Florida man appeals second-degree murder conviction on five grounds

A jury found Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez guilty of second-degree murder for strangling Connie Lopez
• Judge Jarod Hofacket sentenced him to 15 years, the maximum in New Mexico

Read the case write-up catch up on the past stories

DEMING, N.M. —  Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez is appealing his second-degree murder conviction on five grounds, including that holding the trial during a pandemic hampered the transcription of the trial, therefore eliminating his right to a fair trial.

Mug shot of Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez, convicted of second-degree murder for the death of Connie Lopez, 57, of Lake Placid, Fla.
Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez

A jury convicted Lobato-Rodriguez, 57, of the second-degree murder of Connie Lopez, 57, of Lake Placid, Fla., following a four-day trial that ended Aug. 20, 2020. They deliberated for just an hour. He was charged in district court with first-degree murder. District Judge Jarod Hofacket sentenced Lobato-Rodriguez to 15 years in prison, the maximum sentence for second-degree murder in New Mexico, during a hearing on Nov. 2, 2020.

On Nov. 10, 2020, Hofacket appointed the public defenders office to appeal Lobato-Rodriguez’s conviction, according to the docket. On Dec. 21, 2020, his attorney, George Harrison, filed a docketing statement with the court of appeals, contending that five issues in the case were grounds for a new trial:

  1. Conducting the trial while adhering to COVID-19 protocols resulted in “the inability to properly transcribe the proceedings,” obviating a fair trial
  2. Hofacket’s multiple denials of motions to suppress evidence
  3. Denial of a mistrial motion after prosecutor Matthew Bradburn commented on Lobato-Rodriguez’s silence after asserting his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent
  4. Hofacket’s “failure to correct critical errors” by the interpreter
  5. Hofacket’s denial of a self-defense jury instruction

Harrison previously motioned for a mistrial on three grounds, repeated in the appeal — the Fifth Amendment statement, the improper interpreting and the denials of motions to suppress. Hofacket denied that motion.

Harrison wrote in the docketing statement that he hired a certified Spanish interpreter to compile a “complete interpretation” of Lobato-Rodriguez’s testimony.

“The interpreter filed an affidavit with the district court,” Harrison wrote. “The affidavit states, among other things, that the quality of the audio recording of Mr. Lobato-Rodriguez’s testimony during trial is so poor that a proper interpretation would not be possible.”

Harrison wrote in the docketing statement and other motions that there was an improper translation, where Lobato-Rodriguez mumbled that he thought the victim told him he would “be dead that day.”

When Hofacket denied the motion, he wrote that the interaction Harrison said happened in fact, did not happen, and he did not understand why the interpreter claimed something happened that he found did not, after he reviewed the audio.

Harrison wrote that the rules for a jury trial during a pandemic meant the jurors were seated in the audience section of the courtroom, the family of the victim, Harrison and Lobato-Rodriguez were in the jury box, with their backs to the jury, and everyone was wearing masks.

Two Spanish interpreters translated during the trial for Lobato-Rodriguez and one juror.

“The COVID rules in effect made for great difficulty hearing potential jurors during voir dire and understanding witnesses called to the stand during trial testimony,” Harrison wrote.

No hearings have been set in the appeal and no responses have been filed by prosecutors.

The killing

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

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

According to Lobato-Rodriguez’s trial testimony, Lopez was driving him to his home in Mexico. Lobato-Rodriguez is a Mexican national.

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

Continue reading “Florida man appeals second-degree murder conviction on five grounds”

Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez sentenced to 15 years for killing Florida woman in Hachita

Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez received 15 years for strangling Connie Lopez
• A jury previously found him guilty of second-degree murder, a lesser-included offense of first-degree murder

Read the case write-up catch up on the past stories

DEMING, N.M. — Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez received the maximum sentence for strangling a woman outside Hatchita in 2017, after spending over three years in jail awaiting trial.

