More competency tests ordered for Richard Griego, charged for death of Jimmy Griego

Richard Griego has been in custody since 2017
While in jail, he has been charged in two more cases

See the full case write-up or read previous stories on this case

LAS VEGAS, N.M. — Four years and five competency evaluations after he was arrested on a charge of murder in 2017, Richard Griego is still being evaluated for his competency to stand trial.

Griego is accused of throwing Jimmy Griego, 37, off the bridge over the Pecos River on March 28, 2017, an allegation backed up by data from an ankle bracelet he was wearing for a separate case, and an eye witness account, according to an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

Richard Griego was bound over to District Court on charges of first-degree murder and tampering with evidence on May 1, 2017. His case has essentially placed on pause since Nov. 15 2017, when competency was first raised as an issue.

According to the log of a Dec. 23, 2020 hearing, prosecutor Thomas Clayton said stipulating to Richard Griego’s lack of competency to stand trial would be “imprudent.”

Defense attorney Todd Farkas said the main question on competency is Richard Griego’s ability “to assist,” presumably in his own defense.

Mug shot of Richard Griego
Richard Griego

In New Mexico, a competency finding requires three things of a defendant, according to State v. Flores (2005):

  1. Understand “the nature and gravity of the proceedings against”
  2. Have a “factual understanding of the criminal charges”
  3. Be “capable of assisting in his own defense”

District Judge Gerald Baca ordered Griego be sent to the New Mexico Behavior Health Institute in Las Vegas to be further evaluated.

In a Nov. 18, 2020 hearing, Farkas told the judge that Griego had previously been found not competent to stand trial and Clayton said it was the fifth evaluation. Two prior evaluations found him competent while three, including the only recently completed, found him not competent.

Griego has two other cases pending against him, both of which happened after he was jailed in the murder case, and both of which are rolled into the broader competency proceedings.

The first, from Aug. 3, 2018, resulted in two counts of possession of a deadly weapon by a prisoner. The second, on March 1, 2019, resulted in a charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

No new court dates are set.

Possession of a deadly weapon by a prisoner

Las Vegas Police Officer Caleb Marquez wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant that he was sent to the San Miguel Detention Center on Aug. 3, 2018, for a report of a prisoner who has a weapon.

Jail staff told Marquez they found several items on Griego “during a shakedown of a housing pod.” The items were a hollowed-out bolt with a nut that had a nail pushed through the hollow end, about 4 inches in length, described as a shank, Marquez wrote. The second item was a handcuff key.

Clayton filed a criminal information on Oct. 19, 2018 in district court charging Griego with two counts of possession of a deadly weapon by a prisoner.

Aggravated battery

Las Vegas Police Officer Estevan Martinez wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant, on a charge of aggravated battery, that he was called to the San Miguel Detention Center on March 2, 2019, for a report of a fight involving Griego and Johnny Gallegos.

Martinez wrote that he watched a surveillance video from the incident and in it, he saw the two men got into a fight and Griego pushed Gallegos out of their cell and into the hallway with a crutch. Griego then allegedly beat Gallegos in the head and back with the crutch as Gallegos crawled away on his hands and knees. On the third strike, the crutch broke and Griego kept on hitting him with it, a total of eight times.

The two men were fighting after Gallegos tried to inject a crushed pill, he wrote.

On April 16, 2019, Clayton filed a criminal information in district court charging Griego with a single count of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

Continue reading “More competency tests ordered for Richard Griego, charged for death of Jimmy Griego”

Florida man appeals second-degree murder conviction on five grounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The killing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mistrial motion denied

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the case write-up

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 Jarod 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”

Judge gives drunk driver 6 years for killing woman, injuring her two children

  • Mateo Maestas received a 6-year sentence, although prosecutors wanted the max, 8 years, while the defense asked for the minimum, 5 years
  • The judge gave Maestas 60 days of release before going to prison
  • Maestas was arrested a month later for a host of violations, including drinking, and sent to prison

See the case write-up

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mateo Maestas will spend six years in prison after a federal District Court judge sentenced him for killing a Laguna Pueblo woman, and severely injured her two children, in a drunk driving crash.

Federal District Judge Dee Benson

Federal District Judge Dee Benson sentenced Maestas, 22, of Cuba, on Jan. 23, 2020 during a 90-minute hearing in federal District Court in Albuquerque.

Maestas, a member of the Acoma Pueblo, previously pleaded guilty to a charge of involuntary manslaughter on Sept. 9, 2019.  According to the plea deal accepted by federal Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing, prosecutors agreed to a sentence range of five to eight years, called a binding plea. He was originally charged on April 18, 2019, arrested on May 22 and released pending trial on May 29.

Involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of eight years, although prosecutor Elisa Dimas claimed he could have faced a much greater sentence, without the plea, for the injuries he caused the woman’s children.

Benson gave Maestas, who had been released to house arrest on May 29, 2019, pending the outcome of his case, 60 days to turn himself into to prison to start serving his sentence, according to the minute sheet.

A month later, he was wanted on a warrant for allegedly violating the conditions of his release.

According to the sentencing minute sheet, Dimas asked for an 8-year sentence during the hearing and Maestas’ defense attorney, Britany Schaffer, asked for a 5-year sentence.

Continue reading “Judge gives drunk driver 6 years for killing woman, injuring her two children”

San Diego man killed in hit-and-run after being released from SF County jail

SANTA FE, N.M. — State Police detectives are looking for a 2015 Ford truck, and its driver, which allegedly hit and killed 45-year-old Kevin Poirer around 10 p.m., March 27, 2020, as he walked down Highway 14, near the Santa Fe County Detention Center, which he had just been released from.

Mug shot of Kevin Poirer
Kevin Poirer

The driver of the truck, described as having front end damage and a missing mirror, allegedly fled the scene after hitting Poirer, State Police Officer and spokesman Ray Wilson wrote in a press release.

The truck hit Poirer near near mile post 43, he wrote.

Wilson spelled Poirer’s last name as “Poirier.”

Although Poirer was transported to St. Vincent’s Hospital, he died from his injuries, he wrote.

“The investigation indicates Poirier (sic) was walking south on Highway 14 and was struck by what investigators believe to be a south bound 2015 Ford Pick-up Truck,” Wilson wrote. “After striking Poirier, (sic) the truck fled the scene.  The truck will have front end damage and will be missing a mirror.”

Continue reading “San Diego man killed in hit-and-run after being released from SF County jail”

UNSOLVED: Kevin Poirer — 3-27-2020

  • Suspect: UNKNOWN/UNSOLVED (Driver, 2015 Ford truck, with a missing mirror and front-end damage)
  • Victim: Kevin Poirer
  • Charges: n/a
  • Status: Unsolved; police seeking public’s help in finding suspect
  • Date of incident: March 27, 2020
  • Type of incident: Hit and run
  • Agency: State Police
  • Location: Highway 14, outside Santa Fe County Detention Center, Santa Fe County
  • Magistrate case number: N/A
  • District case number: N/A

 

Summary

Kevin Poirer, 45, of San Diego, was allegedly killed following a hit-and-run near the Santa Fe County Detention Center, on Highway 14, on March 27, 2020, around 10 p.m. State Police are actively seeking the public’s help to find the alleged killer and his or her truck.

The hit and run

According to a press release from Officer and spokesman Ray Wilson, State Police detectives are looking for a 2015 Ford truck, and its driver, which allegedly hit and killed 45-year-old Kevin Poirer around 10 p.m., March 27, 2020, as he walked down Highway 14, near the Santa Fe County Detention Center, which he had just been released from.

Mug shot of Kevin Poirer
Kevin Poirer

The truck fled the scene after hitting Poirer. The truck is described as having front end damage and a missing mirror. The truck hit Poirer near near mile post 43, Wilson wrote.

Wilson spelled Poirer’s last name as “Poirier.”

Although Poirer was transported to St. Vincent’s Hospital, he died from his injuries, he wrote.

“The investigation indicates Poirier (sic) was walking south on Highway 14 and was struck by what investigators believe to be a south bound 2015 Ford Pick-up Truck,” Wilson wrote. “After striking Poirier, (sic) the truck fled the scene.  The truck will have front end damage and will be missing a mirror.”

According to a booking sheet from the Santa Fe County Detention Center, Poirer was booked on March 26 at 2:27 p.m. and released the following day, March 27, at 8:25 p.m., before he was hit around 10 p.m. It is not clear, from State Police, when the initial call was received.

Poirer was booked on a failure-to-appear warrant, according to the booking sheet.

According to a court docket, Poirer was initially arrested on a charge of breaking and entering on Dec. 9, 2019.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Poirer allegedly “pried open the doors to a Best Western hotel,” where police found him inside, and he told police he “just wanted to warm up.

Jail staff refused to admit him to the jail because of “severely infected” arm wounds, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

Wilson wrote that anyone with information should call State Police at (505) 841-9256, option 0, and tell the dispatcher they have “information related to the Highway 14 hit and run.”

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See the current case documents on Google Drive.

