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”

Zuni man held without bail pending probation revocation hearing

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A 27-year-old Zuni man is being held without bail pending a probation revocation hearing after being arrested on June 18, 2020.

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

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.

After an initial probation revocation hearing on May 18, 2020, Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing set a tentative new hearing for May 22. The same day as the initial hearing, Federal probation officer Christopher Fiedler filed a second amended petition for the revocation of Reano’s probation. It was not until June 18 that federal agents arrested Reano on a warrant, dated May 19.

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. He used that as a basis to request Reano have a special condition added to his sentence that he be required to live at a “residential reentry center” for up to six months. On March 16, 2020, District Judge James Parker, who initially sentenced him, added the special condition to Reano’s sentence.

In the second amended petition, 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.

Raylan Reano could spend up to another nine months in prison if his release is revoked, according to federal court documents.

On June 19, at a hearing on his revocation, Reano waived a preliminary hearing and a detention hearing.

A revocation hearing is set for 2 p.m., Aug. 25, via Zoom, in front of Parker.

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.

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.

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

Continue reading “Zuni man held without bail pending probation revocation hearing”

Sentencing for double vehicular homicide in Santa Fe reset to July

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

Read the case write-up

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

Mansoor Karimi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawsuit

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

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

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

Absconder warrant requested for Zuni man who killed girlfriend in DWI crash

Raylan Reano killed girlfriend Nicky Chavez in a 2016 crash outside Ramah
Judge James Parker gave Reano a 2-year sentence for killing Chavez, a mother of two
• Reano allegedly violated his probation, after release, by absconding

Read more about the case here

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Probation officers have requested a warrant for a Raylan Reano, 27, of Zuni, after he allegedly repeatedly violated the conditions of his supervised release and absconded after serving a federal prison sentence for killing his 26-year-old girlfriend Nicky Chavez in 2016.

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

After an initial hearing on May 18, 2020, where no action was taken, a following hearing on his alleged probation violation was tentatively set for May 22, but court records show there has been no more movement in the case.

Raylan Reano could spend up to another nine months in prison if his release is revoked, according to federal court documents. Reano pleaded guilty on March 13, 2018, to a single count of involuntary manslaughter and a year later, federal District Judge James 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.

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.

Federal probation officer Christopher Fiedler alleged Reano admitted to using methamphetamine and Suboxone and he tested positive for drugs on Jan. 3, 4 and 7, 2020, he wrote in a petition for a revocation of his supervised release filed March 25, 2020. He used that as a basis to request Reano have a special condition added to his sentence that he be required to live at a “residential reentry center” for up to six months. On March 16, 2020, Parker added the special condition to Reano’s sentence.

“This was in response to the defendant failing to comply with his substance abuse treatment plan,” he wrote.

Neither the request nor the condition appear on the public docket and appear to have been sealed. There is no documentation requesting they be sealed or indication how, or why, the sealing circumvented the normal rules for court filings.

Fiedler’s March 25, 2020 petition alleged that Reano didn’t call to schedule his assessment appointment for the reentry program on March 23, as ordered. He wrote:

“On March 24, 2020, this officer received notification from staff at Diersen Charities Residential Reentry Center that the defendant left their facility without permission and was considered an absconder. Later that same day, the defendant contacted this officer by phone and confirmed that he decided to leave the residential reentry center and returned back to his mother’s residence in Zuni, New Mexico.”

The federal Bureau of Prisons lists his status as an absconder.

Fiedler wrote that the revocation range is three to nine months.

Aerial panorama, Dowa Yalanne near Black Rock (left) and Zuni (right), NM, on September 9, 2019.
Aerial panorama, Dowa Yalanne near Black Rock (left) and Zuni (right), NM, on September 9, 2019. Photo by Lance Cheung/USDA/Flickr

Instead of a warrant, Reano was issued a summons to appear on a revocation hearing which, after being pushed off, was set for May 18, 2020.