Mug shot of Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez, convicted of second-degree murder for the death of Connie Lopez, 57, of Lake Placid, Fla. 4x5 ratio
Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez

A jury found him guilty of the second-degree murder of Connie Lopez, 57, of Lake Placid, Fla., following a four-day trial that ended Aug. 20, 2020. They deliberated for just an hour. He was charged in district court with first-degree murder.

During a hearing on Nov. 2, 2020, District Judge Jarod Hofacket sentenced Lobato-Rodriguez to 15 years in prison, the maximum sentence for second-degree murder in New Mexico.

Hofacket gave Lobato-Rodriguez credit for the 3 years, 7 months and 17 days he spent in jail before trial, lowering the amount of time he will have to serve to 11 years, 4 months and 14 days, according to a judgement and sentence.

Lobato-Rodriguez is appealing his conviction and a notice of appeal was filed on Nov. 23, 2020. He is being represented by the appellate division of the Law Office of the Public Defender.

Mistrial motion denied

Lobato-Rodriguez’s attorney, George Harrison, previously asked for a reconsideration of the guilty verdict on three grounds:

  • An improper comment by prosecutor Matthew Bradburn, during opening statement over Lobato-Rodriguez asserting his right to remain silent, citing the 2007 case State v. Rodriguez.
  • A failure to correct an improper translation in which Lobato-Rodriguez mumbled that he thought the victim told him he would “be dead that day.”
  • The denial of a previous motion to suppress, previously denied twice by the judge.

Hofacket denied that motion to reconsider, noting that he had previously been asked to consider each of the motions individually and previously denied all three.

The judge took issue with assertion by Harrison that Lobato-Rodriguez used the phrase “be dead that day.” He wrote:

“The interpreter informed the Court that she had heard the Defendant say something along the lines of ‘because you’ll be dead’ in reference to why he would not see the mountain again. She stated that she did not understand what he said and asked him to repeat his response. When he repeated his response, he did not make that statement.
In reviewing the Defendant’s trial testimony, this interaction did not occur. The Court is at a loss to explain why the court appointed interpreter would assert that it did. All of the testimony regarding the mountain, on direct and on cross is transcribed (unofficially from the audio recording) above.”

Hofacket wrote that the blame appears to fall with Harrison, when the interpreter was questioned by the judge and the two attorneys. He wrote:

“Defense counsel stated that it was his understanding that the victim said ‘you’re going to be dead.’ Only then did the interpreter change her testimony from the direct response to the Court’s question and said that she did hear the Defendant say something along the lines that he was going to be dead, but that he mumbled, so she asked for the Defendant to repeat himself.
This did not occur and the interpreter’s recollection of the trial testimony is incorrect.”

Continue reading “Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez sentenced to 15 years for killing Florida woman in Hachita”

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”

Appeals court suggests no double jeopardy in Scott Bachicha case

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

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

Scott Bachicha

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

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

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

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

The case

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

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

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

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

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

Also pending is a motion to suppress statements as involuntary.

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

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Oral arguments scheduled for Muhammad Ameer murder appeal

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

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

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

Muhammad Ameer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez: Connie Lopez — 3-17-2017

 

Summary

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

He allegedly told two Border Patrol agents, one of whom found Lopez’s body, that she was going to kill him and his family and that he was with other people in a berm in the desert. The agents could find neither footprints nor signs of anyone else. Based on evidence at the scene, it appeared the two had been traveling west from Florida.

On April 7, a preliminary hearing was held. The judge ordered Lobato-Rodriguez, who declared to the agents that he is in the country illegally, be bound over on a charge of first-degree murder.

On April 19, 2017, prosecutors filed a criminal information in District Court charging him with first-degree murder. On Aug. 20, 2020, a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder following a four-day trial and one hour of jury deliberations. He is appealing the verdict.