Acoma Pueblo man pleas in fatal DWI crash, to get 5-8 year sentence

  • Mateo Maestas drunkenly crashed into an unidentified Laguna Pueblo woman’s car on April 19, 2019, killing her
  • The binding plea deal mandates his sentence will be between 5-8 years
  • In secret court documents, federal prosecutor Elisa Dimas asked for Maestas to receive either the maximum sentence or one greater than allowed under his plea deal

Read the full case summary

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A 22-year-old Acoma Pueblo man is tentatively set to be sentenced on Jan. 17, 2020, for an April 2019 crash that killed a woman and injured her two children on the Laguna Pueblo.

Laguna Pueblo as seen from I-40. Photo by Ken Lund/Flickr

Mateo Maestas pleaded guilty to a single count of involuntary manslaughter on Sept. 5, 2019. According to the plea deal, accepted by federal Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing, the sentencing judge is bound to sentence Maestas to five to eight years in prison. Eight years is the maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter. He was previously indicted on the manslaughter charge on June 12, 2019.

According to an order continuing his sentencing hearing, Federal District Court Judge James Browning is set to sentence Maestas at 8:30 a.m., Jan. 17, 2020 in Federal District Court in Albuquerque.

In preparation for the sentencing hearing, his attorney, Britany Schaffer, filed a 15-page sentencing memorandum on Dec. 31, 2019.

She wrote that Maestas drove because his friends left him at his car following a minor argument.

“He made a terrible error in attempting to drive back to safety, one for which he will be haunted by for the rest of his life,” Schaffer wrote. “He called out for help to one of his loved ones, but he was too far away to be able to help.”

Schaffer does not write how Maestas was in danger, or what he was in danger from, that he needed to drive, drunk, to safety, or what safety he was trying to drive toward.

The presentence report, which isn’t public, suggested a sentence of 2 1/2 to 3 years, she wrote.

Schaffer wrote that she wants Browning to give Maestas a sentence at the low end of the plea agreement.

“Mr. Maestas has a criminal history of zero: that is, prior to this case, he has never been convicted of a crime, other than a single speeding ticket,” she wrote. “He is young, hard-working and educated, and aspires to help others in his future as he has been doing during his counseling sessions while this case has been pending.”

He is the grandson of Wilson Joe Chiquito, who was killed in his home. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s investigation into his killing is still unsolved.

“Although there is no excuse for his actions on the date of the accident, Mr. Maestas was heavily impacted by the loss of his grandfather, and, at the time when this accident occurred, he had unfortunately fallen into a pattern of using alcohol in an unhealthy manner. He was forthright with his probation officer when he discussed his drinking habits, and that he ‘was struggling with alcohol use,'” Schaffer wrote.

Prosecutor Elisa Dimas wants Browning to give Maestas a sentence above the maximum of eight years agreed to in his plea deal because of his “uncharged conduct,” Schaffer wrote. This is because of the injuries to the Laguna Pueblo woman’s children.

One child, L.R., received “liver lacerations and spleen injuries.” She was unrestrained in the back seat.

Dimas’ actual request to increase Maestas’ possible sentence does not appear in the public court docket. The public docket is missing entries 38 and 39 and 44 through 46.

According to Schaffer’s sentencing memo, Dimas’ request for Maestas to receive a sentence above what she agreed to in the plea agreement is document 45, which does not appear on the public court docket. There is no explanation as to why the document is being kept secret and there are no entries indicating it was sealed, or that either the defense or prosecution requested it be sealed.

According to Schaffer’s memo, Dimas wants Maestas to be sentenced to at least a maximum of eight years and one month, one month above what was allowed in his plea deal, although it is not clear if she is seeking a sentence above that and her request is not on the public docket.

In 2018, journalist Jeff Proctor wrote about prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes federal cases, and public defenders, improperly sealing court documents, a process that requires a judge’s consent.

Maestas also wrote a letter to Browning and the dead woman’s family. Although he wrote that he feels sympathy for the woman’s family and he regrets the decision he made, because it killed the Laguna Pueblo woman, much of his letter is about the unsolved killing of his grandfather.

Maestas is tentatively set to be sentenced on Jan. 17, 2020.

The details of the crash are in the case write-up.

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Continue reading “Acoma Pueblo man pleas in fatal DWI crash, to get 5-8 year sentence”

Richard Griego’s competency questioned by his attorney; case likely to be placed on hold

See the full case write-up here

LAS VEGAS, N.M. — Richard Griego‘s first-degree murder trial will likely not go to trial on Oct. 7, 2019, the date it had been scheduled for, after his attorney filed a motion questioning his competency to stand trial.

According to a public docket for the case, attorney Todd Farkas filed a “Notice of Competency Issue and Motion to Stay Proceedings” on Sept. 11, 2019.

Richard Griego

Farkas’ notice and motion come exactly one year after the case started moving toward trial after it was placed on hold the first time for the same issue.

On Sept. 11, 2018, according to the docket, an order was entered lifting the stay previously imposed on the case after the issue of competency was withdrawn by Farkas.

The case had been functionally paused the first time on Nov. 15, 2017, when Griego’s competency was officially questioned for the first time, although minutes from status hearings note that the attorneys and judge were aware that competency may be an issue.

Continue reading “Richard Griego’s competency questioned by his attorney; case likely to be placed on hold”

Mateo Maestas: Monica Murray — 4-16-2019

 

Summary

On April 16, 2019, Mateo Maestas, 22, of Cuba, and enrolled member of the Acoma tribe/Navajo nation, crashed in Laguna into a car driven by a Monica Murray, 43, of the Laguna Pueblo, on State Road 124 (Old Highway Route 66). He was drunk. As a result of the crash, Murray died. Her two children, in the car, survived. On April 18, he was arrested on charges of involuntary manslaughter, DWI and reckless driving.

On June 12, 2019, he was indicted on a single charge of involuntary manslaughter.

On Sept. 5, 2019, Maestas pleaded guilty to the manslaughter charge under a plea deal that specified his sentence would be between five and eight years and it was accepted by federal Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing.

On Jan. 23, 2020, Federal District Judge Dee Benson sentenced Maestas to six years in prison and allowed him 60 days to self surrender. Maestas was arrested a month later for violating the conditions of his pretrial release.

(Note: This story has been updated with victim Monica Murray’s name. She was not named in court documents.)

The crash and indictment

On April 16, 2019, Monica Murray, 43, of the Laguna Pueblo, was driving west on Old Highway Route 66, also known as State Road 124, when Maestas, driving a black Ford sedan, either tried to turn onto Yellow Hill Road or tried to make a U-turn in the intersection, Bureau of Indian Affairs Agent Marcelino ToersBijns wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant, submitted to the court on April 18. The lead investigator was BIA Agent RoAnna Bennett.

Laguna Pueblo by ANOXLOU/Flickr

While turning, Maestas’s car slammed into Murray’s car, forcing it off the road and into a small wash on the side of the road.

The crash was initially reported by an unknown woman. The two children in the car were reported to have received serious injuries and the driver was dead when investigators arrived.

State Police Capt. Troy Velasquez told ToersBijns that he was the first officer to arrive at the scene and he checked on Maestas, who said he wanted to get out of his car and wanted help. Velasquez told the federal investigator he saw multiple beer cans in the car and Maestas smelled like alcohol. He made no mention if Velasquez checked on the woman or her children or what their status were.

Laguna Police Officer Keith Riley told ToersBijns that he arrived at the scene “minutes after it occurred” and also spoke to Maestas and asked him how much he drank.

“(He) replied he had too much to drink,” ToersBijns wrote. “MAESTAS was asked what he had to drink and MAESTAS replied margaritas.”

At the hospital, a “presumption blood results” showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.28, over three times the legal-per-se limit is 0.08. According to his plea deal, his blood-alcohol content was later determined to be lower, at 0.19.

According to a sentencing memorandum by his attorney, Britany Schaffer, Maestas was abandoned at his vehicle the night of the accident “in the middle of nowhere by his friends” following a “minor argument.”

“He made a terrible error in attempting to drive back to safety, one for which he will be haunted by for the rest of his life,” Schaffer wrote. “He called out for help to one of his loved ones, but he was too far away to be able to help.”

One of the children, L.R., suffered “liver lacerations and spleen injuries.” She was unrestrained in the back seat.

Schaffer does not write how Maestas was in danger that he needed to drive, drunk, to safety.

Although the criminal complaint was filed on April 18, Maestas was not arrested until May 22 and on May 29, he was released and placed on house arrest, according to court records.

On June 12, a federal grand jury indicted Maestas on a single charge of involuntary manslaughter.

Autopsy

The Office of the Medical Investigator only provided a deputy field investigation following a request for Murray’s autopsy report.

Field investigator Robert Hays wrote in the field investigation that the children in the car with Murray were easily extricated.

“Ms. Murray was still trapped in the drivers (sic) seat, seat belted in and encased by the vehicles (sic) steering column, doorway and dash; all airbags were deployed,” Hays wrote.

