By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer
ALBUQUERQUE — Jerry Fuller told Albuquerque jurors Stanley Bedford helped him plan and execute a robbery of his aunt and uncle, Odis and Doris Newman of Portales. He also testified that when he realized the Newmans could identify him, it was later Bedford’s idea to kill the couple by burning a car with them locked in the trunk.
The question of Bedford’s guilt may depend on whether jurors believe Fuller’s story.
Six others have testified so far in the trial, which continues Monday and is scheduled to run through June. However, Fuller took up most of Thursday afternoon and all of Friday, save less than an hour of testimony from New Mexico State Police Investigator Tim Argo.
The prosecution’s version of Fuller is a man who felt remorse seconds after lighting the fire. Prosecutors say he helped law enforcement put the pieces together following his arrest, implicating Stanley Bedford as his partner in crime throughout.
“You’ll learn Mr. Fuller cooperated without the promise of any deal,” Deputy District Attorney Donna Mowrer said in opening arguments.
Bedford attorney Gary Mitchell contends Fuller came up with plans to rob and kill the Newmans on his own, and pulled Bedford into the plan when he needed somebody to drive him away following the car fire. When the weight of Fuller’s actions hit him a few days later, the defense contends, he named Bedford to ease the pain for his family and avoid the death penalty.
The sides exchanged heated objections Friday as they discussed Fuller’s plea agreement, which calls for him to serve a 127-year prison sentence. The agreement calls for Fuller to testify against anybody charged in connection with the Newmans’ deaths, and puts the death penalty option back on the table if his testimony conflicts with a significant fact in the case.
Mitchell raised objections about the plea agreement while he cross-examined Fuller, and when District Attorney Matt Chandler said the point of the agreement was to get “the absolute truth” from Fuller.
“This district attorney’s office holds death over his head,” Mitchell said, “and they’re talking about absolute truth?”
Judge Stephen Quinn said he understood language in the deal to mean the district attorney’s office would have to go through him before terminating the deal on such grounds.
Both sides agree Bedford was at the scene of the fire, but each has a different reason for him being there. The prosecution contends Bedford came up with the plan to burn the car, and told Fuller to, “hurry the (expletive) up and quit (expletive) around.”
During cross-examination, Mitchell intimated the expletive was the only thing Fuller had right. Bedford, Mitchell said, followed Fuller out to the rural road where the car was burned. When he saw the fire, he screamed to Fuller, “Get in the (expletive) car. What the (expletive) are you doing?” and wanted nothing to do with Fuller after giving him a ride home.
In other testimony at last week’s trial:
Fuller told Chandler before his involvement in the Newmans’ deaths he had only been convicted of issuing a worthless check in 1997.
The prosecution may use of that point later in comparison to make a character comparison with Bedford, who has previous convictions for drug charges and felony gun possession.
Mitchell asked Fuller about the Newmans’ blue Ford truck, and how it was found with drops of Odis Newman’s blood, a kicked-out window, Odis Newman’s footprint and a pipe indentation in the ceiling. Fuller said he had no idea how the truck was damaged. Mitchell said Fuller did know, and theorized Fuller drove Odis Newman to a field northwest of his home and beat him. There, Mitchell said, duct tape, glass and Odis Newman’s blood was found.