The Associated Press
SANTA FE — A lawsuit filed over the abduction and slaying of a Hobbs convenience store clerk was settled minutes before a jury was to award her three children $51 million in damages.
Allegra Carpenter, an attorney representing Elizabeth Garcia’s children — Xavier Mendoza, 13; Jerome Mendoza, 11; and Cene Mendoza, 10 — said the amount of the settlement and its terms are confidential.
A state district court jury had been deliberating for a second day Tuesday when Judge Raymond Ortiz told the panel the family’s lawsuit against New Mexico’s largest chain of convenience stores, Allsup’s Enterprises of Clovis, was settled.
The trial focused on the security practices of Allsup’s.
A letter from Garcia’s family and legal staff to jurors said Allsup’s has promised never to challenge convenience store safety regulations in New Mexico.
“This is something Allsup’s was never willing to agree to until you — the jury — entered into deliberations following this two-week trial in which the facts of Allsup’s operations became public,” the letter said.
Garcia, 26, was working alone overnight when she vanished on Jan. 16, 2002. Her body, with 57 stab wounds, was found later that day in a Hobbs field. The lawsuit said she had been raped.
The head of the jury, Jean Lehman, said jurors had decided to assess Allsup’s $21.2 million in compensatory damages and $30 in punitive damages. But after returning to court ready to deliver a verdict about 4:30 p.m., the judge told them the case had been settled, she said.
Attorneys for Garcia’s family said Allsup’s failure to protect clerks working the graveyard shift make the near-minimum-wage jobs the most dangerous in New Mexico. They had asked the jury to award $60 million in damages.
Efforts to improve safety for clerks escalated after Garcia’s death. The state Environmental Health Board ordered convenience stores open between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. to have two clerks on duty, station one guard with one clerk or put clerks in enclosures with bulletproof glass.
The store Garcia was working at had no security camera.
Paul Lovett, 27, was convicted of two charges of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison last year for the killings of Garcia and Patty Simon, 36, who disappeared from her job at a Hobbs department store. Simon’s body — her throat slashed and skull fractured — was found May 14, 2003, in a caliche pit about a mile west of Hobbs.
Lawyers for Allsup’s insurance carrier argued during the trial that security measures now required by the state do not deter crime and likely would not have prevented Garcia’s death.
One of the lawyers, Kevin Williams, said Allsup’s had a policy of keeping no more than $50 in cash registers, maintaining adequate lighting at stores, giving clerks necklace alarms and training clerks to resist robbers at the time Garcia was killed.
Barbara Allsup, Allsup’s vice president, said Tuesday the company recognizes that its employees have to be provided a safe place to work and said it has satisfied every requirement under state law.
“Our stores have for years had safety measures before any regulations that are still in place for the safety of all,” she said.