He wrote Murray “was a large woman” and appeared to have hit something in the car because “her abdomen fat tissue was all around the front compartment.”

It took over an hour to extract her body from the car, Hays wrote.

The plea

On Sept. 5, 2019, Mateo Maestas pleaded guilty to a single count of involuntary manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of eight years.

According to the plea deal, accepted by Magistrate Judge Laura Fashing, dictates Maestas’ sentence will be between five and eight years.

Sentence, wrangling and revoked release

Sentence wrangling

In preparation for the sentencing hearing set for Jan. 17, 2020, his attorney, Britany Schaffer, filed a 15-page sentencing memorandum on Dec. 31, 2019.

She wrote that Maestas drove because his friends left him at his car following a minor argument.

“He made a terrible error in attempting to drive back to safety, one for which he will be haunted by for the rest of his life,” Schaffer wrote. “He called out for help to one of his loved ones, but he was too far away to be able to help.”

Schaffer does not write how Maestas was in danger, or what he was in danger from, that he needed to drive, drunk, to safety, or what safety he was trying to drive toward.

The presentence report, which isn’t public, suggested a sentence of 2 1/2 to 3 years, she wrote.

Schaffer wrote that she wants Browning to give Maestas a sentence at the low end of the plea agreement.

“Mr. Maestas has a criminal history of zero: that is, prior to this case, he has never been convicted of a crime, other than a single speeding ticket,” she wrote. “He is young, hard-working and educated, and aspires to help others in his future as he has been doing during his counseling sessions while this case has been pending.”

He is the grandson of Wilson Joe Chiquito, who was killed in his home. The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s investigation into his killing is still unsolved.

“Although there is no excuse for his actions on the date of the accident, Mr. Maestas was heavily impacted by the loss of his grandfather, and, at the time when this accident occurred, he had unfortunately fallen into a pattern of using alcohol in an unhealthy manner. He was forthright with his probation officer when he discussed his drinking habits, and that he ‘was struggling with alcohol use,'” Schaffer wrote.

Prosecutor Elisa Dimas wants Browning to give Maestas a sentence above the maximum of eight years agreed to in his plea deal because of his “uncharged conduct,” Schaffer wrote. This is because of the injuries to Murray’s children.

One child, L.R., received “liver lacerations and spleen injuries.” She was unrestrained in the back seat.

Dimas’ actual request to increase Maestas’ possible sentence does not appear in the public court docket. The public docket is missing entries 38 and 39 and 44 through 46.

According to Schaffer’s sentencing memo, Dimas’ request for Maestas to receive a sentence above what she agreed to in the plea agreement is document 45, which does not appear on the public court docket. There is no explanation as to why the document is being kept secret and there are no entries indicating it was sealed, or that either the defense or prosecution requested it be sealed.

According to Schaffer’s memo, Dimas wants Maestas to be sentenced to at least a maximum of eight years and one month, one month above what was allowed in his plea deal, although it is not clear if she is seeking a sentence above that and her request is not on the public docket.

In 2018, journalist Jeff Proctor wrote about prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes federal cases, and public defenders, improperly sealing court documents, a process that requires a judge’s consent.

Maestas also wrote a letter to Browning and Murray’s family. Although he wrote that he feels sympathy for the woman’s family and he regrets the decision he made, because it killed Murray, much of his letter is about the unsolved killing of his grandfather.

Sentence

Federal District Judge Dee Benson sentenced Maestas on Jan. 23, 2020, to six years in prison, during an hour and 20 minute hearing in federal District Court in Albuquerque.

Federal District Judge Dee Benson

According to the sentencing minute sheet, Dimas asked for an 8-year sentence during the hearing and Maestas’ defense attorney, Britany Schaffer, asked for a 5-year sentence.

According to the minutes, four members of Maestas’ family addressed the judge: M. Vigil, L. Castillo, M. Pablo and J. Maestas.

Maestas also addressed the court, but the minutes contain no information to what anyone said.

Three people also spoke in court on behalf of Murray. M. Valdez spoke on behalf of her family, M. Garcia spoke as a member of the victim’s family and R. Garcia spoke as the guardian of the dead woman’s children, according to the minutes.

Maestas was originally supposed to be sentenced by a different judge. No records indicate why Benson, normally a judge in Utah, sentenced Maestas.

No court documents illuminate why Benson settled on the sentence he did.

Release violations

After Benson gave Maestas 60 days to turn himself in to begin serving his prison sentence, Maestas’ attorneys requested he be allowed to return to his home pending his self-surrender, which Benson granted. Since Dec. 6, 2019, Maestas was living at a halfway house in Albuquerque. Before that, he had been on house arrest.

