Mansoor Karimi asks for new sentence after 8 years imposed in remote hearing

Mansoor Karimi is asking for a sentence reconsideration after District Judge Mary Marlowe-Sommer gave him eight years
A jury found him guilty of two counts of vehicular homicide by reckless driving
• The reconsideration comes after he was sentenced by video conference
• Karimi’s attorney argued the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office offered disparate pleas for similar charges

Read the case write-up

SANTA FE, N.M. — After receiving eight years in prison for the deaths of two men following a reckless driving crash, Mansoor Karimi‘s attorney is asking for less prison time because he was sentenced over video and prosecutors have offered more lenient pleas and sentences for “worse driving behavior than committed by the Defendant.”

Mansoor Karimi

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

On July 17, 2020, District Judge Mary Marlowe-Sommer sentenced Karimi to eight years in prison and suspended an additional four years, of a possible 12-year sentence, which he will spend on supervised probation, according to a judgement and sentence.

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

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

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

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

Clark previously asked the case be moved to the July date so Karimi could be sentenced in person. Marlowe-Sommer continued it to then. She noted that it was anticipated that in-court hearings could be held by then.

On July 7, Marlowe-Sommer designated the sentencing hearing as being held remotely, citing Supreme Court Order 20-8500-025, which requires all hearing, except for jury trials, be done remotely, unless the judge finds a “compelling need” to physically appear.

“There is nothing that cannot be communicated through audio-video connection by Defendant and counsel, and by audio-video or telephonic connection by the victims or any other persons,” she wrote. “The particular circumstances of this case fail to demonstrate a compelling need for an in person sentencing hearing.”

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

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

Clark wrote in his motion that Mansoor also deserved to have his sentence reconsidered because prosecutors with the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office treated Mansoor differently than the defendant in a similar case.

“Additionally, a few weeks after Mr. Karimi was sentenced, the State, by and through a different Assistant District Attorney presented this Court with a plea to a misdemeanor sentence in a case involving vehicular homicide by reckless driving, alleging worse driving behavior than was committed by the Defendant while Mr. (Kent) Wahlquist requested less than the maximum sentence, no such pre-trial resolution was ever offered to Mr. Karimi,” Clark wrote.

Judge's portrait
District Judge Mary Marlowe-Sommer

Clark appears to be referring to the case of Ryan Palma, charged with vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident for the death of a 20-year-old motorcyclist. A grand jury indicted Palma on charges of vehicular homicide by reckless driving, knowingly leaving the scene of an accident causing death, tampering with evidence and failure to give immediate notice of accidents.

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

Haywood wrote that prosecutor Julie Gallardo said her office was offering Palma a plea of no contest to knowingly leaving the scene of the accident and all the other charges would be dismissed. The proposed plea deal for Palma does not appear in court records and it is not clear if the offer was for the misdemeanor form of leaving the scene of an accident or the felony form.

Clark wrote in Karimi’s case that his client was only offered a plea with no agreement as to sentence. He went on to write:

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

While the Court rejected the plea, it certainly appears that justice, by way of plea policies, has less to do with the facts of any particular case and more to do with the individual prosecutor, or the individual charged. It is not about the facts of the case.”

No new hearing has been set in the case.

Continue reading “Mansoor Karimi asks for new sentence after 8 years imposed in remote hearing”

Sentencing for double vehicular homicide in Santa Fe reset to July

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

Read the case write-up

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

Mansoor Karimi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lawsuit

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

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

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

Civil lawsuit filed in double vehicular homicide case

See the full case here

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

Mansoor Karimi

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

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

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

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

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

Suspect: Mansoor Karimi

Victim: Christopher Bryant, 30

Victim: Ian Sweatt, 33

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

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

Sentence: 8 years (maximum of 12)

Date of incident: Dec. 16, 2016

Agency: Santa Fe Police Department

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

County: Santa Fe

Prosecutor: Kent Wahlquist

Prosecuting agency: First Judicial District Attorney’s Office

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

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

 

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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The incident

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

Mansoor Karimi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Affidavit for Arrest Warrant - Karimi Mansoor

 

Court proceedings

Indictment

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

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

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

Missing cell phone

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

Judge's portrait
District Judge Mary Marlowe-Sommer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guilty verdict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sentencing

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

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

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

Motion to reconsider sentencing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No new hearing has been set in the case.

Lawsuit

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

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

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

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

See the court documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

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

Suspect: Darrius Valles

Victim: Jerry Wayne Jennings

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

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

Sentence: 7 years followed by 5 years supervised probation

Date of incident: Jan. 15, 2016

Agency: Albuquerque Police Department

Location: 1309 Dickerson Dr SE, Albuquerque

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

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

 

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The incident

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

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

Darrius Valles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other view

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

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

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

Nowhere to be found

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

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

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

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

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

PC - Darrius Valles - 1-16-2016

 

Grand jury indictment

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

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

 

Witness problems

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

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

Albuquerque by Pom’/Flickr. CC BY-SA

She didn’t show.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Immunity request

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Plea deal

Portrait of District Judge Brett Loveless
District Judge Brett Loveless

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

View the case documents on Google Drive