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”

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”

Zuni man sentenced to 5 months for probation violation

Raylan Reano waived an evidentiary hearing
• Judge James Parker ordered him back to prison for five months
• Reano killed girlfriend Nicky Chavez in a drunk driving crash in 2016

See the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Raylan Reano will spend the next five months in prison after a judge ordered him back, Aug. 25, 2020, after he was initially released on supervised probation after serving a two-year sentence for killing his girlfriend in a drunk driving crash.

Mug shot of Raylan Reano from the Santa Fe County Detention Center
Raylan Reano

Reano, 27, admitted to violating the conditions of his release by failing to follow the instructions of his probation officer, failing to reside at a halfway-house after his release and taking drugs, according to a judgement signed by District Judge James Parker.

Raylan Reano killed his girlfriend, Nicky Chavez, 26, in a drunk driving crash on Oct. 23, 2016. He received a two-year sentence after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

Reano faced a maximum sentence of nine additional months for the probation violations, according to federal court documents.

Reano pleaded guilty on March 13, 2018, to a single count of involuntary manslaughter and a year later, Parker sentenced Reano to two years in federal prison, to be served at the same time as three tribal sentences, followed by supervised release for three years. One of those tribal sentences was for escaping from jail.

Reano’s probation officer,  Christopher Fiedler, reported problems with Reano as soon as he was initially released, on Jan. 3, 2020, and that Reano admitted to using drugs before even leaving prison, according to court documents.

In the original petition filed March 25, 2020, Fielder alleged Reano admitted to using methamphetamine and Suboxone and he tested positive for drugs on Jan. 3, 4 and 7, 2020.

In the second amended petition filed May 18, 2020, Fiedler wrote Reano tested positive for cocaine on March 20, 2020 and admitted to using cocaine in a subsequent interview. A drug testing sweat patch, applied on April 17, showed positive results for THC, the chemical in marijuana.

The case

To read more about the crash, the plea, or the arguments over sentencing, please read the case write-up.

According court documents and an autopsy report, on Oct. 23, 2016, Reano, with a blood-alcohol content of 0.365, drove off State Road 53, overcorrected and flipped, ejecting Chavez, killing her.

According to a response to a sentencing memorandum by prosecutor Sarah Mease, witnesses said Reano was driving recklessly and at a “high rate of speed” when he lost control of his car and it rolled. He had a blood-alcohol content level, or BAC, of 0.365, over four times the legal limit of 0.08, and in the area of possible alcohol poisoning, which Mease described as “shockingly high.”

Continue reading “Zuni man sentenced to 5 months for probation violation”

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”

Santa Fe man sentenced to 12 years for fatal DWI crash

Editor’s Note: This story published late, eight months after sentencing, because court records were not previously available.

Read the case write up

SANTA FE, N.M. — Paulo Vega-Mendoza will spend 12 years in prison for crashing into motorcyclist Paul Padilla and killing him, in 2017.

Paulo Vega-Mendoza

District Court Judge T. Glenn Ellington sentenced Vega-Mendoza, 25, of Santa Fe, to 12 years followed by three years of supervised probation on Sept. 27, 2019. He had previously pleaded guilty to a single count of DWI vehicular homicide on April 29, 2019, under a plea signed by prosecutor Blake Nichols.

Ellington gave Vega-Mendoza credit for 792 days served, just over two years, for time spent in jail and on electronic monitoring prior sentencing.

Vega-Mendoza ran into the back of Padilla’s motorcycle, April 15, 2017, on Airport Road in Santa Fe. He fled from the scene and then crashed his own car, a Dodge Neon. It landed on its hood.

Witnesses, and then officers, allegedly chased Vega-Mendoza on foot before he tried to climb and fence and it broke, throwing him backward.

Padilla, 63,  died from extensive brain injuries on April 25, 2017.

For more details, please see the summary of the case.

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Kimsey Barboan: Anthony Martinez — 12-16-2017

Suspect: Kimsey Barboan

Victim: Anthony Martinez, 61

Charges: Second-degree murder, unlawful taking of a vehicle, tampering with evidence, DWI, driving on a license revoked for DWI and open container of alcohol in a vehicle

Status: Pleaded down to voluntary manslaughter, unlawful taking of a vehicle and DWI third offense

Sentence: 4 years followed by 3.5 years supervised release, per plea agreement; credit for 1.5 years time served

Date of incident: Dec. 16, 2017

Investigating Agency: State Police

Location: 334 County Road 13, Cuba, Sandoval County

Magistrate case number: M-45-FR-2017-00919

District case number: D-1329-CR-201800063

 

Summary

On Dec. 16, 2017, Kimsey Barboan, 33, beat his roommate, Anthony Martinez, 61, to death with a baseball bat at their Cuba home. He then drove to a gas station in Cuba where he was reported as lying in a truck with a head wound. He was sent to the hospital, and then arrested, for drunk driving and felon in possession of a firearm. Officers found a bloody bat in the truck.

On Dec. 18, 2017, two of Martinez’s friends went to his house on County Road 13 and found he was lying, dead, inside the house. The next day, State Police agents charged Barboan with an open count of murder.

On Feb. 1, 2018, a Sandoval County grand jury indicted Barboan on a series of charges, including second-degree murder.

On June 17, 2019, Barboan pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, unlawful taking of a vehicle and DWI third offense. As part of his plea deal, his sentence was set at 4 years followed by 3.5 years of supervised probation.

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The incident

On Dec. 16, 2017, Kimsey Barboan beat his roommate, Anthony Martinez, 61, to death with a baseball bat.

He was only arrested charged with Martinez’s death three days later, while he was already in custody on charges related to drunk driving and the illegal possession of a firearm, State Police Agent Marcus Lopez wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

Lopez wrote that he interviewed Barboan, along with Agent Tony DeTavis, on Dec. 18, 2017.

Kimsey Barboan

“Mr. Barboan advised he had been chopping wood at the residence, 334 County Rd 13 (sic),” Lopez wrote. “Mr. Barboan advised he currently lives there with Anthony Martinez.”

Barboan told the agents that at 5 p.m. on Dec. 16, 2017, he went into the house and Martinez “jumped him and struck him with a wooden baseball bat,” Lopez wrote.