On Feb. 26, 2020, a federal judge with an illegible signature ordered Maestas arrested, which he was, on March 3, 2020, in Albuquerque.

“Defendant failed to comply with conditions of release: alcohol use, failed to report contact with law enforcement and failed to comply with travel restrictions,” according to the warrant.

Federal Magistrate Judge Paul Briones revoked the conditions of his release on March 5 and ordered he be sent to prison to begin serving his sentence.

See the case documents on Google Drive

Richard Griego: Jimmy Griego — 3-28-2017

  • Suspect: Richard Griego
  • Victim: Jimmy Griego, 37
  • Charges: First-degree murder, tampering with evidence
  • Status: Pending; stayed for competency
  • Date of incident: March 28, 2017
  • Investigating Agency: State Police
  • Location: Pecos River Bridge, State Route 3, Ribera, San Miguel County
  • County: San Miguel
  • Magistrate case number: M-48-FR-201700095
  • District case number: D-412-CR-201700129
  • Judicial District: Fourth Judicial District
  • Prosecuting office: Fourth Judicial District Attorney’s Office
  • Prosecutor: Thomas Clayton
  • Defense attorney: Todd Farkas
  • District Judge: Gerald Baca

Summary

On March 28, 2017, Richard Griego allegedly threw Jimmy Griego, 37, 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, according to court filings.

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.

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. Farkas 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.

Past stories

More competency tests ordered for Richard Griego, charged for death of Jimmy Griego

Richard Griego’s competency questioned by his attorney; case likely to be placed on hold

View the case files on Document Cloud

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

 

Summary

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

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

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

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

The incident

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Probable cause - Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez

Autopsy report

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

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

Missed trial dates

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plea hearing/trial date

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

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

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

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

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

Guilty verdict

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

Motion for reconsideration

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

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

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

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

Hofacket denied the motion.

Sentenced

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

Appeal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Past stories

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

Isaias Lobato-Rodriguez asks for reconsideration after guilty verdict

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

Luke Griffin: Corrina Vaden — 2-24-2017

  • Suspect: Luke Griffin
  • Victim: Corrina Vaden
  • Non-fatal victim: Kimberley Butcher
  • Non-fatal victim: Elizabeth Rotter
  • Charges: DWI vehicular homicide, two counts of DWI great bodily harm, aggravated DWI, possession of an alcoholic beverage by a minor and open container of alcohol in a vehicle
  • Status: Guilty plea to DWI vehicular homicide, two counts of DWI great bodily harm
  • Sentence: 9 years followed by 5 years supervised probation
  • Date of incident: Feb. 24, 2017
  • Agency: State Police
  • Location: Sandoval County
  • Magistrate case number: M-45-FR-2017-00147
  • District case number: D-1329-CR-2017-00105

 

Summary

While driving in excess of 100 mph on Feb. 24, 2017, Luke Griffin slammed into the back of another car, killing Corrina Vaden and injuring Kimberley Butcher and Elizabeth Rotter. A blood-alcohol test showed a level of 0.22, over twice the legal limit of 0.08.

On March 16, 2017, a grand jury indicted Griffin on charges of DWI vehicular homicide, two counts of DWI great bodily harm, aggravated DWI, possession of an alcoholic beverage by a minor and possession of an open container of alcohol in a vehicle.

On Dec. 11, 2017, Griffin pleaded guilty to DWI vehicular homicide and two counts of DWI great bodily harm and, per the plea agreement accepted by District Court Judge Luis P. McDonald, he was to receive a sentence of 9 years and 122 days and be given credit for 122 days time served. None of the crimes were to be considered serious violent offenses, decreasing the amount of time required to serve before being released on probation or parole from 85 percent to 50 percent.

According to the plea, he is also to be on supervised probation for 5 years after his release. He was officially sentenced on Dec. 15, 2017 by McDonald, who, based on the plea, gave him a total sentence of 21 years, but suspended 11 years, for the 9 year sentence.

The incident

Around 11 p.m., Feb. 24, 2017, State Police Officer Larry Reuter was dispatched to Interstate 25 at mile post 252 to investigate a multiple-vehicle crash. Medics were already on the scene, trying to extract two passengers and one of the drivers involved, Reuter wrote in a statement of probable cause for Griffin’s arrest.

Luke Griffin

At 11:21 p.m., Reuter arrived and saw two cars on the shoulder.

