James Finch: David Finch — 8-24-2015

  • Suspect: James Finch
  • Victim: David Finch, 60
  • Non-fatal victim: Kathy Finch
  • Charges: Second-degree murder, attempt to commit first-degree murder, tampering with evidence, aggravated burglary
  • Status: No contest plea to second-degree murder, attempt to commit first-degree murder, tampering with evidence, aggravated burglary
  • Sentence: 27 years followed by 5 years supervised probation
  • Date of incident: Aug. 24, 2015
  • Relation to victim: Son
  • Agency: Albuquerque Police Department
  • Location: 1200 block of Grove Street NE, Albuquerque
  • District case number: D-202-CR-201502502
  • Magistrate case number: T-4-CR-2015011995
  • Judicial district: Second Judicial District

 

Summary

James Finch allegedly stabbed his father to death and stabbed his mother, but not fatally, on Aug. 24, 2015.

On March 3, 2017, Finch pleaded no contest to charges of second-degree murder, attempt to commit first-degree murder, tampering with evidence and aggravated burglary. Per his plea, he will spend 27 years in prison and spend six years on supervised probation following his release from prison.

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The case

Four days before James Finch stabbed his father to death and beat and stabbed his mother, he dug a grave in his parent’s back yard.

On Aug. 24, 2015, he broke into their house on Grove Street around 3 a.m. and attacked his parents.

James Finch

His parents were so afraid of him they took out a restraining order and after he was released from jail a few days before he killed his father, David Finch, the latter went around his neighborhood, telling everyone to watch out for his son, Detective Leah Acata wrote in a statement of probable cause/criminal complaint for James Finch’s arrest.

When officers F. Duran and E. Bumphrey arrived at the house, after the 911 center received a call of a woman asking for help, Duran looked through a small window in the door and saw a naked man inside the house.

“The nude male ran from the south side of the residence,” Acata wrote. “Officer Duran stated he observed a large amount of blood inside of the residence. Officer Duran observed a female lying face up in a pool of blood.”

The woman, Kathy Finch, was calling out for help.

The two officers called for an ambulance and found they were unable to break through the front door so they went to the back of the house and jumped a wall.

“Officer Duran stated (he) observed bloody foot prints on the back porch (of the house),” Acata wrote. “Officer Duran stated he followed the foot prints where he observed a nude male, wearing only socks, hiding under a white table with a glass top. The table was located on the back porch of the residence.”

The two officers demanded that James Finch come out from the table and saw that he was covered in blood and had a cut on his hand. He did not fight them when he was arrested.

“James stated to police, ‘They are trying to kill us,’ ‘They are trying to kill my parents,’ ‘Please don’t leave me,’ ‘Please help me’ and ‘I don’t want to die,'” Acata wrote.

After arresting James Finch, Duran found that a back window at the house was broken out.

Sandia mountains covered in snow. Photo by John Fowler/Flickr. CC BY

“Officer duran stated it appeared as if someone through (sic) a chair from the outside of the back window to the inside of the back window,” Acata wrote. “Officer Duran entered into the residence through the open back door due to hearing the continued cries for help from a female in the (house).”

Kathy Finch had multiple stab wounds and told Duran that her son attacked her. Next to her was David Finch, already dead, face down on a piece of a cinder block.

“Officer Duran observed another piece of cinder block lying next to Kathy which appeared to have blood and hair attached to the cinder block,” Acata wrote.

Duran found the master bedroom was “covered” in blood and found bloody clothing in the bathroom. The shower was running.

Next to David Finch, they found a 7-inch knife, covered in blood.

“Officer Duran stated both David and Kathy were nude when he located them,” Acata wrote.

Neighbor Tony Martinez told the officers about the grave the Finches found in their back yard, 3 feet wide and 9 feet long and said the Finches placed a note in their son’s former room stating that his personal belongings were in the shed. He was not allowed in the house and they had a restraining order against him.

Another witness, Lynn Russo, told the detectives that David and Kathy Finch had a solid door, with deadbolts, put into their bedroom because they were afraid of their son.

“Lynn stated she heard screaming from (the house) around 0300 hours on this date,” Acata wrote.

When interviewed by Bumphrey at the hospital which does not state if he was read his Miranda rights, including his right to remain silent, he told the officer that three men in masks picked him up from the homeless shelter. He described the three men as wearing all black.

“James stated the males drove him to his parent’s house, placed a gun in his mouth and told him he had to stab his parents or they would kill his parents,” Acata wrote. “James stated he did not want to kill his parents but he was forced to do it. No officer observed any subjects matching the description of the three unknown males in the area (of Grove Street NE).”

He was charged, in Albuquerque Metropolitan Court, on charges of open murder, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and aggravated burglary.

PC- James Finch - 8-24-2015

Court proceedings

The indictment

On Sept. 17, 2015, an Albuquerque grand jury indicted James Finch on eight charges, and even more step down in-the-alternative charges.

  • Count 1: First-degree murder or felony murder (a killing committed during the commission of another felony).
  • Count 2: Attempted first-degree murder and a series of alternative counts, including aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and aggravated battery causing great bodily harm, for his attack on Kathy Finch.
  • Count 3: Aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon.
  • Count 4: Aggravated battery with a deadly weapon for his attack on his father, David Finch.
  • Count 5: Tampering with evidence.
  • Count 6: Aggravated stalking
  • Count 7: Violation of a protection order
  • Count 8: Violation of a protection order

Acata was the only person to testify.

Motions

On Jan. 12, 2016, prosecutor Spirit Gaines filed a motion to stay the case on the grounds that James Finch’s competency was in question.

Gaines wrote that his competency had been raised in a different case. The two cases were consolidated until his competency was determined.

On Oct. 14, 2016, the Albuquerque District Judge Brett Loveless found him competent to stand trial and lifted the hold on the case.

The Plea

Portrait of District Judge Brett Loveless
District Judge Brett Loveless

On March 3, 2017, James Finch pleaded no contest to one count of second-degree murder, a serious violent offense, attempt to commit first-degree murder, tampering with evidence and aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon.

According to the plea agreement, James Finch will spend 27 years in prison, with five years of his 36 year sentence suspended, and to be spent on supervised probation.

According to the plea, the only count to be considered a serious violent offense is the charge of second-degree murder.

In addition, according to the plea, he was to serve the sentences for each crime consecutively, meaning one after the other, with the last eight years suspended in favor of five years of supervised probation.

Because second-degree murder is a serious violent offense, James Finch must serve 85 percent of the first 15 years of his sentence. Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 15 years.

After he serves 85 percent of the first 15 years, he then begins to accrue good time at a rate of 50 percent and, after that point, he will be eligible for release after he has served half of the remaining 12 years on his sentence: six years.

Plea agreement - James Finch - 3-3-2017

The sentencing

According to the Albuquerque Journal, Kathy Finch spoke during the sentencing and said that it may not be a long enough sentence, but she would be dead by the time James Finch is released from prison.

 

See the case documents on Google Drive or on Document Cloud

Richmond Sam: Jefferson Herrera — 7-30-2015

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

The summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The incident

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below if the affidavit for an arrest warrant.

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

Court proceedings

Previous incident

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

Indictment and plea

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sentencing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See all the documents on Google Drive or view the case on CourtListener.com