“He sustained injuries to the left side of his head and face,” Lopez wrote. “Mr. Barboan advised he got the baseball bat away from Mr. Martinez and began to strike Mr. Martinez with the baseball bat. He advised he did see blood on the facial area of Mr. Martinez.”

He told the detectives there were stolen guns in the house and Martinez used illegal drugs.

“Mr. Barboan stated he left the residence and also started Mr. Martinez was making some type of groaning noises,” Lopez wrote. “He took the baseball bat and broke out the window to the 1985 Blue GMC pickup, the driver’s side door.”

Lopez wrote that State Police Officer Darrell Blackhorse was told by dispatchers to be on the lookout for a 1980s Chevy pickup on the evening of Dec. 16, 2017 and he found it at the Circle K in Cuba.

Officers did not know about the homicide at this point.

Lopez did not write why Blackhorse was told to look for the truck.

Inside the truck, Barboan was lying across the front seat. He had a cut on the left side of his forehead. Blackhorse called for an ambulance and Barboan told him he got the cut because was jumped by “numerous white males,” Lopez wrote.

In the truck, Blackhorse found a bloody baseball bat and a rifle. He left the bat and seized the rifle and called an ambulance for Barboan, who was transported to the hospital. After Barboan was released, Blackhorse charged him for drunk driving, felon in possession of a firearm, driving on a revoked license, open container of alcohol in a vehicle and on two felony arrest warrants, he wrote.

Two days later, at 11:30 a.m., Dec. 18, 2017, two friends of Martinez went to his house. One of them, Coby Aragon, wanted to see if Martinez had any work for him, Lopez wrote.

When he went into the house, he found Martinez on the floor and told his friend, who called 911, he wrote.

Sandoval County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Stand arrived and saw Martinez appeared to have blunt trauma to the head and “there was lots of blood.” Martinez was cold to the touch and had no pulse, Lopez wrote.

Stand noted that it appeared there had been a struggle in the house and there was blood on several walls, he wrote.

Where the kitchen and living room met, there was a dark baseball bat with blood on it. The deputies referred the case to the State Police agents, Lopez wrote.

Lopez and DeTavis then interviewed Barboan while he was being held at the Sandoval County Detention Center, he wrote.

Lopez charged him with an open count of murder and tampering with evidence.

On Feb. 1, 2018, a Sandoval County grand jury indicted Barboan on charges of second-degree murder, unlawful taking of a vehicle, tampering with evidence, DWI, driving on a license revoked for DWI and open container of alcohol in a vehicle.

Below is the affidavit for an arrest warrant by Lopez.

 

12-19-2017 - Affidavit arrest warrant - Kimsey Barboan

 

Plea and sentence

Portrait of District Judge Louis McDonald
Judge Louis McDonald

On June 17, 2019, Kimsey Barboan pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, unlawful taking of a vehicle and DWI third offense.

District Court Judge Louis McDonald accepted the plea, which set Barboan’s sentence at four years followed by three-and-a-half years of supervised probation, according to the judgement and sentence.

The plea was also signed by prosecutor Amy Lopez Dooling.

Barboan received credit for time served of 547 days, or just over a year and a half.

According to the plea deal, Barboan killed Anthony Martinez “as a result of sufficient provocation” but no court documents state what, specifically, Martinez did to sufficiently provoke Barboan.

Below is the plea agreement signed by McDonald, Dooling and Barboan’s attorney, Michael Rosenfield:

 

6-17-2019 - Plea - Kimsey Barboan

 

See all the case documents on Google Drive

Jerome Dayzie: Marvin Johnson — 12-9-2017

Suspect: Jerome Dayzie

Victim: Marvin Johnson, 37

Charges: Involuntary manslaughter

Status: Plea to involuntary manslaughter; sentenced to just over 3 years

Sentence: 37 months (3+ years) followed by 3 years of supervised release

Date of incident: Dec. 9, 2017

Agency: FBI

Location: BIA/Indian Services/Navajo Route 13, 1 mile west of U.S. Highway 491, near Shiprock and Mitten Rock, San Juan County

Federal magistrate case number: 17-mj-03350

Federal district case number: 18-cr-01171

Prosecutor: Raquel Ruiz-Velez

Type of incident: DWI

 

Summary

On Dec. 9, 2017, Jerome Dayzie was driving back from Colorado to his home in Round Rock, Ariz, with his wife, identified as Terra Dayzie, and a friend, Marvin Johnson, 37. Jerome Dayzie, who had a blood-alcohol content of 0.196, crashed into the back of a parked trailer on the side of the road. Johnson was ejected and died at the scene, according to court records.

Jerome Dayzie was initially arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter, according to court records.

On April 16, 2018, he pleaded guilty to the same charge and on Feb. 26, 2019, District Judge Martha Vazquez sentenced him to the minimum under the sentencing guidelines, just over three years, despite four previous convictions for DUI, according to court records.

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The incident

On Dec. 9, 2017, Jerome Dayzie was driving on BIA/Indian Services/Navajo Route 13, toward his home in Round Rock, Ariz, with his wife and the victim, Marvin Johnson, 37, FBI Agent Kalon Fancher wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

Butte off of U.S. Highway 191 near Roundrock, Ariz. Photo by Seth Graham/Flickr. CC-BY-NC-ND
Butte off of U.S. Highway 191 near Roundrock, Ariz. Photo by Seth Graham/Flickr. CC-BY-NC-ND

They had driven to Cortez, Colo., to buy beer at the G-Whil liquor store. There, they bought three cases of St. Ides malt liquor, all in 40-ounce bottles. St. Ides has an ABV, or alcohol by volume, of 8.2 percent. They were sharing the liquor as they drove back to Arizona and Jerome Dayzie estimated he drank a whole bottle by himself, he told Fancher in an interrogation, according to Fancher’s affidavit.

Jerome Dayzie said Johnson was the one who wanted to go, Fancher wrote.

After he turned off Highway 491 and onto BIA/Indian Services/Navajo Route 13, the sun was in his face and a car was heading toward him. A trailer was parked “half on the road,” Fancher wrote, summarizing his interview with Jerome Dayzie.

“He stated ‘it’s either I hit the other vehicle or I hit the trailer,'” Fancher wrote. “He stated he hit the end of the trailer and flipped right over.”