He would later learn that Corrina Vaden died and two others, Kimberley Butcher and Elizabeth Rotter, had life-threatening injuries and were taken to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque.

The two cars involved were a silver 2004 Audi and a 2014 Nissan, with its roof caved in and parts of the door missing. Griffin was allegedly the driver of the Audi and officers were later find him to be allegedly intoxicated.

“Emergency medical personnel were rendering aid to the driver and passenger of Nissan (Vehicle 2),” Reuter wrote. “The driver of Vehicle 2 was motionless and slumped over in the driver seat.”

One man was walking around, stating he was a witness and that Audi had been driven erratically before the crash.

Another witness, unnamed, said the Audi had been going over 100 mph to pass vehicles on the right shoulder.

“A different witness provided a verbal statement they observed Luke Griffin exit the audi after the crash and throw what appeared to be a liquor bottle over a fence,” Reuter wrote.

After Griffin was cleared by medics, Reuter found him to be stumbling, have bloodshot eyes and he allegedly smelled of alcohol. He also allegedly slurred his speech.

“I asked Luke how many alcoholic beverages he consumed and he stated he drank three beers at approximately 6 00 pm this date,” Reuter wrote.

Reuter then had Griffin do a series of field sobriety tests, which he allegedly did poorly on.

“Based on Luke’s state of intoxication and his safety the SFST’s were terminated,” Reuter wrote, referring to the field sobriety tests.

Reuter took Griffin to the State Police office for a blood-alcohol level test and found the tests were allegedly 0.22, above 0.16, twice the legal-per-se limit. He did not write what the exact measurements were. He then had a blood draw done at the State Police office.

 

The indictment and plea deal

On March 16, 2017, a grand jury indicted Griffin on charges:

  • DWI vehicular homicide
  • aggravated DWI
  • possession of an alcoholic beverage by a minor
  • possession of an open container of alcohol in a vehicle
  • two counts of DWI great bodily harm
Portrait of District Judge Louis McDonald
Judge Louis McDonald

On Dec. 11, 2017, Griffin pleaded guilty to DWI vehicular homicide and two counts of DWI great bodily harm and, per the plea agreement accepted by District Court Judge Luis McDonald, he was to receive a sentence of 9 years and 122 days and be given credit for 122 days time served. None of the crimes were to be considered serious violent offenses, decreasing the amount of time required to serve before being released on probation or parole from 85 percent to 50 percent.

According to the plea, he is also to be on supervised probation for 5 years after his release. McDonald officially sentenced him on Dec. 15, 2017. McDonald, based on the plea, gave him a total sentence of 21 years, but suspended 11 years, for the 9 year sentence.

View the court documents on Google Drive

Ruth Rivera: Arthur Rivera — 12-28-2016

  • Suspect: Ruth Rivera, 54
  • Victim: Arthur River, 81
  • Charges: First-degree murder, tampering with evidence, embezzlement over $20,000 and two counts of forgery over $20,000.
  • Status: Dismissed after Ruth Rivera committed suicide before she was set to plead guilty
  • Date of incident: Dec. 28, 2016
  • Agency: State Police
  • Location:  580 State Road 3 in Ribera, San Miguel County
  • Magistrate court number: M-48-FR-2017-00001
  • District court number: D-412-CR-201700044

Summary

Arthur Rivera’s daughter-in-law, who was also his caretaker since 2011, allegedly stabbed him 20 times, 15 in the body and five to the head.

Ruth Rivera claimed her father law law, Arthur Rivera, 81, had fallen in the bathroom.

According to the criminal information filed Jan. 31, 2017 in San Miguel District Court, Ruth Rivera allegedly stole $79,300 from Arthur Rivera between June 28, 2016 and December 28, 2016.

Rivera had been scheduled to to take a plea on Oct. 1, 2018, but she was found dead before then from what authorities said was a suicide.

The incident

On Dec. 28, 2016, Ruth Rivera called 911 and said her father-in-law had fallen and she needed help getting him up. When El Pueblo Fire Department firefighters got to the trailer, they found it was filled with smoke and started opening the windows. They found Arthur Rivera on the ground in the bathroom, with a large amount of blood around his body. They covered him with a blanket, State Police Agent Hector Vacio wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

Ruth Rivera had been Arthur Rivera’s caretaker since 2011. She had experience taking care of her elderly father before he died, but she allegedly described not wanting to take care of her father-in-law.

Ruth Rivera

“NMSP Officer (M.) Velasquez observed a stove inside the residence, which appeared to have damage from an explosion/fire,” Vacio wrote.