During that hearing in front of Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing, Mease requested Reano be arrested, Elsenheimer requested he remain free and probation said that a second amended petition was filed and a warrant was requested, according to the minutes.

No petition appears in the public court record.

The hearing was tentatively moved to May 22, 2020 but no further filings appear in the court record after May 18, 2020. The minutes do not state if Reano was ordered detained or allowed to remain free.

Reano previously escaped from the Zuni jail, a crime that was charged in tribal court, federal prosecutor Sarah Mease wrote in a response to a sentencing memorandum.

He also attacked a fellow inmate while in the Zuni jail and on Nov. 12, 2016, a week after killing Chavez, he was found drunk and sleeping in a vehicle, Mease wrote.

Reano and Chavez were both enrolled Zuni tribal members.

Continue reading “Absconder warrant requested for Zuni man who killed girlfriend in DWI crash”

Civil lawsuit filed in double vehicular homicide case

See the full case here

SANTA FE, N.M. — On April 22, 2019, Ian Sweatt’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit (D-101-CV-2019-01095) against General Motors, which manufactured the Chevy Cobalt that Bryant was driving, and Mansoor Karimi, who allegedly crashed into his vehicle, killing him and Christopher Bryant, 30.

Mansoor Karimi

According to the amended lawsuit complaint, Sweatt, 33, and Bryant were both wearing seat belts but were still killed by the crash because the Cobalt “violated several crashworthiness principles and thereby failed to protect them.”

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

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

Continue reading “Civil lawsuit filed in double vehicular homicide case”

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

Suspect: Mansoor Karimi

Victim: Christopher Bryant, 30

Victim: Ian Sweatt, 33

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

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

Sentence: 8 years (maximum of 12)

Date of incident: Dec. 16, 2016

Agency: Santa Fe Police Department

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

County: Santa Fe

Prosecutor: Kent Wahlquist

Prosecuting agency: First Judicial District Attorney’s Office

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

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

 

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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The incident

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

Mansoor Karimi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affidavit for Arrest Warrant - Karimi Mansoor

 

Court proceedings

Indictment

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

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

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

Missing cell phone

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

Judge's portrait
District Judge Mary Marlowe-Sommer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guilty verdict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sentencing

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

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

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

Motion to reconsider sentencing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No new hearing has been set in the case.

Lawsuit

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

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

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

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

See the court documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Raylan Reano: Nicky Chavez — 10-23-2016

Suspect: Raylan Reano

Victim: Nicky Chavez, 26

Charges: Involuntary manslaughter

Status: Remanded to prison for five months for probation violations after a plea to involuntary manslaughter and sentence (2 years)

Date of incident: Oct. 23, 2016

Investigative agencies: Zuni Police Department

Prosecutor: Sarah Mease

Prosecuting agency: U.S. Attorney’s Office

Location: State Road 53 in Ramah, exterior boundaries of the Zuni Pueblo

County: McKinley County

Type: DWI crash

Relation to victim: Boyfriend

Federal Magistrate case number: None

Federal District case number: 17-cr-03403

 

Summary

On Oct. 23, 2016, Raylan Reano, 27, crashed, killing his 26-year-old girlfriend Nicky Chavez, mother of two, on State Road 53 in Ramah, in the exterior boundaries of the Zuni Pueblo. Chavez was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected through the rear window.

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

Nov. 28, 2017, a year after killing Chavez, Reano was indicted. Three months later he pleaded guilty and on March 21, 2019, he received a two-year sentence, the minimum sentence suggested by sentencing guidelines.

After being released from federal prison, he admitted to using methamphetamine and Suboxone and was ordered into a residential reentry program for six months. After he did not set up an appointment for the program, and then left the treatment facility he was in, probation officers requested his release be revoked. His probation case is pending.

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The incident

While driving drunk on State Road 53 through Ramah, Raylan Reano crashed his car, killing girlfriend Nicky Chavez, 26.

Aerial panorama, Dowa Yalanne near Black Rock (left) and Zuni (right), NM, on September 9, 2019.
Aerial panorama, Dowa Yalanne near Black Rock (left) and Zuni (right), NM, on September 9, 2019. Photo by Lance Cheung/USDA/Flickr

Details on the crash, from court records, are few. Reano was indicted, and never charged federally at the magistrate level, for killing Chavez.

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.”

Most of the details of the crash come from a deputy field investigation conducted by the Office of the Medical Investigator.

Field Investigator Paulena Houston wrote that Chavez was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected from the rear window in the crash, about 110 feet from the car. She died at the scene.

Houston wrote:

“The blue dodge passenger vehicle starts to runoff (sic) the roadway at least 50 yards; from where it came to a rest, it then drives over a driveway ditch which damages the right front and back tires. The vehicle then loses control as it turns towards the roadway, flips on its right side then starts to roll at least 2 to 3 times. The vehicle then lands back on its wheels, front end facing SE, and all doors closed.”

The stretch of road where Reano crashed is straight, she wrote.

Chavez suffered severe cuts on her head and cans were thrown out from with crash, along with other debris, Houston wrote.

Chavez’s mother discovered the crash as she was driving to work and positively identified her daughter. Zuni police investigator Lee Lucio conducted the tribal investigation, she wrote.

According to the autopsy report, Chavez died from blunt trauma of the head, chest and abdomen.

In a sentencing memorandum, Reano’s attorney, federal public defender Aric Elsenheimer wrote that Reano drove off the road, overcorrected and flipped the car.

The night of the crash, Chavez and Reano drank heavily and they left Chavez’s home at 4 p.m., with Chavez driving. They continued to drink into the night and at some point, Reano started driving, Elsenheimer wrote.

Aerial view from near Dowa Yalanne near Black Rock (right) and Zuni (left), NM, on September 9, 2019.
Aerial view from near Dowa Yalanne near Black Rock (right) and Zuni (left), NM, on September 9, 2019. Photo by Lance Cheung/USDA/Flickr

Elsenheimer wrote, wrongly, that Chavez had an “astonishingly high” blood-alcohol content, or BAC, of 0.35. According to a toxicology report, her blood-alcohol content was 0.30. She was not driving when the accident happened. He did not note that his client’s own blood-alcohol content was 0.36.

Chavez also had cocaine in her system, according to the toxicology report.

Although Elsenheimer wrote that his client took responsibility by pleading guilty, he framed Chavez’s death as being distanced from Reano’s responsibility for killing her, noting Reano was hurt by “what happened” to Chavez, rather than what he did to her.

“Mr. Reano deeply regrets his actions and is devastated by what happened to N.C.,” Elsenheimer wrote.

Reano and Chavez were both enrolled Zuni tribal members.

The victim

Do you have information about this case, or are willing to talk about victim Nicky Chavez? NM Homicide needs your assistance. Please fill out this form or email us at nmhomicide at gmail dot com.

According to Mease’s response to the sentencing memorandum, Chavez was the mother of two young children and “in the prime of her life.”

Chavez’s mother declined to give an impact statement to the investigators writing the presentence report, she wrote.

“To be clear, this decision does not stem from apathy,” Mease wrote. “Quite the contrary—the victim’s mother feels that engaging in this process is simply too painful following the tragic loss of her daughter.”

Chavez’s Facebook page provides little, other than that she studied nursing previously and went to Zuni High School.

Reano and Chavez began dating in August 2016 and “alcohol was a large part of their relationship,” Elsenheimer wrote in his sentencing memorandum.

Court proceedings

Indictment

On Nov. 28, 2017, over a year after Raylan Reano killed Chavez, a federal grand jury indicted him on a single charge of involuntary manslaughter. The case was filed with the federal court on Dec. 5, 2017.

Plea

On March 23, 2018, just three months after his indictment, Reano pleaded guilty to a single charge of involuntary manslaughter, a deal prepared by prosecutor Sarah Mease and accepted by federal Magistrate Judge Karen Molzen.

