By Robin Fornoff
CMI PROJECTS EDITOR
Two men called cold-blooded killers were sent packing to prison. District Court got a new judge. And Clovis police successfully ended three standoffs with gunmen without any bloodshed.
It was a busy year, 2013, for local courts and police.
There were two homicides in Clovis. Another shooting death near Broadview remains under investigation by Sheriff Matt Murray with no decision on whether criminal charges will be filed.
A Portales cop from Clovis was sentenced to 25 years prison for sexual assault of a girl met while serving as police resource officer at Portales High School.
Here’s a review of major crime and court events for the year:
Day in court: Two murder convictions prosecuted by District Attorney Matt Chandler couldn’t have been more different. One came close to being a circus. The other spared a still grieving family of reliving the crime through days of grueling trial testimony.
Albert Ramirez spent most of his week in court last October disrupting trial proceedings. He claimed he was ill, he couldn’t psychologically comprehend what was happening and tried to fire his attorney Jesse Cosby of Roswell, then took the witness stand against his lawyer’s advice.
Things escalated to the point that special Judge Teddy Hartley ordered Ramirez removed from the courtroom.
Ramirez was charged with gunning down his mother’s boyfriend, Eladio Robledo, 39, of Clovis, in 2009.
In closing arguments, Chandler called him a liar, a faker and a cold-blooded killer who plotted Robledo’s murder as revenge for kicking Ramirez out of the home. Ramirez sobbed as the jury listened.
Hours later jurors returned with a guilty verdict to first-degree murder charges, a life felony.
Ramirez kept up his bizarre behavior. When Hartley refused to let him read a statement after the jury’s verdict, Ramirez was led from the courtroom in shackles shouting that he didn’t get a fair trial “but that’s the way you all do.” Then from the hallway, Ramirez shouted “God bless you all.”
Hartley postponed sentencing until 2014.
There was an entirely different demeanor earlier this month in District Judge Stephen Quinn’s courtroom, where Jimmy Reagan, 32, pleaded guilty to killing Shondel Lofton, 35, of Clovis in a bizarre 2012 crime spree on the city’s northwest side.
Reagan assaulted Lofton’s girlfriend outside their home, then broke into the house and shot the unsuspecting victim in the head as he played video games.
Reagan then fled the house, stopped a passing van and held the two women in the van hostage for several hours, threatening to rape and kill them.
Quinn noted in 25 years on the bench he had never heard of such heinous and unprovoked acts.
“This is like terrorism on the west side of town and it’s hard to imagine all this crimes bundled up in one series of events,” he said.
Quinn then sentenced Reagan to life plus 100 years and six months.
A new look: The retirement of District Judge Teddy Hartley brought a new judge to District Court in Clovis and a realignment of duties throughout the 9th Judicial District in Curry and Roosevelt counties.
Former assistant district attorney Fred Van Soelen was named Hartley’s successor in June by Gov. Susan Martinez. Van Soelen was picked from among three candidates nominated by a special commission. The other candidates included assistant district attorney Brian Stoker and Portales attorney Wesley Pool.
The change brought some reshuffling. Van Soelen was assigned to the law library courtroom in Clovis where Judge Donna Mowrer held trials and hearings. Mowrer moved to District Court in the Roosevelt County Courthouse where Judge Drew Tatum usually held court. Tatum is now sitting on the bench in Hartley’s former courtroom at the Curry County Courthouse, known around the courthouse as the “big” courtroom.
Two homicides and no decision on a shooting death: A series of muggings in January turned into a homicide with the death of Joe Garcia, 61, from a beating investigators said was inflicted by 24-year-old Daniel Murrell, now facing murder charges and an April 14 trial.
Garcia was jumped in an alley while walking from a convenience store to his apartment. He died three days later from injuries suffered in the beating, according to the state Office of the Medical Examiner.
Garcia was one of two of Murrell’s victims, police said, and was fingered in statements to investigators by his admitted accomplice, 20-year-old Terry Smolar.
Smolar told police he and Murrell also jumped 82-year-old David Shober of Clovis in his garage early one morning, repeatedly struck him in the head with the barrel of a pistol and fled to a car driven by Smolar to get away, according to court documents.
Shober sought his own treatment of his injuries.
A birthday party near 14th and Reid streets in April ended in a street-fighting gang brawl and the stabbing death of 17-year-old Devin Saiz.