The incident

Border Patrol Agent John Enriquez was driving to Hachita to get acquainted with the area because he had just transferred over, March 17, 2017. On his drive, two miles east of Hachita, he saw a grey Chrysler mini-van parked on the side of the road. He kept on driving.

At 4 p.m., he headed back the way he came. This time, the mini-van’s front door was open and a person was slouched in the driver’s seat, State Police Agent Moises Mascorro wrote in a statement of probable cause for Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez’s arrest.

Mug shot of Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez, convicted of second-degree murder for the death of Connie Lopez, 57, of Lake Placid, Fla. 4x5 ratio
Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez

He turned around, parked, and approached the vehicle, Mascorro wrote, referring to his conversation with Enriquez.

“As got close to the driver, he noticed it was a female with a belt around her neck,” Mascorro wrote. “She was deceased.”

The woman would later be identified as Connie Lopez, of Lake Placid, Fla., with a hotel reservation in El Paso, Texas.

While he was calling in the situation to his dispatchers, he was allegedly approached by Lobato-Rodriguez, who allegedly told Enriquez he is an illegal alien.

Shortly thereafter, Border Patrol Agent Adrian Garcia arrived to help Enriquez.

“Mr. Rodriguez mumbled to them, stating he killed her because she was going to kill his family,” Mascorro wrote. “He also stated there were other people traveling with him in a white pick-up. and some were hiding in the berm in the desert.”

Garcia told Mascorro much the same, although he described the mumbling as being “really fast.” He also said that Lobato-Rodriguez allegedly said he killed Lopez because she was going to kill him and his family, not just his family.

After he mumbled about her going to kill him, Garcia handcuffed him and read him his Miranda rights.

“Agent Garcia went and looked for tracks but was only able to locate Mr. Rodriguez’s tracks,” Mascorro wrote.

Mascorro found documents in the vehicle belonging to Lobato-Rodriguez as well and they also indicated he lived in Florida, like Lopez. Mascorro did not specify if Lopez and Lobato-Rodriguez were in a relationship or if they were traveling together.

“Documents inside the vehicle showed Connie Lopez was traveling from Florida on March 15, 2017 heading westbound,” Mascorro wrote.

After the agents took Lobato-Rodriguez to the State Police Office in Deming, Mascorro tried to interview him, but Lobato-Rodriguez said he wanted an attorney present. This ended the conversation because he had asserted his Miranda rights.

According to Lobato-Rodriguez’s trial testimony, Lopez was driving him to his home in Mexico.

Probable cause - Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez

Autopsy report

According to the autopsy report, Lopez had a leather belt tied around her neck when her body came in.

Pathologist Veena Singh and Forensic Pathology Fellow Rebecca Asch-Kendrick wrote in the report that there was other evidence of strangulation as well.

Missed trial dates

On April 7, 2017, a preliminary hearing in the case was held and Lobato-Rodriguez was ordered bound over to district court on a charge of first-degree murder.

On April 19, 2017, prosecutors filed a criminal information in district court charging Lobato-Rodriguez with first-degree murder.

On June 14, 2018, Lobato-Rodriguez’s attorney at the time, George Harrison, filed a motion to suppress his statements. In a 13-page order, District Court Judge Jarod Hofacket bemoaned how late the motion to suppress was filed but ultimately concluded that all interrogations of Lobato-Rodriguez were legal.

Harrison filed a second motion to suppress on Aug. 13, 2018, again focusing on the interrogation by the two border patrol agents. On Aug. 21, 2018, Hofacket again denied the motion to suppress and wrote that Harrison had not presented new evidence or new circumstances.

On Aug. 22, 2018, Harrison filed a motion to withdraw because he got a job working for the state of New Mexico.

On Oct. 3, 2019, Lobato-Rodriguez’s new attorney, Chico Gallegos, filed a motion to continue the jury trial, set for Oct. 7, 2019. He wrote that it “became clear” that he needed to hire an expert witness to translate what was said in English, and in Spanish, for the various communications between border patrol agents and Lobato-Rodriguez.

