By Sharna Johnson: CNJ Staff Writer
Court security personnel and sheriff’s deputies were highly visible throughout a five-day trial that ended Tuesday with Robert Macias being convicted of first-degree murder.
Yellow security tape blocked the front steps of the Curry County Courthouse, diverting pedestrian traffic into the courthouse through a side entrance.
Visitors passed through a metal detector and submitted to searches of their bags and purses.
Security at the courthouse was ratcheted up even further Monday after law enforcement officials heard rumors of threatened violence.
Anyone attempting to enter the main courtroom was channeled through a second door and subjected to additional searches of belongings and hand-held metal detectors.
“We had learned of different rumors floating around the community indicating violence at the trial,” Curry County Undersheriff Wesley Waller said. “Primarily it was just the nature of the crime and the tensions that were created from that.”
Macias was charged with shooting and killing 19-year-old Wilfred Salas Jr. as he drove his car on Merriwether Street Jan. 15, 2006.
Also on Monday, Judge Joe Parker instructed the audience of about 50 that anyone who left the court would not be allowed to return until the next day.
Parker said conversations were overheard during the course of the trial, prompting officials to take extra precautions.
Waller said the new administration at the sheriff’s department has made courthouse security a priority, and increased security during high-profile proceedings will continue in the future.
“We will be increasing courthouse security for trials more so than has been done in the past,” he said.