Murder suspect claims innocence

Steven Duran listens to a question posed by District Attorney Matt Chandler during his testimony in a Curry County courtroom Wednesday afternoon. Duran is accused of the fatal shooting of Ricky Gallegos in 2004. (Staff photo: Sharna Johnson)

By Andy Jackson: CNJ staff writer

The man accused of killing Ricardo Gallegos last year testified Wednesday that he is innocent of the charge.

Steven Robert Duran told a jury he saw two Mexicans arguing with Gallegos, saw one of the men shoot Gallegos in the leg, then ran away in fear and hid in a field until he felt safe.

Duran was arrested on Jan. 29, 2004, about two weeks after the shooting, in Albuquerque. He is charged with murder in connection with Gallegos’ death.

The jury is scheduled to hear closing arguments in the case at 8:30 a.m. today in District Judge Joe Parker’s courtroom. Duran, 35, faces a 45-year prison sentence if convicted of killing Gallegos.

“As God as my witness I didn’t do that. I didn’t shoot him,” Duran told the jury on Wednesday.

He testified that he had gone to Gallegos’ house at 1013 Sunrise Street to purchase heroin when he encountered two Mexicans arguing with Gallegos. He said one of the men shot Gallegos in the leg.

Duran said he fled the scene after that and cut his hand on his vehicle’s door, which he said accounts for some of the blood police found in his vehicle and on his clothes. He said other blood found in the vehicle was also his blood, related to repeated heroin injections.

Testimony showed Wednesday that tests from an Albuquerque crime lab confirmed the blood on the clothes belonged to Duran.

Prosecutors did not present any blood evidence tying Duran to the victim. However, Gallegos’ girlfriend, Mary Finnell, testified that she heard Duran asking Gallegos for money and threatening to kill him just before she heard gunshots.

Duran told the jury on Wednesday that he changed his appearance and fled to Albuquerque after Gallegos’ slaying because he felt it was “dangerous to mess with these guys.”

In addition to murder, Duran faces charges related to drug possession and other felonies connected with Gallegos’ killing.

Here’s a summary of each witness’ testimony Wednesday:
• Clovis Police Detective David Yoakum, who talked to Duran after picking him up from a jail in Albuquerque: Duran was taken into custody by Albuquerque officials about two weeks after Gallegos’ slaying. Yoakum said he transported Duran to the Curry County Detention Center from Albuquerque on Jan. 30, 2004.

Yoakum testified that Duran told him, “I didn’t do (expletive deleted) to Ricky.”

Blood found on clothes Duran had been wearing were sent for testing and results showed the blood belonged to Duran, Yoakum said.

In a taped interview played for the jury, Duran told Yoakum that all the blood in his vehicle and on his clothes was his own through puncturing his veins during repeated heroin injections.

Duran also told Yoakum, in the taped interview, that he went to Gallegos’ trailer the night Gallegos died and saw “two Mexicans” arguing with Gallegos. Duran said he “took off” after seeing the men.

Under questioning from Duran’s attorney, Yoakum said that no eyewitness saw Duran shoot Gallegos, no eyewitness saw Duran rob Gallegos and no evidence of Gallegos’ blood was found in Duran’s clothes. Yoakum said he was uncertain if evidence of Gallegos’ blood was found in Duran’s vehicle.

• Thomas Rollins, a Clovis police officer at the time of Gallegos’ death, who responded to the scene of Gallegos’ slaying: Rollins, called to testify for the defense, said he spoke with Robert Judd, a prosecution witness heard in court on Monday. Rollins said Judd told him that he didn’t see anyone leave Gallegos’ trailer home after shots were heard, though he did see a vehicle leave Gallegos’ home after the shots were fired. In Judd’s testimony Monday, he pointed out Duran in court and said he saw Duran leave Gallegos’ home after shots were fired.

• Steven Duran, defendant: Duran, 35, testified he met Gallegos when he was in jail. Duran was jailed after killing his father in the early 1990s. Duran said he started using heroin in jail to deal with the sadness he felt over his father’s death, and that he and Gallegos used heroin together in jail.

Duran said he had gone to Gallegos’ house around 3 p.m. the day Gallegos died, to help fix a fence, and then later that night to buy a “paper” of heroin. Duran said he entered Gallegos’ house and saw two Mexicans with guns inside talking with Gallegos. One of the Mexicans had a gun in his hand and the other had a gun in his pants, Duran said.

Duran said one of the Mexicans fired a shot into Gallegos’ leg a few feet from where Duran stood. Duran said he then ran out of the house to his car and cut his hand on the vehicle’s door. He said he bled inside the car and drove across Prince Street, parking his car behind a traffic sign (where it was later found abandoned by police).

Duran said he lay in a field for a couple of hours and then went back to his sister’s house on Delta Street where he’d been staying, leaving the clothes he was wearing on top of the washer-dryer.

Duran said he changed his appearance and fled to Albuquerque because he felt it was “dangerous to mess with these guys,” but said he felt bad about leaving Gallegos.

Duran said the blood on his clothes and in his car all belonged to him — blood lost from heroin injections and from a cut he sustained on his finger after he ran out of Gallegos’ house on the night of the shooting. He showed jurors a scar on his finger that he claimed he sustained the night Gallegos died.

Duran said he’d had encounters with “wetbacks” (Mexicans) before, but didn’t stand up to the men he saw the night Gallegos was shot because they had guns and he only had a knife.

Duran denied shooting Gallegos.

“As God as my witness I didn’t do that. I didn’t shoot him. I didn’t take his money,” Duran testified.