Plea hearing/trial date

On Dec. 4, 2019, a jury trial was set for August 17 through 21, 2020, and a pre-trial conference for July 20, 2020, at the district court in Deming.

On Jan. 21, 2020, the judge set a plea hearing and pre-trial conference for July 27, 2020, at the district courthouse in Silver City.

On June 5, 2020, the court clerk entered an amended notice of a pre-trial conference and plea hearing set for 1 p.m., July 27, 2020, done via video conference. The hearing is set for 15 minutes.

It is not clear from the court documents and filings if Lobato-Rodriguez plans to plead guilty or if it is a perfunctory hearing before the trial. The hearing is set for 15 minutes.

According to the docket, most of the previous pre-trial conferences have been also labeled as plea hearings.

Guilty verdict

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

Motion for reconsideration

After the verdict his attorney, Harrison, filed a motion for a new, giving three reasons in his motion:

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

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

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

Hofacket denied the motion.

Sentenced

On Nov. 2, 2020, Hofacket sentenced Lobato-Rodriguez to the maximum for second-degree murder: 15 years. He gave him credit for time already served in jail while awaiting a trial, 3 years, 7 months and 17 days, bringing down the total amount of time he still has to serve to 11 years, 4 months and 14 days.

Appeal

On Nov. 10, 2020, Hofacket appointed the public defenders office to appeal Lobato-Rodriguez’s conviction, according to the docket. On Dec. 21, 2020, Harrison filed a docketing statement with the court of appeals, contending that five issues in the case were grounds for a new trial:

  1. Conducting the trial while adhering to COVID-19 protocols resulted in “the inability to properly transcribe the proceedings,” obviating a fair trial
  2. Hofacket’s multiple denials of motions to suppress evidence
  3. Denial of a mistrial motion after Bradburn commented on Lobato-Rodriguez’s silence after asserting his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent
  4. Hofacket’s “failure to correct critical errors” by the interpreter
  5. Hofacket’s denial of a self-defense jury instruction

Harrison previously motioned for a mistrial on three grounds, repeated in the appeal — the Fifth Amendment statement, the improper interpreting and the denials of motions to suppress. Hofacket denied that motion.

Harrison wrote in the docketing statement that he hired a certified Spanish interpreter to compile a “complete interpretation” of Lobato-Rodriguez’s testimony.

“The interpreter filed an affidavit with the district court,” Harrison wrote. “The affidavit states, among other things, that the quality of the audio recording of Mr. Lobato-Rodriguez’s testimony during trial is so poor that a proper interpretation would not be possible.”

Harrison wrote in the docketing statement and other motions that there was an improper translation, where Lobato-Rodriguez mumbled that he thought the victim told him he would “be dead that day.”

When Hofacket denied the motion, he wrote that the interaction Harrison said happened in fact, did not happen, and he did not understand why the interpreter claimed something happened that he found did not, after he reviewed the audio.

Harrison wrote that the rules for a jury trial during a pandemic meant the jurors were seated in the audience section of the courtroom, the family of the victim, Harrison and Lobato-Rodriguez were in the jury box, with their backs to the jury, and everyone was wearing masks.

Two Spanish interpreters translated during the trial for Lobato-Rodriguez and one juror.

“The COVID rules in effect made for great difficulty hearing potential jurors during voir dire and understanding witnesses called to the stand during trial testimony,” Harrison wrote.

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Past stories

Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez sentenced to 15 years for killing Florida woman in Hachita

Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez asks for reconsideration after guilty verdict

Trial date set for Florida man accused of strangling woman near Hachita

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

Summary

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

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

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

According to the report

From the Department of Justice report:

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

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

False police narrative

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

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

“Armed Robbery Suspect Fatally Shot by Albuquerque Police”

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the case files on Google Drive or Document Cloud.

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