Ricardo “Rico” Sena, then-recently released from prison, was charged with murder and faces trial in 2014.
Witnesses told police it all started when three vehicles pulled up outside the home after a series of passes earlier in the night. Several males and females got out of the vehicles to confront the partygoers at Saiz’s home.
One witness said Sena threw a full can of beer that hit her in the face and Saiz stepped up to defend her. Someone shouted “Southside,” a gang reference, and fist fights broke out in the front yard.
Witnesses said they saw Sena hit Saiz in the chest and when he pulled back his hand they could see a knife in it. Saiz died hours later at Plains Regional Medical Center.
There’s been no determination in the June shooting death of Max Allen in a farm field outside his home near Broadview, though police know who killed him.
Farmer and rancher David Brown said he shot Allen while the two struggled for a gun during an argument about some land Brown was leasing from the victim.
Allen, known as “Mad Max,” had a reputation for being mean, neighbors said. Brown said in the 20 years he had known Allen he was a good guy when he took his medication and, of the shooting, “Just a sad situation that he got off his meds.”
Brown told sheriff’s investigators that he an Allen were struggling for control of Brown’s rifle when it went off once, firing the fatal bullet.
Curry County Undersheriff Wesley Waller said investigators are still waiting on results of medical and crime lab findings. Once in hand, Waller said, Chandler and Murray will make a decision on whether or not to file criminal charges.
The art of waiting: Training paid off for Clovis police in three standoffs with armed men they ended without bloodshed.
In April, Cesar Rodriguez barricaded himself in a home near Grand and Prince streets, threatening to kill himself. Police had attempted to pull him over in a stolen car earlier in the day and he fled. Neighbors said they saw Rodriguez running down their alley with a gun in his hand shouting “I’m a meth head. I’m going to kill myself.”
Police surrounded the house he dashed into in the 300 block of north Lea Street. They spent the next 4 1/2 hours negotiating with Rodriguez, who eventually surrendered.
Rodriguez pleaded guilty in October to being a felon in possession of a firearm and possession of illegal drugs.
A six-hour standoff at the Westward Ho hotel in July ended peacefully when gunman Patrick Lopez surrendered to police. The standoff started with a bounty hunter notifying police that Lopez was at the hotel.
Police said when they knocked in the door, he jumped out a window, eventually hiding in a crawl space above several other rooms.
When it was over, police confiscated a .45 caliber handgun with a bullet in the chamber and two 9mm clips but no gun to match. Lopez faces felony charges and a Feb. 19 jury trial.
Earlier this month, police said 30-year-old Eric Gutierrez fired several bullets through a door at them to kick off a seven-hour standoff at a house near Fourth and Hinkle streets that ended without bloodshed.
Police said they were called by Gutierrez’s father, who said his son was drunk and violent.
When officers arrived and knocked on Gutierrez’ bedroom door, Gutierrez fired several bullets through the door.
Police said the officers drew their weapons and ordered Gutierrez to drop his. Gutierrez stuck his head outside the door briefly before shutting it. Officers backed out of the house and summoned the SWAT team.
After hours of negotiation, the SWAT team was preparing to move into the home when Gutierrez stepped out and surrendered, according to reports.
Gutierrez is charged with felony drug possession and drug trafficking. No trial date has been set.
The other side of the law: What started as a drinking party with a 16-year-old girl and her friend at his home northwest of Clovis eventually ended in April with a 25-year prison sentence for 46-year-old Portales Police Officer Victor Castillo.
Castillo met the girl and her friends while serving as the police officer stationed at Portales High School. He pleaded guilty to maintaining a sexual relationship with the girl since at least the previous July.
Chandler said state police launched an investigation after learning about the party at Castillo’s house in Clovis. He said investigators found three references to sexual encounters with Castillo in the girl’s personal diary. Each time Castillo was in uniform and visited the victim in his patrol car, Chandler said.
Pleading for a lighter sentence, Castillo apologized in court to the girl’s family and said his plan was to get psychological treatment.
Teacher misconduct: A Muleshoe High School teacher in November pleaded guilty to having an improper relationship with a student.
Morgan Shea Marricle was placed on four years probation, fined $1,000 and ordered to enter a treatment facility.
She admitted in court that on April 20 she had sexual contact with a student.
She was not required to register as a sex offender.
Marricle resigned from her high school teaching position before she was charged with the second-degree felony.