There was no agreement in the plea as to sentence, but prosecutors agreed that the judge should reduce Reano sentence by six months because of his six-month sentence in tribal court for killing Chavez, according to the plea.

Prosecutors also agreed to recommend a sentence in the low end of the calculated guideline range, according to the plea.

Sentence

Limited culpability

Elsenheimer wrote in a sentencing memorandum on July 24, 2018, that he wanted his client to vary the guideline sentence down and give his client a sentence of 18 months (1 1/2 years) and run the sentence at the same time as his tribal sentence. Prosecutors did not oppose giving him the six months credit and allowing him to serve both the tribal and federal sentences at the same time.

Among the reasons were a difficult childhood and early life. He grew up on the Zuni Pueblo with his mother, father and brother. His alcoholic father would often fight with his mother and drove the two children from the house, he wrote.

In 2014, his father died of a heart attack and at some point his brother, Jaylen Reano, was killed outside their home and after his death, he fell into a deep depression and began to drink heavily, Elsenheimer wrote.

Searches for Jaylen Reano turn up no results and a records request for his autopsy report is pending with the Office of the Medical Investigator.

Reano did not deserve a sentence of more than a year and a half because he has no prior criminal history, although he does have tribal convictions for theft, intoxication and escape from a jail, he wrote.

Elsenheimer wrote that Chavez had a high blood-alcohol content, although he alleged she had a higher BAC than was reported in the toxicology report. He also wrote that she had cocaine in her system and that she chose to not wear a seat belt, leading to her being ejected.

Reano’s drinking was a result of the loss of his brother and father, he wrote.

Elsenheimer also included a letter from Reano’s sister, Mellory Mahkee, who wrote that her brother deserved a second chance and that all his woes were attributable to his brother dying in his arms.

Prosecution’s requested sentence

Mease wrote in a response to Elsenheimer’s sentencing memorandum, filed Aug. 3, 2018, that prosecutors, pursuant to the plea deal, were asking for a sentence at the low end of the range. He had an adjusted offense level of 19 with a criminal history category of I, bringing his sentence range to 30 to 37 months, although a criminal history category of II would increase the sentencing range to 33 to 41 months.

Federal sentencing table, levels 17 to 19
Levels 17 to 22 of the federal sentencing table. With a criminal history of I, the guidelines for Raylan Reano’s killing of Nicky Chavez were 30 (2.5 years) to 37 months (3 years). One criminal history level higher, of II, and his range increased to 33 months (2.75 years) to 41 months (3.4 years).

Reano had a base offense level of 22 (sentence range 41 to 51 months at level I criminal history), and received a three-level downgrade for his plea, she wrote.

The pre-sentence report suggested Reano might properly have a criminal history category of II because, following his killing of Chavez, he committed three more tribal offenses. Mease wrote (internal citations removed):

“First, on November 12, 2016, just days after the incident in the present case, Defendant was arrested after being found intoxicated and sleeping inside a vehicle. Then, while Defendant was in tribal custody, he assaulted another inmate. Finally, in December 2017, Defendant was arrested following his escape from the Zuni Detention Center in Zuni, New Mexico. All three incidents resulted in tribal convictions.”

Mease wrote that Chavez’s mother found it too painful to write a victim impact letter.

She wrote that the prosecution was advocating for either a 24-month sentence, with a criminal history level of I, or 27 months, with a criminal history level of II. The sentencing guidelines allow courts to consider conduct after an initial arrest.

Low sentence

On March 21, 2019, District Judge James Parker sentenced Reano to two years, the minimum suggested for a level I criminal history after six months was subtracted for time served in tribal jail, and allowed him to serve the sentence at the same time as his convictions in tribal court. That was to be followed by supervised probation for three years, according to the court docket.

Probation violation

Initial problems

The day Raylan Reano was released from prison, Jan. 3, 2020, he allegedly admitted to using methamphetamine and Suboxone and he tested positive for drugs on Jan. 3, 4 and 7, 2020, Probation officer Christopher Fiedler wrote in a petition for a revocation of his supervised release filed March 25, 2020.

