutors with the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office treated Mansoor differently than the defendant in a similar case. He appeared to be referring to the case of Ryan Palma, charged with vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident for the death of a 20-year-old motorcyclist. A grand jury indicted Palma on charges of vehicular homicide by reckless driving, knowingly leaving the scene of an accident causing death, tampering with evidence and failure to give immediate notice of accidents.

Haywood reported on Palma’s case and that Marlowe-Sommer rejected a plea deal, July 31, 2020, where Palma would plead no contest to knowingly leaving the scene of an accident and have all the other charges dropped.

“It is at best, an arbitrary and unfair charging decision against an individual without a valid explanation,” Clark wrote. “Such non-uniform plea policies, varying drastically from one prosecutor to the next, are inherently unfair, and raise troubling questions about the charging decision in case.”

No new hearing has been set in the case.

Lawsuit

On April 22, 2019, Ian Sweatt’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit (D-101-CV-2019-01095) against General Motors, which manufactured the Chevy Cobalt that Bryant was driving, and Karimi.

According to the amended lawsuit complaint, Sweatt and Bryant were both wearing seat belts but were still killed by the crash because the Cobalt “violated several crashworthiness principles and thereby failed to protect them.”

“The injuries complained of herein occurred because the vehicle in question was not reasonably crashworthy and, thereby, created an unreasonable risk of injury and harm,” Justin Kaufman wrote in the complaint.

He listed a series of problems with the Cobalt, including that the seat belts did not prevent “adequate protection to far sided occupants,” that it failed to prevent “rollout” from the far side, the car’s side structure was “weak and inferior” and the “survival space” in the car was destroyed.

See the court documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud