Dr. Ross Zumwalt, a forensic investigator, explains details of an autopsy done on Amber Robinson’s body. (Freedom Newspapers: Karl Terry)
By Karl Terry: Freedom Newspapers
A Roosevelt County jury returned a verdict of guilty of second-degree murder Wednesday in the 2004 death of a 19-year-old Portales woman.
Richard Baca, 20, was accused of beating Amber Robinson of Portales unconscious in the kitchen of the Baca home and burying her alive in the back yard following a night of drinking.
The prosecution had argued for a first-degree murder conviction.
“We wanted to give Amber a day in court,” District Attorney Matt Chandler said. “We exercise the criminal justice system the best we can and respect the jury’s verdict.”
Jury instructions given by Judge Stephen Quinn allowed for a verdict of second-degree murder.
Chandler said he plans to seek the maximum sentence of 28 years.
Family members of the victim and defendant declined comment.
Richard Baca’s brother, Clifford “Bubba” Baca, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in March of 2006 for his part in the crime.
In her closing arguments, defense attorney Anna Aragon of Las Vegas, N.M., pointed out Baca was only 17 at the time and had little education because of a learning disability.
“This is not, ladies and gentlemen, the action of first-degree murder. This is the action of a scared, intoxicated 17-year-old,” Aragon said.
She also pointed out the defendant thought Robinson was dead when he buried her.
She told the jury the worst verdict they should return was second-degree murder.
The defense called one witness during the trial, made no opening statement, and only briefly cross-examined most of the state’s witnesses.
“The burden of proof is always on the state to prove the crime,” Aragon said following the trial. “In many instances my strategy is to do very little in court other than poke holes in the state’s case.”
In his closing arguments, Chandler reviewed the state’s evidence with a slide presentation and said the defendant knew Robinson was still alive because he knew she was still bleeding.
“And then he carries her through his junk-infested back yard and places her in the grave,” Chandler told the jury.
The jury also found Richard Baca guilty of two counts of tampering with evidence.
A sentencing hearing will be set at a later date.