On March 12, 2020, supervisors requested a special condition be added to Reano’s sentence, that he be required to live at a “residential reentry center” for up to six months, Fiedler wrote.

“This was in response to the defendant failing to comply with his substance abuse treatment plan,” he wrote.

On March 16, 2020, Parker added the special condition to Reano’s sentence, Fiedler wrote.

Neither the request nor the condition appear on the public docket and appear to have been sealed. There is no documentation requesting they be sealed or indication how, or why, the sealing circumvented the normal rules for court filings.

Fiedler’s March 25, 2020 petition alleged that Reano didn’t call to schedule his assessment appointment for the reentry program on March 23, as ordered. He wrote:

“On March 24, 2020, this officer received notification from staff at Diersen Charities Residential Reentry Center that the defendant left their facility without permission and was considered an absconder. Later that same day, the defendant contacted this officer by phone and confirmed that he decided to leave the residential reentry center and returned back to his mother’s residence in Zuni, New Mexico.”

Fiedler wrote that the revocation range is three to nine months.

Instead of a warrant, Reano was issued a summons to appear on a revocation hearing which, after being pushed off, was set for May 18, 2020.

During that hearing in front of Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing, Mease requested Reano be arrested, Elsenheimer requested he remain free and probation said that a second amended petition was filed and a warrant was requested, according to the minutes.

The minutes do not state if Reano was ordered detained or allowed to remain free.

Fielder filed a second amended petition for the revocation of Reano’s probation. It was not until June 18 that federal agents arrested Reano on a warrant, dated May 19.

Remanded to prison

On Aug. 25, 2020, Parker ordered Reano remanded to prison for five months after he 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 Parker.

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Darrius Valles: Jerry Wayne Jennings — 01-15-2016

Suspect: Darrius Valles

Victim: Jerry Wayne Jennings

Charges: First-degree murder, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon: a firearm, two counts of tampering with evidence and escape from the custody of a release program

Status: Guilty plea to second-degree murder, tampering with evidence and escape from a community custody program

Sentence: 7 years followed by 5 years supervised probation

Date of incident: Jan. 15, 2016

Agency: Albuquerque Police Department

Location: 1309 Dickerson Dr SE, Albuquerque

Magistrate case number: T-4-FR-2016-001084

District case number: D-202-CR-2016-00789

 

Summary

On Jan. 15, 2016, Darrius Valles, allegedly shot Jerry Wayne Jennings in the head with a pistol while they were fighting. They got into the fight because Valles caused someone to break Jenning’s windows.

Valles allegedly claimed to his girlfriend, after the fight, that he shot Jennings in self defense.

A female witness who lived across the way alleged that she saw Jennings shot in the head while he was talking on a cell phone, and not while he was fighting with Valles.

He was arrested on the charges on Feb. 29, 2016.

As the case proceeded, DeAmber Yonker failed to appear for a pre-trial interview and her lawyer, representing Valles in another case, requested that she not be ordered to testify because she could incriminate herself. That attorney, Lisa Torraco, was later removed as her attorney.

Yonker failed to appear for a series of hearings and on May 5, 2017, prosecutors agreed to a plea deal with Valles’ attorney, Tom Clark, after Yonker could not be located. She was arrested on a warrant two days later.

According to the plea deal, accepted on June 14, 2017, Valles received a sentence of seven years followed by supervised probation for five years.

[cmtoc_table_of_contents]

The incident

Around 3:42 p.m., Jan. 15, 2016, Darrius Valles, 21 at the time, and Jerry Wayne Jennings, 43, got into a fight over Jenning’s broken apartment windows.

Valles had taken refuge a few days prior in Jenning’s apartment because someone was trying to get to him. The person who was after him threw rocks through Jenning’s windows, breaking all of them, Albuquerque Police Detective C. J. Brown wrote in a statement of probable cause for Valles arrest shortly after the shooting.