According to a sentencing memorandum, his blood-alcohol content was 0.196.

Johnson was in the back seat of Jerome Dayzie’s Ford Explorer when he was ejected from the vehicle.

Jerome Dayzie’s wife, Terra Dayzie (identified as T.D. or Jane Doe-1 in some court records), said Jerome Dayzie drank about half of a 40-ounce bottle, Fancher wrote.

Fancher wrote:

“JANE DOE-1 stated she fell asleep and woke up when DAYZIE hit the back of a trailer parked along the side of the road. JANE DOE-1 stated (V-1) flipped over. She stated JOHN DOE-1 was thrown out of (V-1) and she tried to wake him up but he was not responding.”

When law enforcement arrived, they declared him dead at the scene, he wrote.

In a sentencing memorandum, prosecutor Raquel Ruiz-Velez wrote that the flatbed trailer Jerome Dayzie hit was loaded with furniture.

After crashing into the rear, Jerome Dayzie’s Ford Explorer flipped. Johnson was ejected and pinned under the driver’s side, Ruiz-Velez wrote.

One witness, behind Jerome Dayzie, said his car had been swerving from side to side before it hit the trailer, rolled, and landed on the driver’s side, she wrote.

The owner of the trailer said he and his son were driving to Arizona when they noticed the straps holding the furniture down seemed to be loose. They pulled to the side of the road to check the straps before Jerome Dayzie crashed into the back of the trailer, Ruiz-Velez wrote.

In an amended sentencing memorandum, Jerome Dayzie’s attorney, federal public defender John Butcher, wrote that the trio were “bootlegging” alcohol to the reservation.

According to a deputy field investigation by Tiffany Keaton, with the Office of the Medical Investigator, witnesses told law enforcement that the Explorer “clipped” the left corner of the trailer, causing the trailer to “fork” to the left. The explorer then flipped one and a half times. Johnson was ejected out the passenger-side window before it landed on him. He was not wearing a seat belt.

“Witnesses, were able to pull the vehicle off of Marvin Johnson,” Keaton wrote.

According to the autopsy report, Johnson died from blunt chest trauma.

Fancher filed the for the arrest warrant two days after the crash, on Dec. 11., 2017.

Court proceedings

Pre-trial release

Jerome Dayzie pleaded not guilty, waived a preliminary hearing and a grand jury presentment on Dec. 15, 2017, and federal Magistrate Judge Steven Yarbrough released him to the La Pasada Halfway House in Albuquerque, according to the docket and a response by Ruiz-Velez to a motion to allow Jerome Dayzie to speak to his wife, Terra Dayzie.

Among the conditions of release, Jerome Dayzie was prohibited from speaking to any of the witnesses, his wife included.

Ruiz-Velez wrote that she opposed letting Jerome Dayzie talk to his wife “to assure the integrity of the judicial proceedings against the Defendant.”

In a reply to Ruiz-Velez’s response, Butcher wrote his client had a legitimate need to talk to his wife.

“As mentioned in his Motion, they have four children and a home together,” Butcher wrote. “Thus, there is a need to coordinate the care of the children as well as the household finances.”

According to Fancher’s affidavit, Terra Dayzie told investigators that she fell asleep during the drive and only woke up as the crash was happening.

Yarbrough granted the motion over Ruiz-Velez’s objections.

Plea

On April 16, 2018, after repeatedly waiving his right to a grand jury presentment, Jerome Dayzie pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging him with involuntary manslaughter in front of Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing, who accepted the plea.

According to the plea deal, Jerome Dayzie admitted to killing Johnson while driving drunk.

The plea agreement contained agreement as to the sentence, other than that he was entitled to a reduction of two levels in the federal sentencing guidelines because he pleaded guilty.

Sentencing arguments

Ruiz-Velez wrote in a sentencing memorandum, dated Feb. 7, 2019, that Jerome Dayzie should be sentenced to the high end of the guidelines for his crime, 46 months, or just under four years.

She wrote that he had an offense level of 19 and a criminal history category of III, resulting in a guideline sentence range of 37 months (just over 3 years) to 46 months.

Shiprock. Photo by Bowie Snodgrass/Flickr

She wrote that his blood-alcohol content was extremely high, at 0.196, over double the legal per se limit of 0.08.

His criminal history included five prior arrests for DUI, four of which resulted in convictions, although only two of those were considered to calculate his criminal history category.

“It is troubling that Defendant was sentenced for these two convictions on June 21, 2016 and January 12, 2017, less than two years before the instant offense,” Ruiz-Velez wrote. “Defendant’s convictions show that he was aware of the illegality of his conduct when he decided to drive his vehicle while under the influence of alcohol on December 9, 2017.”

His “past conduct” endangered the lives of others, including his 15-year-old son, she wrote.

Butcher wrote in his own initial sentencing memorandum that Johnson was not a stranger to his killer.

“He was a friend and family member,” Butcher wrote. “The three were drinking together. The alcohol found at the accident was due to the fact that the group was bootlegging alcohol back to the reservation.”

Butcher then wrote that they, as friends, went out drinking together.

“Unfortunately, they decided to drive home while intoxicated,” Butcher wrote. “Mr. Dayzie recognizes the loss caused by John Doe’s death.”

Jerome Dayzie is an electrician and is trying to get the licenses needed to “improve his employment,” although he is currently employed as such.

Butcher wrote:

“More importantly, Mr. Dayzie has taken his drug and alcohol treatment extremely serious. As the Court is aware, Mr. Dayzie has a long history of substance abuse. The defendant has remained totally sober while on Pretrial Conditions of Release. He understands now that when he drinks alcohol, ‘bad things tends to happen.'”

Butcher initially asked for a sentence of two years, which he called a mistake. In an amended sentencing memorandum, Butcher asked for a sentence of 37 months (just over 3 years).

Sentencing

According to the docket and a sentencing minutes sheet, on Feb. 26, 2019, federal District Judge Martha Vazquez sentenced Jerome Dayzie to 37 months, the minimum sentence under the guidelines and the amount requested by his defense attorney.

The minutes do not contain any information about the reasoning behind the judge’s decision.

According to the minutes, Vazquez addressed Jerome Dayzie and then Johnson’s family members addressed Vazquez.

Although Ruiz-Velez was the prosecutor on the case, according to the sentencing minutes, she did not attend or argue for the sentence she requested at his sentencing hearing. Instead, prosecutor Novaline Wilson attended the hearing. Court documents do not state why she was missing.

Jerome Dayzie then spoke to the judge, and then the judge spoke to him again and imposed the sentence, according to the minutes.

She also ordered he pay $1,592.97 to the New Mexico Crime Victim Reparation Commission and $2,448.72 to Johnson’s sister.

In March 2020, Vazquez sentenced another man, Tavis Washburn, to the minimum sentence in different drunk driving case that killed someone. She sentenced Washburn to the minimum allowed under his plea, just under six years, for a crash that killed his brother and severely injured his 2-year-old son. She was not allowed to sentence him to less under his plea.

Thomas Goodridge: Anna Goodridge — 4-22-2017

Suspect: Thomas Goodridge, 72

Victim: Anna Goodridge, 76

Charges: First-degree murder

Status: No contest plea to second-degree murder

Sentence: 8 years

Date of incident: April 22, 2017

Investigative agency: Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office

Location: 5 Alexi Place, Placitas

Relation to victim: Husband

Magistrate case number: M-45-FR-2017-00272

District case number: D-1329-CR-201700168

Summary

On April 22, 2017, Thomas Goodridge, 72, allegedly listened to a voice in his head that told him to kill his wife, Anna Goodridge, 76, because they were both going to be attacked in their Placitas home.

He allegedly took a rock from the front of their house and bludgeoned her in the head while she slept. He then washed his hands, combed his hair, brushed his teeth and then called police to say what he had done.

He allegedly told Sandoval County Sheriff’s Deputies they had been married for 46 years and was diagnosed as being bi-polar and had been taking his medication, but he was overcome with a fear that they were going to be attacked and he wanted to spare his wife as much pain as he could.

He was arrested on an open count of murder.

On May 4, 2017, he was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder and on May 2, 2019, he pleaded no contest to one count of second-degree murder. A plea deal capped his sentence at eight years, which he was sentenced to on July 30, 2019.

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The incident

On April 22, 2017, Thomas Goodridge called 911 to allegedly say that he had killed his 76-year-old wife, Anna Goodridge.

Sandoval County Sheriff’s Deputy John Colvin and Sgt. Robert Marshal were first dispatched to the call, Sgt. Victor Rodriguez wrote in a statement of probable cause for Thomas Goodridge’s arrest.

Thomas Goodridge

“Upon arrival, Deputy Colvin detained Thomas Goodridge who had walked out of the residence,” Rodriguez wrote. “Thomas Goodridge made a statement about him murdering his wife, Anna Goodridge. Sergeant Marshal made entry into the residence. Inside the master bedroom, Sergeant Marshal located Anna Goodridge lying on the bed. Anna Goodridge had sustained severe trauma to her head and she was deceased.”

Next to the bed, Marshal saw a piece of rock splattered with blood. Colvin read Thomas Goodridge his Miranda rights, including his right to remain silent, and the latter agreed to talk.

“Thomas Goodridge told Deputy Colvin that he used a rock located near the front door of the residence,” Rodriguez wrote.

The rest of the rock was located at the front of the house, covered in blood, and matched the rock shard.

Rodriguez interviewed Thomas Goodridge a second time at the sheriff’s office.

“Thomas Goodridge informed us that he woke up around 1 a.m. fearing that he and his wife, Anna Goodridge were going to be attacked,” Rodriguez wrote. “Thomas Goodridge stated he and his wife, Anna Goodridge were asleep when he awoke. In the interview, Thomas Goodridge stated he had been hearing voices and he has been experiencing this fear of being attacked for months.”

Thomas Goodridge allegedly said he did not want his wife to suffer any pain.

“Thomas Goodridge stated, ‘I thought I would take her out of her misery, so that’s what I did,'” Rodriguez wrote.

He allegedly told the detectives he stopped hitting her with the rock when he thought she was head.

“Thomas Goodridge stated before he called the police he placed the rock back at the same location where he grabbed it,” Rodriguez wrote. “Thomas Goodridge stated while he waited for the Deputies to arrive on scene, he brushed his teeth and combed his hair.”

He said they had been married for 43 years and described his wife as “the best.” Although he is bi-polar, he allegedly told Rodriguez he had been taking his medication and when he went to bed, he felt normal.

“Thomas Goodridge stated the voices that he had been hearing told him, ‘That we both were going to be harmed, and if I did not want her to be harmed I would have to take her life,'” Rodriguez wrote. “Thomas Goodridge stated he has continued to hear these voices even though he is on medication and seeing a psychiatrist.”

He was charged on an open count of murder.

Although he claimed to be taking his medication, when deputies served a search warrant on his house, they found a “significant amount” of medication that was prescribed to Thomas Goodridge, but that it appeared he had not been taking, prosecutor Mathew Wadsworth wrote in a motion to have Thomas Goodridge held in jail until trial.

Below is the statement of probable cause Rodriguez wrote for Thomas Goodridge’s arrest.

 

Statement of Probable Cause for arrest of Thomas Goodridge

 

Plea and sentence

Portrait of District Judge Louis McDonald
Judge Louis McDonald

On July 30, 2019, District Court Judge Louis McDonald sentenced Thomas Goodridge, 74, to eight years in prison for killing his wife with a rock on April 22, 2017, according to court documents.

McDonald previously, on May 2, accepted a no contest plea from Goodridge that capped his maximum sentence at eight years and set a minimum of four years. That plea mandated that the rest of his sentence be suspended, in this case seven years, and he be placed on supervised probation for five years after he is released from prison. The judgement and sentence also states that he will be placed on parole for two years.

Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 15 years and it is a serious violent offense which means he must serve 85 percent of his sentence before he can be released, compared to the 50 percent required for crimes that are not considered to be serious violent offenses.

According to the judgement, Goodridge received credit of 828 days for time served while he was in jail awaiting trial, just over two years.

 

See the case documents on Google Drive.

