Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez asks for reconsideration after guilty verdict

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

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

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

Isaias Loabto-Rodriguez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improper comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translation error

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harrison also filed a motion specifically to correct the error.

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

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

Motion to suppress

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

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

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

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

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

See the case write-up

SILVER CITY, N.M. — A Florida man is set to go to trial on a charge of murder in August, assuming he does not take a plea deal during a pre-trial video conference set for July 27, 2020.

Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez

On March 17, 2017, Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez, 56, 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.

Lobato-Rodriguez’s murder trial had previously been set back after his attorney left the case to take a job with the state and after issues with an expert interpreter. He was initially interrogated by Border Patrol agents in Spanish, the subject of a motion to suppress.

His trial had previously been set for Oct. 7, 2019, a date that was vacated after his new attorney, Chico Gallegosfiled a motion to continue the jury trial. 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.

A new trial date of Aug. 17 to 21, 2020, was set by the judge on Dec. 4, 2019. Then on Jan. 21, 2020, a pre-trial conference and plea hearing was set 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 also been labeled as plea hearings.

The trial is still set for Aug. 17, according to the docket.

Continue reading “Trial date set for Florida man accused of strangling woman near Hachita”

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”

Joseph Vargas: Kenneth Torres — 3-31-2017

Suspect: Joseph Vargas

Victim: Kenneth Torres, 23

Non-fatal victim: Julian Torres, 20

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

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

Sentence: 8 years followed by 5 years of supervised probation

Date of incident: March 31, 2017

Agency: Rio Rancho Police Department

Location: Eventide SE, Rio Rancho, NM

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

District case number: D-1329-CR-201700155

 

Summary

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

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

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

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The incident

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

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

Joseph Vargas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indictment, plea and sentence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the case files on Google Drive.

Richard Griego: Jimmy Griego — 3-28-2017

Suspect: Richard Griego

Victim: Jimmy Griego

Charges: First-degree murder, tampering with evidence

Status: Pending; stayed for competency

Date of incident: March 28, 2017

Agency: State Police

Location: Pecos River Bridge, State Route 3, Ribera, San Miguel County

Relation to victim: 

Magistrate case number: M-48-FR-201700095

District case number: D-412-CR-201700129

Summary

On March 28, 2017, Richard Griego allegedly threw Jimmy Griego off of a bridge over the Pecos River on State Road 3, an allegation backed up by data from an ankle bracelet Richard Griego was wearing from a separate case which tracked his movements via GPS.

On May 1, 2017, Richard Griego was bound over to District Court on charges of first-degree murder and tampering with evidence following a preliminary examination. On Nov. 15, 2017, his competency to stand trial was raised as an issue and proceedings were stayed until Sept. 11, 2018, when the Notice of Competency Issue was withdrawn.

A year later, on Sept. 11, 2019, competency was again raised as an issue and the case has been stayed.

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The incident

On March 28, 2017, Beverly Quintana called 911 to report that someone dumped a body off of the bridge over the Pecos River, on State Road 3, and the dumped person was her cousin, State Police Agent Patrick Montoya wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

Quintana told Montoya that she was driving south when she passed a white Ford truck heading the opposite direction. She described the driver as being angry.

Richard Griego

“As the pickup continued passed (sic) her, she noticed a male in the bed area of the pickup,” Montoya wrote. “She recognized the male in the bed of the pickup as her cousin, who she identified as Jimmy Griego.”

Quintana kept the truck in her rear view mirror and she watched as the truck stopped. Her cousin was on his knees in the back and he appeared to be terrified.

The driver pulled over and stopped on the bridge, got out and walked toward the back of the truck with someone in his right hand.

Quintana then turned around and drove back toward the truck and watched as the man, allegedly Richard Griego, carried her cousin on his shoulder, walked to the edge of the bridge and threw him over, to the river below.

When she stopped, got out, and looked down, she saw her cousin’s body floating in the river and blood on the back of his shirt. She then recognized the driver was Richard Griego.

The agent then learned that Richard Griego was on probation and required to wear an ankle monitor with a GPS unit in it. The tracking device allegedly placed him at the river at 4:18 p.m., the day of Jimmy Griego’s death.

Quintana called 911 two minutes later at 4:20.

“A Field Examiner for the Office of the Medical Investigator found blunt force trauma and two lacerations to Jimmy’s head,” Montoya wrote. “I observed the injuries to Jimmy’s head, including an indentation to the left side of his head.”

He was charged with an open count of murder and tampering with evidence, according to the docket.

On April 6, 2017, a waiver of time limits was filed and a preliminary hearing was set for May 1, 2017.

Las Vegas Magistrate Judge Christian Montaño held a preliminary hearing on May 1 and bound over Richard Griego on charges of first-degree murder and tampering with evidence. On May 19, in District Court, Richard Griego’s attorney Todd Farkas filed a motion in District Court to waive the arraignment and to enter a plea of not guilty.

Jail recordings

According to a Dec. 11, 2018 motion filed by prosecutor Thomas Clayton, Richard Griego made multiple phone calls while he was in jail that he wanted admitted as evidence.

In a May 1, 2017 call, he allegedly told his mother that someone else wanted to borrow his truck, that “those weren’t even my shoes and I wasn’t driving my truck.” His mother responded that they should not discuss “this stuff” on the phone.

Clayton wrote that the truck is an issue because Quintana saw him in his truck, on the bridge with the victim. A shoe print was also taken from the crime scene and it is a similar pattern to one seized from his house.

