Death penalty still on table

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers

An Albuquerque jury will decide over the next six weeks whether a Portales man is responsible for the deaths of an elderly Portales couple in March 2005.

Jury selection starts Monday in the death-penalty case of Stanley Bedford, 43, and lawyers expect to begin arguments May 29, the Tuesday following Memorial Day.

Bedford is accused of kidnapping Odis and Doris Newman and setting fire to the car with the couple locked in the trunk. He faces two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated kidnapping, two counts of tampering with evidence and one count of possession of stolen property.

Another Portales resident, Jerry Fuller, pleaded guilty to murder charges earlier this year in connection with the Newmans’ death and is serving a 127-year sentence.

A six-week period has been set aside at District Court (400 Lomas Blvd. NE) as the result of a change of venue. Defense attorney Gary Mitchell of Ruidoso said the Newmans were well-known and well-liked, and justifiably so.

“I love the people of Roosevelt County, I’ve been down there several times,” Mitchell said. “In this case, there are too many people related to people, too many people who were friends of others. It’s unfair to ask them to judge this case.”

District Attorney Matt Chandler expected the change of venue for similar reasons.

“The Newmans were lifelong residents of Roosevelt County. They’d built a business from the ground up. They’d touched so many lives over the course of 70 years, their memory continues to touch people’s lives.

“It would have been virtually impossible to pick 12 citizens who have not been touched in one way or another by Odis and Doris Newman.”

That’s about all the two agree on before the trial starts.

The two have opposing views on the death penalty, why Bedford is facing it, and — most importantly — the question of Bedford’s guilt.
Mitchell said he intends to prove in the trial Bedford did not pour accelerant on the car and did not set the car on fire.

“Mr. Bedford had nothing to do with (the homicides),” Mitchell said. “They know that by their own admissions by Fuller. Our defense is, ‘We didn’t do this. Period.’”

Chandler disagrees, and thinks the jury will as well.

“We have evaluated the evidence, and we have our obvious opinions on the evidence,” Chandler said. “The grand jury has found probable evidence Mr. Bedford committed these crimes. The judge has made a similar finding. It’s left up to the 12 jurors who will sit on the case.”

Chandler, who was elected as district attorney in 2004, will be prosecuting his first death penalty case. Mitchell estimated in his 30 years he has worked on about 110 cases — including that of Terry Clark, who was executed in 2001.

Mitchell said he is passionately opposed to the death penalty because it is essentially murder by the government.

“It’s morally reprehensible, it violates every good religious precept, it’s discriminatory, it’s unfair, it’s racist, and we never have sufficient time or money to adequately defend,” Mitchell said. “If somebody in the community doesn’t stand up and fight back, the government will just keep doing it.”

Chandler was adamant the decision to file for the death penalty was not taken lightly. Chandler declined to offer his opinions about the death penalty in response, but said he took an oath to uphold New Mexico law and the law dictates a case with these circumstances meets the threshold of the death penalty.

During a hearing May 7 in Portales to challenge the death penalty process, Mitchell argued race is a motivation for seeking the penalty.
He said it will likely come up again in the trial, and jurors will see Fuller, who is white, received a prison sentence while Bedford, who is black, faces the death penalty. He scoffed at insinuations such an argument means playing the race card.

“Mr. Mitchell’s not the one that asked for the death penalty for the black guy, so they can stick that where the sun don’t shine,” Mitchell said. “I’m not the one who gave a white guy life and is asking for the death penalty for the black guy.

“I’m going to fight this. If they think that’s the race card, they can think all they want.”

In response, Chandler said the office was color-blind in its process, and noted that Terry Clark — the only person the state has executed in 40 years — and the two currently on death row in New Mexico are Caucasian.

Chandler said Fuller exercised his right to take a plea agreement, and Bedford is facing the death penalty because he exercised his right not to take a similar agreement.

Mitchell wasn’t satisfied with that response.

“That may be a good offer if he were guilty, but he’s innocent,” Mitchell said. “Why would an innocent man have to plead to those charges? Why should he have to gamble his life to fight those charges?”

The following is a timeline in the Odis and Doris Newman homicide case:

• March 3, 2005 — Firefighters were called to a car fire southeast of Portales, where two bodies were found burned in the trunk. The bodies were later identified as Odis and Doris Newman of Portales.

• March 7, 2005 — Stanley Bedford is one of three arrested on charges of possession of stolen property.

• March 8, 2005 — Jerry Fuller is shot by police after refusing orders to drop what was later determined to be a pellet gun. He is charged with two counts of murder.

• March 10, 2005 — Charges are filed against Bedford for kidnapping, murder and tampering with evidence.

• June 7, 2005 — District Attorney Matthew Chandler announces the intent to seek death penalty charges against Fuller and Bedford. The last person the office sought the penalty against was Michael Treadway, convicted in 1997 for killing Texico resident Everett Prather. The state later overturned Treadway’s death sentence in favor of life in prison.

• April 25, 2006 — A change of venue is granted for Bedford. District Judge Stephen Quinn indicated a need to take cases outside of the 9th Judicial District.

• Oct. 5, 2006 — Fuller accepts a plea agreement in exchange for avoiding the possiblity of the death penalty.

• Jan. 17, 2007 — Fuller is sentenced to 127 years, as stipulated in his agreement.

• May 7, 2007 — Defense attorney Gary Mitchell of Ruidoso files four separate motions to challenge the constitutionality of the state’s death penalty in a pre-trial hearing.

• May 10, 2007 — District Judge Stephen Quinn ruled to keep the death penalty possibility intact.

• Monday — Jury selection begins at District Court in Albuquerque.

• May 29 — Opening arguments scheduled to start, according to Chandler and Mitchell.

— Kevin Wilson