Darrius Valles

During the fight, Valles allegedly shot Jennings in the head with a pistol, according to what he told his girlfriend, DeAmber Yonker, of Albuquerque, Brown wrote.

He wrote he was called out to Valles’ apartment in the 1300 block of Dickerson Drive SE about two hours after the shooting was reported.

Yonker told Brown, in an interview in the Department’s mobile crime scene van, that nine days prior, her boyfriend, Valles, and his friend, Lamar Watts, got into an argument.

“During this argument, Darrius ran over to Jerry’s apartment #A for refuge,” Brown wrote. “Lamar threw several rocks into several of Jerry’s apartment windows. DeAmber stated since then, none of Jerry’s windows were fixed until today when her mother had a repairman fix only one of the damaged windows.”

Because Yonker’s mother only had the one window fixed, Jennings went over to the apartment Yonkers and Valles shared the day of the shooting. He wanted to speak to Valles about getting the other windows fixed.

Valles walked outside of the apartment and allegedly heard Jennings tell Valles that he was going to fix the windows, then heard fighting outside the closed door, and someone bump up against it.

“She stated her door opened and saw Darrius trip as he was walking back into their apartment,” Brown wrote. “She stated although Darrius was much larger than Jerry that Jerry got on top of him and started punching him.”

Yonker told them she was going to call 911, and did so, but was told to go into one of the back rooms while the two men fought.

Brown wrote that, according to driver’s license information, both men were six feet tall but Jennings only weighed 175 pounds while Valles weighed 280 pounds.

“She stated Darrius and Jerry ended up outside again and while she was on the phone, she heard a ‘pop’ sound,” Brown wrote. “She then dropped her phone and walked into the hallway of their apartment to see what was going on.”

Valles walked in and met her in the apartment’s hallway.

“She stated he told her he had to shoot Jerry ‘out of self-defense,'” Brown wrote. “She stated he told her Jerry was punching him and he had to shoot him. She stated he then handed her a small pistol (unknown type or caliber) telling her to take it because she was 21 and she wouldn’t get in trouble.”

Yonker told him no and handed the pistol back. Valles then allegedly opened the closet door in the hallway, put on a jacket and left the apartment.

The other view

Another detective told Brown he talked to a juvenile who lived in an adjacent apartment complex.

“She stated while in her bedroom, she heard what sounded like a gunshot,” Brown wrote. “She looked through the back window and observed a male talking on a cellphone fall back onto the floor just after hearing the ‘pop’ sound. The female then walked down to 1309 Dickerson Dr SE and noticed the male she saw fall to the ground shaking on the ground.”

She told the detective the man was bleeding from the head.

Nowhere to be found

Detectives learned that Valles was on probation for another case and had an ankle bracelet that should have been able to track his movements.

During a briefing, Brown learned that Valles allegedly cut the bracelet off after the shooting.

“The bracelet was located at Arno St SE and Bell Ave SE at approximately 4:02 pm by Probation and Parole,” Brown wrote.

The arrest warrant was then issued the following day, Jan. 16, 2016.

He was arrested on the warrant on Feb. 29, 2016.

PC - Darrius Valles - 1-16-2016

 

Grand jury indictment

On March 15, 2016, a grand jury indicted Valles on charges of:

  • First-degree murder
  • Aggravated battery with a deadly weapon: a firearm
  • Two counts of tampering with evidence
  • Escape from the custody of a release program

 

Witness problems

Deamber Yonker’s former attorney Lisa Torraco saw two problems with Yonker’s testimony: She was being prosecuted for allegedly lying to investigators about her boyfriend, Valles’, whereabouts and her testimony, either in court or in a pre-trial interview, could incriminate herself in Jennings’ death. That case has since been dismissed.

The prosecution tried to conduct a pre-trial witness interview with Yonker on May 17, 2016 and served her with a subpeona.

Albuquerque by Pom’/Flickr. CC BY-SA

She didn’t show.

Her lawyer at the time, Lisa Torraco, filed a motion for a protective order on May 16, 2016 that would protect Yonker from testifying under the theory that she could incriminate herself. The judge sealed that motion.