In a June 6, 2017 call, he talked to his mother about conversations with his attorney about getting out on bail.

“I feel this even more leaning towards, if I could get this to a justifiable homicide by citizen, protecting myself and family and property from all these conspiracies against me and stuff, will that make it easier to get a bond,” Clayton wrote, quoting from Richard Griego’s call.

In July 24 call, Richard Griego allegedly told his mother he could “beat these charges” because he didn’t “do” them and that he never hit Jimmy Griego with a weapon, but he didn’t want him “to come back and try to kill me, but he could have crawled out of the water and fucking not died. And let me alone. But no, they do, they do all this stuff. It’s all their fault that this stuff happened. Not my fault.” Clayton wrote, quoting Richard Griego.

 

Competency raised the first time

Portrait of District Judge Gerald Baca
District Judge Gerald Baca

On Nov. 15, 2017, competency was formally raised in a written motion for the first time by Farkas. In an order on the same date, District Court Judge Gerald Baca wrote that Richard Griego had been found “in-competent” by Dr. Susan Cave and that the proceedings would be stayed pending a determination on his competency and the issue of his dangerousness.

According to notes from the June 14, 2017 status hearing, Farkas notified District Judge Gerald Baca has a documented history of mental illness and he needed to be assessed.

During a Aug. 16, 2017 hearing, prosecutor Thomas Clayton told Baca that Richard Griego sent a letter to State Police officers about an unrelated homicide, a theft and that there were also jail recordings he wanted the psychologist to listen to and that he agreed that he “may have mental issues,” according to the notes.

During an Oct. 11, 2017, hearing, Baca told the attorneys he was concerned about the discussions of competency when no motion about competency had been filed. Farkas replied that he was waiting for a report on his mental health, according to the notes.

On Sept. 11, 2018, Baca ordered that the case would start moving forward because Richard Griego’s attorney had withdrawn his claim that his client was not competent to stand trial. Frakas did not file a motion but a hearing on competency had previously been held on Sept. 7, 2018, and the records of that hearing were sealed.

 

No-bail hold lifted

On Aug. 1, 2018, Baca ordered Richard Griego be released if he could post a $50,000 cash bail and into the custody of a third party.

Prosecutors did not contest that finding until Sept. 25, when Clayton filed a motion for pre-trial detention.

“Upon information and belief, the family of the defendant has raised the funds to post the bond,” Clayton wrote.

On Aug. 3, 2018, Richard Griego was charged with two counts of possession of a deadly weapon by a prisoner, specifically, a handcuff key and a “nail/bolt like device approximately 4 1/2 inches in length,” he wrote.

Baca then held a hearing on Oct. 2, 2018 and ordered Richard Griego be held without bail pending trial, according to notes from the hearing.

 

Competency raised second time

Richard Griego’s case was placed on hold a second time, on Sept. 11, 2019, after his attorney raised the question of his competency to stand trial a second time, according to the docket.

According to the docket, the case had been set for a trial on Oct. 7, 2019 in the San Miguel County Courthouse.

A docket call was set for Sept. 25, 2019 and the judge issued an order staying the case, according to the docket.

Matthew Rodriguez: Mitchell Daniel — 3-25-2017

Suspect: Matthew Rodriguez, 34

Victim: Mitchell Daniel, 64

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

Status: Plea to second-degree murder

Sentence: 10 years followed by 5 years supervised probation

Date of incident: March 25, 2017

Agency: Santa Fe Police Department

Location: 1713 Fifth Street, Santa Fe

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

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

Judicial district: First judicial district

 

Summary

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

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

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The incident

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

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

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

Matthew Rodriguez

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Indictment, competency and plea deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

See the documents on Google Drive

Muhammad Ameer: Aaron Sieben — 3-19-2017

Suspect: Muhammad Ameer

Victim: Aaron Sieben, 30

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

Status: Supreme Court appeal pending following jury conviction on felony murder and shoplifting; acquittal on tampering with evidence; armed robbery vacated by the judge.

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

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

Investigating agency: Albuquerque Police Department

Date of incident: March 19, 2017

District case number: D-202-CR-201701237

Metro case number: T-4-FR-2017001669

Supreme Court number: S-1-SC-37364

Judicial district: Second judicial district

 

Summary

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

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.

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

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

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

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The incident

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

Muhammad Ameer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below is the criminal complaint for Ameer’s arrest.

 

Muhammad Ameer PC -3-20-2017_Redacted

 

Indictment and case movements

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

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

Attempts at disqualifying the DA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motion to suppress

Portrait of District Judge Jacqueline Flores
Judge Jacqueline Flores

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flores wrote:

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

Guilty verdict and sentence

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

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

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

Supreme Court appeal

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

He wrote that 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.

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

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

Suspect: Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez

Victim: Connie Lopez, 57

Charges: First-degree murder

Status:Guilty verdict, lesser included offense of second-degree murder

Date of incident: March 17, 2017

Location: Mile marker 48 on Highway 9 near Hachita, Grant County

Agency: State Police

Magistrate case number: M-19-FR-201700086

District case number: D-608-CR-2017-00069

Judicial district: Sixth Judicial District

Prosecutor: Matthew Bradburn

Prosecuting agency: Sixth Judicial District Attorney’s Office

 

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.

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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.

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, a Florida resident, 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.

Probable cause - Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez

 

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.

The trial is still set for Aug. 17, according to the docket.

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud