Witnesses place defendant with alleged co-conspirator on night of slayings

District Attorney Matt Chandler hands Darcee Hillford a statement during her testimony in the trial of Dominic Murphy on Thursday at the Curry County Courthouse. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth))

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

Two state witnesses offered testimony Thursday that put Dominic Murphy and Joey Martinez together on the night two Clovis men were killed on a rural Curry County road.

That, along with testimony about blood on Murphy’s shirt and accounts he admitted to knowledge of one of the victim’s death before anyone else knew, were the key points for prosecutors on the day they rested their case.

“Tell the jury what you saw on Dominic’s shirt (in the early morning hours of Feb. 28),” District Attorney Matthew Chandler asked Darcee Hillford, Murphy’s girlfriend at the time of the shootings.

“Blood,” she said simply.

According to prosecutors, Murphy shot to death Alex Rodriguez, 29, and Wesley Griest, 39, in February of 2003 to settle a $150 drug debt.

Murphy faces a maximum of 64 years in prison if convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of tampering with evidence.

The night of the crime, Hillford said she was at her sister’s house and saw Murphy and Martinez, who pleaded guilty in December 2003 to accessory to murder charges in this case, leave Martinez’s house in Murphy’s car, returning several hours later.

Chandler asked Hillford if Murphy had spoken about the victim, Griest, in those early morning hours after they returned. She said Murphy asked her at that time if she knew Griest had died.

The prosecution also called Hillford’s sister, Belinda Turvey, who testified she saw the two men together the night of the slayings. She added that Murphy asked her if he could park his car behind her house in the following days.

“Is it fair to say this (parking his car behind her house) all began after the murders?” Chandler asked.

“Yes,” Turvey answered.

Defense attorneys asked Turvey if Murphy had parked his car in the driveway, even after the murders. There were several times in the following couple of days he did park in the driveway, she said. However, in redirect she said Murphy would only leave his car in front of the house for a short period of time. If he intended on staying in the area for awhile, he would park in back.

Later in the day, defense lawyers grilled the lead investigator in the case for the Curry County Sheriff’s Office, Waldo Casarez, about why he left out of his final report information he had on another suspect he investigated.

In direct testimony, Casarez admitted that when he took the case he had only been an investigator for about a month.

Defense lawyers pressed Casarez about his methods, in particular why he obtained an arrest warrant for the other suspect and later quashed the warrant when another investigator deemed his 14-year-old source unreliable.

Defense lawyers read off a laundry-list of drug paraphernalia, drug residue, gun magazines and other incriminating items found in Joey Martinez’s residence.
However, they pointed out that there was no information in the report about illicit items found at Murphy’s residence.

Casarez testified that investigators had searched Murphy’s residence, but no items of interest were found so it wasn’t included in the final report.

Thursday in court:
Points for the prosecution:
• State police agent Gary Smith said it would be possible for Murphy’s car, a silvery Mercury Topaz, to have hit something before it hit the Honda CRX at the crime scene. This would account for the turquoise smudge found on the victims’ vehicle, agents said.
• FBI specialist Sandra Wiersema said the tire marks at the scene of the crime matched one of the front tires of Murphy’s car. She said having the tire match the tracks at the scene was a “good association.”

Points for the defense:
• Defense attorneys asked state police agents about a blue Ford Focus found in the parking lot at the courthouse that had damage to its right front area. State agents said they did not take any measurements of the vehicle or document the tread patterns. Court testimony revealed the car was associated with the investigation of earlier suspect.

• Defense attorneys asked Hillford about a statement she made to law enforcement in April of 2003, when she said she was at her mother’s house the night of Feb. 27, not her sister’s house as she testified Thursday.

The players:
Judge:
Joe Parker
Prosecutors: District attorney Matthew Chandler and deputy district attorney Andrea Reeb
Defense Attorneys: Roger Bargas of Tucumcari and Abigail Aragon of Las Vegas, N.M.
Makeup of jury: Four men and 12 women (only 12 will deliberate, but there are four alternates yet to be revealed)

— Compiled by CNJ staff writer David Irvin