Vacio then spoke with Richard Bodell and Edward Madrid who responded to Ruth Rivera’s 911 call. They said there was a lot of smoke in the house and they had to open the windows.

Just before midnight the same day, Vacio went to the Christus St. Vincent’s Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe to speak to Ruth Rivera.

“Ms. Rivera advised she went to work at her father-in-law’s residence since she is his primary caretaker,” Vacio wrote. “Ms. Rivera made breakfast for him and later in the day she remembered him going to the restroom. As he was in the restroom she was cooking food on the stove.”

She allegedly told Vacio that she went to the bathroom after she heard a crashing or thumping noise from the bathroom.

“Ms. Rivera explained the door to the restroom was closed and she began pounding on the door but didn’t know if Arthur was hearing her,” Vacio wrote. “She stated she heard Arthur say ‘ayudame’ (‘help me’) and she went inside the restroom using another door via the closet.”

Inside, she allegedly said she saw Arthur Rivera on the ground with his head near the toilet and blood coming from his mouth. She allegedly tried to pick him up but found that she could not.

“Ms. Rivera left the residence and went to the street to flag individuals down in order to assist her to pick Arthur up,” Vacio wrote. “She does not remember turning the stove off and when she went back to the trailer there was smoke inside of the trailer.”

Vacio asked for River to hand over the clothing she had been wearing that day, which she did, in two plastic bags. Vacio noticed the clothes were damp and he wrote that this meant it appeared someone tried to remove “biological samples/stain” from the clothing by washing or wetting them. Her shirt was missing from the bags.

“The paramedic also observed Ruth Rivera’s clothes were damp,” Vacio wrote. “It is reasonably believed that Ms. Rivera washed/removed any biological samples/stains she had with intent to remove/destroy evidence.”

After getting a search warrant, the State Police Crime Scene team scoured the trailer. and found a silver knife blade and separately, on the stove, the knife handle. Both appeared to have blood on them.

When they first examined Arthur Rivera’s body, they found 17 wounds on his upper chest, face and head.

Later, at the autopsy on Dec. 30, 2016, a pathologist found 15 stab or “incise type” wounds on the man’s upper body and five stab or incise wounds to the head. There were another three incise wounds on his left hand, consistent with defensive injuries.

The following day, Dec. 29, 2016, Vacio spoke to Rivera again.

Ruth Rivera allegedly said didn’t really want to take care of her father-in-law but did so anyways.

She allegedly said in the second interview that she arrived at the house between 9:15 and 9:30 a.m., put groceries away, and cooked breakfast for him. After reading the newspaper and watching TV for two hours, Aruther Rivera went to the bathroom.

Again, she allegedly said she heard the thump or crashing noise and went to the bathroom through the closet.

“Ms. Rivera stated she placed her arns under his armpits and he began to put his weight on her and grab her by the shoulders,” Vacio wrote. “Ruth opened the other restroom door when she started smelling what appeared to smoke from the fire. Ms. Rivera stated she called 911 from her living room. The 911 call was received at 12:41 pm.”

Vacio told her that statement, different from her first that he was on the ground in a pool of blood, was not consistent with the evidence found at the scene. He told her to tell the truth.

“Ms. Rivera stated he was hurting her and he wasn’t understanding that she was trying to help him,” Vacio wrote. “She explained he was hurting her shoulders and back. Ms. Rivera stated she tried to run away from him and began to panic.”

Vacio initially charged her with an open count of murder and tampering with evidence.

Ruth Rivera - 1-3-2016 - Affidavit for Arrest warrant

Criminal information filed

On Jan. 31, 2017, Chief Deputy District Attorney Thomas Clayton filed a criminal information in San Miguel District Court charging Ruth Rivera with an open count of first-degree murder, tampering with evidence, embezzlement over $20,000 and two counts of forgery over $20,000.

The criminal information, filed because she waived her right to a preliminary hearing,

The criminal information alleges that Ruth Rivera stole $79,300 from Arthur Rivera and forged two checks in his name. One check, allegedly forged on July 25, 2016, was for $29,000 and the other, allegedly forged on Aug. 8, 2016, was for $35,000.

She also allegedly forged two checks in Arthur Rivera’s name. The first allegedly forged check was handled on July 25, 2016, for $29,000 and the second was for $35,000. It was allegedly written on Aug. 8, 2016.

Suicide

According to the Las Vegas Optic, Ruth Rivera killed herself around Oct. 1, 2018, before she was set to enter into a plea for Arthur Rivera’s death. She was out on bail at the time.

On Oct. 4, 2018, prosecutors dismissed the case against her because of her death.

See the case documents on Google Drive.