Jacob Johnson, Liam Johnson: Donald Kalma — 4-21-2017

Suspect: Jacob Johnson, 20

Suspect: Liam Johnson, 18

Victim: Donald Kalma, 35

Charges: Second-degree murder

Status: Guilty pleas to second-degree murder, other charges; sentenced

Jacob Johnson sentence: 28 years

Liam Johnson sentence: 15 years (15-20 years under plea agreement)

Date of incident: April 21, 2017

Agency: Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office

Location: 900 block of North Camino Del Pueblo, Bernalillo

Relationship to victim: Nephews

Jacob Johnson Magistrate case number: M-45-FR-2017-00271

Liam Johnson Magistrate case number: M-45-FR-201700270

Jacob Johnson District case number: D-1329-CR-201700170

Liam Johnson District case number: D-1329-CR-201700171

 

Summary

Sandoval County Sheriff’s detectives alleged brothers Liam, 18, and Jacob Johnson, 20,  plotted to kill their uncle because he was getting between them in. They also planned his death in hopes that it would be a bonding experience.

On April 21, 2017, they allegedly lured him outside his room at the family’s two-house compound and hit him in the back of the head repeatedly with a three-pound sledge hammer.

They then allegedly loaded his body into the back of his own truck and dumped him into an arroyo in Rio Rancho, where his body was discovered, under a pile of his own trash, by a jogger.

Both men were indicted on May 4, 2017 on a series of charges including first-degree murder.

On March 8, 2019, Jacob Johnson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and five other charges. The plea agreement provided for a total sentence of 42 years.

On March 26, 2018, Liam Johnson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. According to his plea agreement, he faced a sentence of 15 to 20 years in prison.

District Court Judge Cindy Mercer sentenced both men on May 10. She sentenced Liam Johnson to 15 years in prison, the minimum sentence he faced. She sentenced Jacob Johnson to 28 years in prison. It is not clear what changed between the plea agreement and the amended judgement and sentence, filed on Sept. 19, 2019.

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The incident

Brother Liam and Jacob Johnson had a problem. Their uncle from California, Donald Kalma, was coming between them, Jacob Johnson allegedly said during an interview with Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office detectives on April 21, 2017,  Detective Frank Tomlinson wrote in a statement of probable cause for the arrest of both brothers.

Liam Johnson

On the evening of April 20, 2017, the brothers allegedly discussed the disruption Kalma was causing to their relationship and what do about it.

“After a long discussion, it was decided that Jacob and the defendant would kill Mr. Kalma by possibly stabbing or beating him to death,” Tomlinson wrote. “In the early morning of April 21, 2017 the defendant (Liam Johnson) and Jacob arrived at the residence of Mr. Kalma and as Jacob waited outside the entry to Mr. Kalma ‘s apartment, the defendant entered the residence with the intent of stabbing Mr. Kalma.”

When Liam Johnson entered Kalma’s room, a loft in the garage of the family complex that consisted of two houses, he woke up and mistook him for another member of the family, although who exactly is not listed.

“The defendant (Liam Johnson) aborted the knife attack and lured Mr. Kalma outside the residence,” Tomlinson wrote. “The defendant left, followed by Mr. Kalma. As Mr. Kalma exited the door, Jacob described striking him in the back of the head with such force it ‘dropped him like a sack of potatos (sic).'”

Jacob Johnson allegedly said he used a three-pound sledge hammer to hit Kalma in the back of the head. As Kalma lay on the ground, gurgling, Jacob Johnson allegedly said he struck his uncle two to three more times in the head.

“The defendant (Liam Johnson) and Jacob moved the body of Mr. Kalma to the east side of the residence where Mr. Kalma began to ‘gurgle’ once more,” Tomlinson wrote. “At this time the defendant (Liam Johnson) retrieved the sledgehammer and struck him two or three additional times in the head.”

Jacob Johnson allegedly said he loaded up Kalma’s body into the back of Kalma’s 1972 Ford F100 truck, along with pallets and a garbage bag filled with soda cans that Kalma collected. Once they reached a ravine area, they allegedly tossed his body down, along with the pallets and bag of trash.

“The 3lb sledgehammer was ‘tossed’ away from the body as both parties drove away from the scene,” Tomlinson wrote. “Jacob described the events as ‘justified’ due to Mr. Kalma’s constant disruptions and his ‘coming between brothers.’ Jacob and the defendant (Liam Johnson) stated he believed killing Mr. Karma was going to be a ‘bonding’ activity.”

Jacob Johnson

On the afternoon of April 21, 2017, after the Johnson brothers allegedly dumped their uncle’s body in the ravine, a jogger found it and called 911 at 12:29 p.m. in Rio Rancho.

Officers found Kalma’s body had a wood pallet covering it, a few “squirt” soda cans and sheet metal screws, a gold Allen wrench and a nail.

“It appeared that these items possibly could have fallen out of a vehicle used to transport the body to the location,” Tomlinson wrote. “A few feet further down the road at an intersection was located a small handheld sledge hammer that appeared to have suspected blood on it.”

The pathologist found a large wound to the back of his head and other contusions on his head.

Detectives then headed to the family property Kalma had been living at in Bernalillo, in the 900 block of North Camino Del Pueblo.

“Investigating officers obtained consent to look around the property,” Tomlinson wrote. “The property contained two family dwellings and a detached garage with a loft where Mr. Kalma lived.”

On the property they found Kalma’s blue truck and saw the bed had recently been washed out, but there still appeared to be blood in the puddles of water in the back.

“A sheet metal screw matching the ones found at the crime scene was observed in the back of the truck,” Tomlinson wrote. “Wood or bark were also seen in and around the truck and one yellow ‘Squirt’ soft drink can was inside the bed of the truck as well.”

In addition, officers found a wooden fence that allegedly matched the wooden fencing found near Kalma’s body, as well as plastic trash bags with red draw strings which matched the ones found with his body, he wrot.

“Investigating officers also located suspected blood on a property building,” Tomlinson wrote.

Tomlinson had Jacob Johnson come to the Sheriff’s Office with him, read him his Miranda rights and the Jacob Johnson allegedly told Tomlinson about the killing, he wrote.

Below is the statement of probable cause for Jacob Johnson’s arrest.

 

Statement of probable cause for Jacob Johnson's arrest dated 4-24-2017

 

Indictment, plea and sentence

A grand jury indicted Liam Johnson and Jacob Johnson on May 4, 2017.

Both men were indicted on charges of:

  • First-degree murder
  • Conspiracy to commit first-degree murder
  • Aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon
  • Thee counts of tampering with evidence

Pleas

Liam Johnson

Liam Johnson was the first brother to sign a plea agreement, on March 7, 2018, although the document was not filed with the clerks office until March 29, 2018. District Court Judge Cindy Mercer signed the agreement on March 26, 2018.

He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

According to the plea, he faced a sentence of 15 to 20 years in prison followed by 5 years of supervised probation. The plea agreement was conditioned on his cooperation in the prosecution of his brother.

Jacob Johnson

A year later, Jacob Johnson signed a plea agreement, on March 4, 2019, along with prosecutor Jessica Martinez and his defense attorney, Marie Legrand Miller. The judge’s signature District Court Judge Cindy Mercer’s does not have a date. The plea agreement is time stamped by the clerks office on March 8, 2019 at 1:51 p.m.

A criminal information for Jacob Johnson was filed on March 4, 2019, charging him with three counts of tampering with evidence. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and six counts of tampering with evidence. The aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon charge was dropped.

According to the terms of the plea, Jacob Johnson was to serve a 42-year sentence, with the various six counts of tampering with evidence running consecutive to one another.

Sentencing

Jacob and Liam Johnson were both sentenced on May 10, 2019, by District Court Judge Cindy Mercer.

According to an amended judgement, sentence and commitment, Mercer sentenced Jacob Johnson to 28 years in prison. It is not clear what changed between the plea agreement and the amended judgement and sentence, filed on Sept. 19, 2019.

She sentenced Liam Johnson to 15 years in prison, the minimum allowed under his plea deal.

See the documents on Google Drive.

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

Paulo Vega-Mendoza: Paul Padilla — 4-15-2017

Suspect: Paulo Vega-Mendoza

Victim: Paul Padilla, 63

Charges: DWI great bodily harm, knowingly leaving the scene of an accident causing great bodily harm or death, failure to give notice of an accident and criminal damage to property under $1,000

Status: Sentenced following guilty plea to DWI vehicular homicide

Sentence: 12 years followed by 3 years supervised probation

Date of incident: April 15, 2017

Agency: Santa Fe Police Department

Location: Airport Road, Santa Fe

Magistrate case number: M-49-FR-2017-00472

District case number: D-101-CR-201700533

Sentencing judge: T. Glenn Ellington

Judicial district: First Judicial District

Prosecutor: Blake Nichols

Prosecuting agency: First Judicial District Attorney’s Office

 

Summary

An allegedly drunk Paulo Vega-Mendoza allegedly crashed into the back of the motorcycle Paul Padilla, 63, was driving on April 15, 2017 on Airport Road in Santa Fe.

Vega-Mendoza allegedly fled from the scene, after he allegedly crashed own car, a Dodge Neon. It landed on its hood.

Witnesses, and then officers, allegedly chased Vega-Mendoza on foot before he tried to climb and fence and it broke, throwing him backward.

Padilla died from extensive brain injuries on April 25, 2017.

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The incident

Santa Fe Police Department Officer Erasmo Montijo came across a motorcycle versus car crash on April 15. He called it in as soon as he arrived, at 5:44 p.m. He reported several witnesses were chasing the alleged driver in the accident north on Camino de Jacobo, Officer Michael Flores wrote in a statement of probable cause for Paulo Vega-Mendoza’s arrest.

At the scene of the crash, Flores found that the motorcyclist, Paul Padilla, was alive. He was flown to the University of New Mexico Hospital following the crash with extensive brain damage. He died April 25, 2017, 10 days later.

Witnesses told Flores that the motorcycle rolled, finally coming to a stop on top of Padilla.

Paulo Vega-Mendoza

Witness Mary Prone allegedly told officers she was driving east on Airport Road in the right lane and the motorcycle was in front of her and switched from the right to left lanes.

“Ms. Prones observed another vehicle, a Dodge Neon, pass her and did not brake,” Flores wrote. “The Dodge Neon struck the motorcycle from behind.”

Another witness, Margaret Johnson, said she was in the left lane and heard the Neon revving its engine and speeding.

“The Neon passed her in the right lane and cut in front of her to the left lane,” he wrote. “The vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed and struck the motorcycle.”

After hitting the motorcycle, Vega-Mendoza’s Neon rolled, coming to rest on its hood.

“Mr. Vega-Mendoza then exited the vehicle and fled the scene,” Flores wrote. “Mr. Vega-Mendoza did not render aid or give immediate notice of an accident prior to leaving the scene.”

Montijo followed Vega-Mendoza as he allegedly fled on foot, north on Camino de Jacobo. He was being chased by several people.

“Officer Jared Alire and I jumped the fence and were in the backyard of a residence on Acequia Borrada,” Flores wrote. “On Acequia Borrada a male pointed to the west and stated ‘He ran that way.'”

Alire and Flores scaled a fence and found themselves in the same back yard as Vega-Mendoza as he allegedly tried to climb the fence opposite.

“As I finished negotiating the fence I observed the fence the male was pulling himself onto had broke and the male fell backwards to the ground,” Flores wrote. “Officer Alire then placed the male into handcuffs.”

While talking to Vega-Mendoza, Flores could allegedly smell alcohol coming from his breath. He also noticed alleged bloodshot, watery eyes and slurred speech.

After being read the implied consent act, Vega-Mendoza refused to submit to a blood-alcohol test. Flores later got a search warrant for the blood and the draw was done at 7:25 p.m.

He was arrested on charges of:

  • DWI great bodily harm
  • Knowingly leaving the scene of an accident causing great bodily harm or death
  • Failure to give notice of an accident
  • Criminal damage to property under $1,000
PC - Paulo Vega-Mendoza - 4-20-2017

 

Indictment and Plea deal

On July 7, 2017, he was indicted on charges of:

  • DWI vehicular homicide
  • knowingly leaving the scene of an accident causing great bodily harm or death
Judge's portrait
First Judicial District Judge T. Glenn Ellington

A summons was issued for him to appear on July 24, 2017, and he pleaded not guilty.

On April 29, Vega-Mendoza pleaded guilty to one count of DWI vehicular homicide and, according to the plea deal signed by prosecutor Blake Nichols, prosecutors agreed to drop the charge of knowingly leaving the scene of an accident. First Judicial District Court Judge T. Glenn Ellington accepted the plea.

However, according to the plea, there was no agreement as to the sentence and the maximum was 15 years.

Sentenced

Ellington sentenced Vega-Mendoza to 12 years in prison followed by three years supervised probation on Sept. 27, 2019, according to the judgement and sentence.

Vega-Mendoza received credit for 792 days served, just over two years, for time spent in jail and on electronic monitoring prior sentencing.

See the case documents on Google Drive. or Document Cloud

Joseph Vargas: Kenneth Torres — 3-31-2017

Suspect: Joseph Vargas

Victim: Kenneth Torres, 23

Non-fatal victim: Julian Torres, 20

Charges: Second-degree murder, aggravated battery causing great bodily harm

Status: Plea to second-degree murder and aggravated battery causing great bodily harm

Sentence: 8 years followed by 5 years of supervised probation

Date of incident: March 31, 2017

Agency: Rio Rancho Police Department

Location: Eventide SE, Rio Rancho, NM

Magistrate case number: M-45-FR-2017-00240

District case number: D-1329-CR-201700155

 

Summary

Joseph Vargas fatally stabbed Kenneth Torres at a party on March 31, 2017, and also stabbed, but not fatally, Julian Torres. Vargas was initially charged with murder.

A grand jury indicted Vargas on charges of second-degree murder and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, among other charges, on April 20, 2017.

On May 23, 2018, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. According to his plea agreement, he received a sentence of eight years followed by five years of supervised probation.

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The incident

On March 31, 2017, Joseph Vargas and Kenneth Torres were at the same party, at an apartment at 95 Eventide Road SE in Rio Rancho.

Vargas allegedly stabbed Kenneth Torres, 23, killing him, and stabbed but did not kill Julian Torres, 20. The pair are not related, Rio Rancho Det. Shawn Ginn wrote in a statement of probable cause for Vargas’ arrest.

Joseph Vargas

On April 6, Ginn managed to arrest Vargas on a probation warrant and brought him in for an interview.

“Joseph stated he went downstairs to where he observed two subjects involved in an altercation,” Ginn wrote. “Joseph was able to identify the two subjects as ‘dead guy’ and ‘Juelz.'”

Juelz had a handgun, which he handed to Kenneth Torres.

Vargas allegedly said he then stabbed Torres and saw “Juelz” going to a car, Ginn wrote.

“Joseph said that he was not sure if Juelz was going to get a bigger gun and stabbed Juelz as he was getting into the car,” Ginn wrote. “Joseph said he took the gun from Kenneth and left the area in Kenneth’s vehicle as the passenger. Joseph stated he remembered waking up the next morning with the gun and knife however could not account for the whereabouts of the weapons at this time.”

He was arrested on an open murder count and a charge of tampering with evidence.

Indictment, plea and sentence

On April 20, 2017, grand jurors indicted Vargas a total of six counts:

  • Second-degree murder
  • Aggravated battery with a deadly weapon
  • Four counts of tampering with evidence

When he was arraigned, on June 6, 2016, District Court Judge George Eichwald ordered Vargas be held without bail pending his trial.

A year later, on May 23, 2018, and without any intervening court hearings, Vargas pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

According to the plea agreement, accepted by Eichwald and signed by Assistant District Attorney Andoni Garrote, Vargas had his sentence set at eight years in prison followed by five years of supervised probation. (Technically, Eichwald sentenced Vargas to 15 years, the maximum, and then suspended seven of those years, resulting in a sentence of eight years.)

In the plea, Vargas also admitted his identity to one prior conviction, for aggravated battery on an officer and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery on an officer. He pleaded guilty in that case on Sept. 16, 2016, in case D-202-CR-201600853.

According to the judgement and sentence, he received credit for 413 days served.

See the case files on Google Drive.

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

Taylor James Enriquez: Alberto Nunez — 2-26-2017

Suspect: Taylor James Enriquez

Victim: Alberto Nunez

Non-fatal victim: Manuel Lopez Polanco

Charges: First-degree murder, false imprisonment and aggravated battery causing great bodily harm

Status: Guilty plea to second-degree murder, false imprisonment and aggravated battery causing great bodily harm

Sentence: 19 1/2 years

Date of incident:  Feb. 26, 2017

Agency: Las Cruces Police Department

Location: 600 block of South Manzanita Street, Las Cruces

Magistrate case number: M-14-Fr-2017-170

District case number: D-307-CR-2017-272

Summary

On Feb. 26, 2017, Taylor Enriquez allegedly walked into the back yard of his friends house and, after a short fight, stabbed Alberto Nunez repeatedly in the neck with a broken bottle, killing him.

Enriquez pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree murder, false imprisonment and aggravated battery causing great bodily harm on April 10, 2018, accepted by District Court Judge Douglas Driggers, with a maximum sentence of 19 1/2 years.

On July 9, 2018, Driggers sentenced Enriquez to the maximum allowed, 19 1/2 years.

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The incident

On Feb. 26, 2017, Las Cruces Police Department officers were sent to a house on South Manzanita Street following the report of a fight, Detective Felix Guerra wrote in a statement of probable cause for Taylor Enriquez’s arrest.

Taylor Enriquez

At the scene, they find Jennifer Barraza, Manuel Lopez Polanco, Edwin Lopez and Enriquez.

Lopez Polanco, Edwin Lopez’s father, had injuries to his face and was transported to the hospital and Enriquez also had facial injuries. He was not wearing a shirt but his pants and shoes were allegedly covered in blood, more than would be consistent with his injuries, Guerra wrote.

When officers checked the back of the house, they found Alberto Nunez with alleged stab wounds to the neck.

“The officers could see signs of a struggle in the back yard and a broken wooden handle,” Guerra wrote. “The jagged end of the broken wooden handle was covered in a red substance believed to be blood.”

Interview with Jennifer Barraza

Barraza told Guerra that she lives at the house with her boyfriend, Edwin Lopez, and Lopez’s father, Manuel Lopez Polanco, and her 1-year-old daughter.

The day of the alleged killing, Lopez and herself were invited to a party at Peter Piper Pizza but before going, they met with Nunez, Edwin Lopez’s cousin. Nunez wanted to come back with them to see his cousin, Lopez Polanco, Guerra wrote.