According to the judge’s order granting the state’s motion to appoint new counsel for Yonker, Yonker had “information not known to the state and to the police that will tend to incriminate [her] and is EXCULPATORY to [Defendant].”

On May 17, 2016, Second Judicial District prosecutor Les Romaine filed a motion for a “material witness warrant,” which was eventually quashed by the judge.

In his motion, Romaine asked the judge to issue a warrant for Yonker so she could be held until they could conduct a pre-trial interview.

Torraco had previously represented Yonker and Valles in another case and in this case, prosecutors argued, she had a conflict of interest because what would be good for Valles might not be good for Yonker.

In a motion, Romaine asked that Torraco be removed as Yonker’s attorney and in it, he summarized a series of past cases involving Valles and Yonker. See the motion here.

In addition, he wrote that Torraco indicated that Yonker might expose herself to federal prosecution if she were to testify.

“Torraco is now representing a witness this case whose interests are adverse to Defendant,” District Judge Brett Loveless wrote in the order for new counsel. “Torraco has represented that Yonker may have evidence that is exculpatory for Defendant. However. Torraco sought an order excluding Yonker from testifying in order to protect Yonker from incriminating herself. Thus, the interests of Yonker and Defendant are materially adverse.”

Loveless wrote that it was unusual that prosecutors wanted a witness’s lawyer to be removed from the case.

“However, under the unique circumstances of this case, the Court has no trouble concluding that Torraco’s simultaneous representation of Yonker in this case and Defendant in other criminal matters is fraught with a conflict of interest, as well as a serious potential conflict of interest,” Loveless wrote.

Immunity request

On March 22, 2017, Romaine filed a motion asking that Loveless issue an order forcing Yonker to testify and granting her immunity from prosecution.

“The State is prepared to grant use immunity to DeAmber Yonker for her testimony in regards to the events of January 16, 2016, so long as DeAmber Yonker does not state she was the shooter,” Romaine wrote.

On March 15, 2017, Valles attorney, Tom Clark, filed a motion to exclude the testimony of Yonker and fellow witness Julia Quaglia-Jaramillo because they had not been made available for interviews and the deadline to interview witnesses was Feb. 3, 2017.

“While suppression is a harsh remedy, it is appropriate in this case,” Clark wrote.

Romaine wrote in a response dated March 17 that interviewing Yonker would be in violation of the judge’s order and that Clark could have attempted to subpoena them himself.

In addition, Quaglia-Jaramillo was not properly served with a subpoena, but was available.

On May 31, 2017, Clark filed a motion to dismiss the homicide charge against Valles and another motion to exclude Yonker’s testimony.

Romaine filed a short response to the motion to dismiss the homicide charge and a 13-page response to the motion to exclude Yonker’s testimony, both on June 12, 2017. In that response, he alleged Valles made thousands of calls to Yonker in an attempt to get her to not testify.

 

Plea deal

Portrait of District Judge Brett Loveless
District Judge Brett Loveless

According to a story in the Albuquerque Journal, prosecutors agreed to a plea with Valles on May 5, 2017, after they were unable to locate Yonker. That plea deal set his sentence at seven years in prison.

Yonker was booked on a material witness warrant two days later on May 7, 2017, according to the Journal.

Valles did not sign the plea agreement until June 13, 2017 and Romaine did not sign it until June 14, the day it was accepted by District Court Judge Brett Loveless during a plea hearing.

According to the plea agreement, Valles pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, tampering with evidence and escape from a community custody program. In addition to seven years in prison, he also received five years of probation following his release.

It is not clear why Clark filed the two motions on May 31, 2017, to dismiss the homicide charge and exclude Yonker’s testimony, or why Romaine filed a response, when they already agreed to a plea on May 5, 2017.

Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office spokesman Michael Patrick told the Journal that prosecutors, presumably Romaine, would have pushed for a sentence of at least nine years but the deal had already been made in good faith.

 

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