Year in review: Number of homicides down sharply

By Andy Jackson: CNJ staff writer

Curry and Roosevelt counties recorded three homicides each in 2005 — only half the number seen in the 9th Judicial District in 2004, but several touched large segments of area communities because the victims were well known and included three senior citizens and a 10-year-old boy.

Officials said the formation of a major crimes unit, an increased number of police officers, heightened community awareness and police programs targeted at curbing gang and drug activity may account for the reduction in violent slayings.

The major crimes unit was formed in February and helped with the year’s homicide investigations, District Attorney Matt Chandler said.

Due to departmental pay increases, there were 10 Clovis police officers added to a force that was understaffed by 16 officers last year, Clovis Police Lt. James Schoeffel said.

Here’s a summary of homicides police investigated last year:

Curry County

• Sept. 15: Clovis boy shot while asleep in bed
Three brothers were charged in the death of Carlos Perez, 10.

A fourth suspect, Noe Torres, 26, has also been charged with murder, but remains at large, officials say.

Police found nine bullet holes in the victim’s bedroom window, but no bullet casings in or around the scene, according to a police report.

Orlando Salas, 15, Demetrio Salas, 19, and Edward Salas, 21, appeared separately in court Thursday for pre-trial hearings.

The Salas brothers and Torres are all charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, and shooting at a dwelling. Additionally, Orlando Salas is charged with tampering with evidence and conspiracy; Demetrio Salas is charged with tampering with evidence, two counts of witness intimidation, and possessing a stolen firearm; and Edward Salas is charged with two counts of witness intimidation.

A witness told police that Edward Salas said he didn’t mean to shoot the little boy; he meant to shoot the older brother, records show.

Perez’ older brother, Ruben Perez stated Orlando Salas threatened him and tried to fight him at school, the report said.

Demetrio Salas is being held at the Curry County Adult Detention Center on $100,000 cash bond; Edward Salas is being held at the Curry County Adult Detention Center without bond; and Orlando Salas is being held at the Curry County Juvenile Detention Center without bond, officials said.

The defendants are expected to have their joint trial sometime this summer, 9th Judicial District prosecutor Andrea Reeb said.

• Dec. 10: Clovis waitress found strangled to death
Laura McNaughton, 30, a waitress, student and mother of two was last seen at the Clovis restaurant where she worked on Dec. 9. The next day, her naked and battered body was found in a ditch by hunters in the community of Pleasant Hill north of Clovis.

A local dentist, James Smith, 36, was indicted by a grand jury on Thursday for first-degree murder, kidnapping and criminal sexual penetration in connection with McNaughton’s death.

Smith pleaded not guilty to the charges, on Friday, records show.

In a letter to his wife, Smith said he didn’t kill McNaughton. But court records show Smith told police he gave McNaughton a “very physical embrace” at his home and McNaughton “died very quickly.”

Chandler said he will decide in 90 days if he will pursue the death penalty.

• Dec. 24: Oklahoma photograph salesman shot to death

Joseph Phillips, 48, died on Christmas Eve in the parking lot of the Econo Lodge Motel in Clovis.

Phillips, a photograph package salesman from Guthrie Okla., was shot in the head after he exited a taxi, officials said.

The taxi driver told police he saw Phillips and Jimmy Bentley, 71, exchange words shortly before Bentley shot Phillips, records show. The driver told police Phillips’ hands were open and raised before he was shot.

Bentley, of Farmington, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on Thursday.

Bentley’s lawyer Randy Knudson said Bentley may have Alzheimer’s disease, and may have felt threatened by Phillips.

Chandler said the slaying may have been racially motivated. The victim is black, and Chandler said Bentley, who is white, has a nickname of “Lynching Lloyd.”

Knudson said the nickname, given to Bentley by his Farmington gun club, was meant to be funny and silly.

Bentley is being held at the Curry County Adult Detention Center on $100,000 bond, and he will go before a grand jury this week where charges will be determined, Chandler said.

Roosevelt County

• July 8: Causey rancher shot dead in his home
The body of rancher Jimmy “Bo” Chunn, 71, was found shot to death in his home in Causey, 32 miles south of Portales.

A rancher who raised black Angus cattle, Chunn had lived in Causey since 1959, and operated a well service until the early 1980s. He was a member of the Portales Lodge and the Causey Church of Christ.

Officials have said Chunn was shot in the head.

After the incident, Portales police investigated two people of interest based on interviews and evidence, but neither were charged in connection with the slaying.

• March 2: Charred bodies found in car
The burned bodies of Portales’ Odis Newman, 70, and Doris Newman, 69, were found in the trunk of their charred vehicle by police.

Jerry Fuller, 32, and Stanley Bedford, 41, both of Portales, are accused of kidnapping and killing the couple.

According to arrest warrant affidavits, Fuller, the Newmans’ nephew by marriage, told police he and Bedford went to the Newmans’ home on March 2. After being let in, Bedford is accused of striking Odis Newman with a pipe. When Doris Newman tried to call 911, Fuller stopped her and bound her with duct tape, court records allege.

The men put the Newmans in the trunk of their car and drove to the countryside where they doused the car with an accelerant and set it on fire, the arrest warrant affidavit states.

Officials said the Newmans were alive when they were placed in their car’s trunk and the car was set on fire.

Bedford faces two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping, two counts of tampering with evidence and one count of receiving stolen property.

Fuller is charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping, one count of tampering with evidence, three counts of assault upon a peace officer and one count of aggravated burglary.
Chandler has said he will pursue the death penalty against Fuller and Bedford.

Bedford’s attorney, Gary Mitchell said he may motion for a change of venue, while Chandler opposes the change.

The defendants will be tried separately and each trial is expected to take months, Chandler said.

Fuller’s trial date is set for June 19 through Aug. 28 and Bedford’s trial is set for Sept. 5 through Oct. 13, Chandler said.

Both Fuller and Bedford are being held at the Roosevelt County Detention Center without bond.

Homicide statistics
Curry County

1999 — 1
2000 — 1
2001 — 4
2002 — 5
2003 — 6
2004 — 10
2005 — 3

Roosevelt County
1999 — 0
2000 — 0
2001 — 0
2002 — 0
2003 — 0

•Source: CNJ staff reports, the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, and Clovis and Portales Police Departments.