Fernando Garcia hugs attorney Jim Klipstine Jr. of Hobbs at the Curry County Courthouse after being found not guilty of second-degree murder and tampering with evidence Thursday. Garcia was found guilty of dogfighting. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Darrell Todd Maurina, CNJ STAFF WRITER
Dogfight guilt seen by panel
Jurors spent two hours trying to sort conflicting stories.
A Curry County jury on Thursday found Fernando Garcia innocent of second-degree murder.
“This is the best feeling in my life,” Garcia said minutes after the verdict.
The incident that left Moises Ortiz dead by gunshot occurred during a dogfight on Feb. 28, 2003, at Ortiz’s home in south Clovis.
Jurors needed about two hours of deliberation before reaching the verdict. Juror Leigh Willmon said testimony from witnesses was confusing.
“We wished that we could have done the guilty verdict, but we just didn’t feel we could with the evidence we received,” Willmon said.
“The witnesses were all telling mistruths and lies and we couldn’t tell from that what really happened.”
The jury also found Garcia, 20, innocent of charges he tampered with evidence. Garcia was convicted of dogfighting, a felony carrying a maximum penalty of 18 months in state prison. Defense attorney James W. Klipstine Jr. asked Judge Stephen Quinn to sentence him to time already served.
“My client has spent almost an entire year in jail and has no prior adult criminal record,” Klipstine said. “We would ask that the court sentence him to the 111/2 months served, which is in excess of what would normally be served in this case.”
Deputy District Attorney Bryan McKay objected and asked for a pre-sentence report.
“He does have a juvenile record for public affray,” McKay said.
Quinn agreed to wait before deciding a sentence. McKay said if Garcia doesn’t get the full 18 months, he wanted to see at least intensive probation supervision for the maximum six months the judge could impose.
Fernando Garcia’s father Richard still faces charges of dogfighting and assault with intent to commit a violent felony in connection with the same incident.
“For all the families in Clovis, all the fathers and mothers, if their children get in trouble with the law, make sure you get a good attorney,” Richard Garcia said. “It looks like there are a lot of innocent people in Clovis in jail.”
“We would like to thank each and every one of the jurors, even though we don’t know them, for looking into the case,” he said.
Fernando Garcia pointed to what he called inconsistencies in police testimony as one reason for the verdict of innocent. He also pointed to a medical investigator who said on the witness stand he’d never seen a report submitted with his name and a signature that wasn’t his own.
McKay said prosecutors still believe they had the right man on trial.
“Just because the jury decided there was a reasonable doubt doesn’t mean the jury didn’t think he killed Moises Ortiz,” McKay said.
CNJ News Editor Mike Linn contributed to this story.