Number of area homicides falls again

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

For the second straight year, the number of area homicides dropped in 2006.

Ninth Judicial District Attorney Matt Chandler, chief law enforcement officer for Curry and Roosevelt counties, said three homicides occurred in the district in 2006 — down from six in 2005 and 12 in 2004. All three 2006 slayings took place in Clovis.

Chandler said law officers are developing strategies to reduce the numbers further.

“We have seen a tremendous decrease from 2004 (probably because of) increased law enforcement on the streets and because many of the violent offenders in the area that have continually committed crime after crime have been taken off the streets — but that’s still three too many,” Chandler said.

All three 2006 homicides, shootings within Clovis’ city limits, involved prior histories of conflict between the victims and those charged with the crimes, Chandler said.

Additionally, all had an underlying common thread of criminal activity in drugs or gang associations, Lt. Patrick Whitney of the Clovis Police Department said.

That’s a stark contrast to the three Curry County victims in 2005 — a 9-year-old boy sleeping in his bed, a 30-year-old single mother, and a 48-year-old photo salesman from Guthrie, Okla., all victims of random and unexpected acts of violence, officials said.

Whitney said cutting into street-level crime can help in diffusing and preventing things from reaching the point of murder in many instances.

“A large percentage of the homicides in this area are over some type of conflict whether it’s narcotics or some type of gang activity and we can prevent that,” Chandler said. “The number of homicides are going down largely because the law enforcement presence is more prevalent. Many times law enforcement officers stop the violence before it gets to the point of a homicide.”

Local law enforcement will be introducing new community-based initiatives in 2007 aimed at curbing street crime, which is often a contributing factor in homicide and to also aid in prosecution after crimes occur, he said.

Called community prosecution programs, they are modeled after initiatives in metropolitan areas that are working, he said.

The strategy involves a net of community-based programs, which extend to graffiti initiatives and school truancy, he said.

Building a relationship between the community and law enforcement, Chandler said, will curb crime, ultimately reducing homicide rates.

“(It’s about) letting those out there that are committing these criminal acts know that we are not just going to hand over our city; we’re going to do everything in our power to make this a safe haven,” Chandler said.

Chandler said law enforcement has been doing a good job but there’s a lot more work to do.

“We long for the day that at the end of the year review, we can stand up and say that we had a year without a homicide — we are striving for that day.”

2006 homicides
• Jan. 15: Wilfred Salas Jr., 19, died of a gunshot to the head as he was driving on Merriwether Street. Robert “Pelon” Macias, 30, is charged with an open count of murder. His trial has been scheduled for Jan. 22-31.

A witness told police he saw Macias shoot at Salas’ car from the yard of a home at 605 Merriwether at least two times. Salas was found in the front seat of his car in a parking lot at Seventh and Merriwether Streets. He died at a Lubbock hospital.
According to court records, the shooting occurred after the witness and Macias were eavesdropping outside a home on Rencher Street and overheard Salas make disparaging comments about Macias.

• May 31: Hugo Ochoa, 32, died of a single gun shot to the back in the yard of a home on Rencher Street. Tony Martinez, 52, is charged with first-degree murder in Ochoa’s death and is awaiting a jury trial scheduled April 30-May 4.

Police responding to a call of shots fired in the 400 block of Rencher Street found Ochoa slumped over on the side of the house at 410 Rencher. He died at the scene.
Martinez fled from Clovis following the shooting and was arrested six days later by authorities in Lamesa, Texas.

Evidence at the scene indicated shots were exchanged between the two men, according to court records.

Police found spent bullet casings in the yard Ochoa was found in and on the porch of a home at 401 Rencher belonging to Martinez’ cousin, court records show.

• Oct. 16: Amos Soliz, 19, died of a single gun shot to the head. John T. Cameron, 25, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder on Oct. 17. Cameron’s jury trial is scheduled July 30-Aug. 3.

Police found Soliz’ body in front of his apartment where he shared a common yard with Cameron’s mother and stepfather after being called for shots fired in the area.
Police records show there was a recent history of conflict between Soliz’ roommate and Cameron’s parents. There had been a physical altercation between the roommate and Cameron’s stepfather the weekend prior to the shooting, records show.

Pending cases from past years:
• Edward Salas, 22, and Demetrio Salas, 21, and David Griego, 30, will have a jury trial on charges of first-degree murder for the Sept. 15, 2005, shooting death of 9-year-old Carlos Perez. The two-week trial is scheduled to begin March 5.

• Stanley Bedford, 43, faces the death penalty and is charged with first-degree murder in the March 2005 deaths of Odis and Doris Newman of Portales. His trial is scheduled May 21-June 29.

• Richard Baca, 20, is charged with first-degree murder in the April 2004 death of 19-year-old Amber Robinson of Portales. His trial is scheduled to begin March 5.