They left him at the house so they could to go the birthday party. When they came back, she found Lopez Polanco had an injury to his eye and was bloody and another man she only knew as “T. J.”

“She notices that T.J. has a black eye and he has a blank look on his face,” Guerra wrote. “She asked what happened and T.J. said ‘he killed him.'”

She went to tell Lopez that T.J. hit his father and Lopez begin to hit Enriquez.

“When she looks on the side of the house she sees Alberto on the ground,” Guerra wrote. “She asks T.J. what happened. T.J. tells her Edwin’s dad killed him. Edwin goes outside and sees Alberto on the ground. Edwin touches Alberto and says Alberto is dead. She goes to the front of the house and calls the police.”

Interview with Edwin Lopez

Lopez repeated much of what Barraza told Guerra, about picking Nunez up and going to the party.

“His girlfriend goes in the house first,” Guerra wrote. “He can hear her yelling “Babe, Babe, Demon is hitting your dad!” he enters the house and he sees that his dad Manuel Lopez Polanco has injuries to his face.”

When he asked what happened, Lopez Polanco allegedly said that the guy “did it.”

“He asks Taylor what happened,” Guerra wrote. “Taylor tells him ‘the Guero did it.’ He looks toward the side of the house and he sees his cousin Alberto on the ground. He sees that he is bloody and not moving. He touches Alberto’s ch in and shakes Alberto’s face . He tries to get Alberto to open his eyes. Alberto does not respond and he can feel that Alberto is cold to the touch.”

Lopez told Guerra he began to panic and called his brother Hector and his cousin, Danny, who is Nunez’s brother. He then grabbed Enriquez and held him until police arrived.

Interview with Manuel Lopez Polanco

Lopez Polanco left the house around 9 in the morning and had a few beers and returned home around sunset. He walked to the back yard and once inside, he saw his nephew on the ground and a “young man” allegedly standing over him, Guerra wrote.

“The young man rushes him and grabs him by the wrists,” Guerra wrote. “The young man knocks him down to the ground and begins to punch his face. The young man puts his knee on his chest pinning him down. The young man continues to punch him on the face as he tells the man to stop. He tells the young man to stop hitting him and the man stops and lets him up. He walks to the side of the house and he is alone with the man for at least 30 minutes.”

Interview with Taylor Enriquez

The day of the incident, Enriquez allegedly said that he walked to the back yard of the house on South Manzanita Street.

“He sees a man in the back yard and they are singing and talking together,” Guerra wrote. “The man started talking about the man’s mom and grandma.”

Guerra does not specify who “they” are.

“The man started tripping so he postured up to him,” Guerra wrote. “He threw a punch and hit the man on the face. The man threw a punch at him. He ducked and spun around the man and flipped him over. The man fell on the ground. The man picked up a shovel and tried to hit him with the shovel. He ducked and avoided the strike.”

He allegedly took the shovel away from Nunez, then used it to hit him in the side of the neck. He then allegedly found a bottle on the ground, picked it up and hit him on the head with it, Guerra wrote.

“The bottle breaks and he then stabs the man on the neck with the bottle,” Guerra wrote. “The man falls to the ground and the man is still breathing.”

Lopez Polanco then allegedly walked up, saw the dead man and asked what Enriquez had done.

“Manuel throws a punch at him and he moves out of the way,” Guerra wrote. “He grabs Manuel and throws Manuel to the ground. He grabs Manuel’s wrists and he puts his knee on Manuel’s chest. He holds Manuel down and he punches Manuel on the face. Manuel tells him to stop and he holds Manuel down for around 20 minutes.”

When Barraza and Lopez arrive, he allegedly let Lopez Polanco get up and then Lopez tried to fight with him.

“Edwin kicks him on the chest and he falls down and hits his face on the sidewalk,” Guerra wrote. “A short time later the police arrive.”

Injuries all around

Guerra wrote that Lopez Polanco required stitches to his face and he also had several bruises.

Officers also located a neighbor with surveillance cameras that faced the back yard.

“The video footage is dark but has audio recording of the incident,” Guerra wrote. “The audio had the sounds of someone telling another person to stop several times as the sounds of a person being struck is hard.”

The sounds of striking stopped and a few minutes later and someone arrived at the house. Then, the screaming started.

“Someone is heard asking what did you do, and who killed him, you killed my cousin, you’re not going anywhere, why would you do that T.J., you killed my cousin, T.J,” Guerra wrote.

Enriquez, while being escorted to the hospital, yelled at Barrazas that what he did was in self defense.

After leaving the hospital, he was taken back for an apparent drug overdose. Officers found he was foaming at the mouth, shaking and mumbling, Guerra wrote.

Enriquez was arraigned two days later, Feb., 28, 2017, and placed on a no-bond hold.

Below is the statement of probable cause written by Guerra.

PC - Taylor Enriquez_Redacted

 

The indictment

On March 9, 2017, a grand jury indicted Taylor Enriquez on charges of:

  • First-degree murder
  • False imprisonment
  • Aggravated battery causing great bodily harm

 

Plea and sentencing

Enriquez pleaded guilty to charges of second-degree murder, false imprisonment and aggravated battery causing great bodily harm on April 10, 2018, accepted by District Court Judge Douglas Driggers.

Judge Douglas Driggers

According to the plea agreement, Enriquez was going to face a maximum sentence of 19 1/2 years in prison and that the sentences for each crime would run consecutively, or one after another. His defense attorney, James Baiamonte, agreed that he would argue for a minimum sentence of 15 years followed by five years of supervised probation while prosecutors would argue for 19 1/2 years.

On July 9, 2018, Driggers sentenced Enriquez to the maximum allowed, 19 1/2 years. Although second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 15 years, Enriquez was also sentenced to the maximum sentences on the charges of false imprisonment and aggravated battery.

Both aggravated battery and second-degree murder are serious violent offenses, meaning Enriquez will have to serve 85 percent of those sentences (15 and three years, respectively) before he will be eligible for parole. The charge of false imprisonment, of a year and a half, was not considered a serious violent offense and he must only serve half of that sentence.

Driggers also gave Enriquez credit for time served while awaiting trial, one year and 130 days. He was also ordered to have no contact with the victim’s family.

 

See the documents on Google Drive