Witness Shelaine Rodich rcounts events of the night before her friend, 19-year-old Amber Robinson, went missing. Robinson’s body was found buried in a back yard in May 2004. (Freedom Newspapers: Karl Terry)
By Karl Terry: Freedom Newspapers
Editor’s note: Content in this report may be offensive to some readers.
PORTALES — The trial of Richard Baca, 20, accused of the murder of a 19-year-old Portales woman, Amber Robinson, got under way Monday with the prosecution calling Robinson’s best friend to the witness stand.
Shelaine Rodich testified she and Amber Robinson had been playing a beer drinking game called quarters with Richard Baca and his older brother, Clifford “Bubba” Baca on April 26, 2004, the night before her friend went missing. She said she left Robinson at the home with the Bacas about 11:30 p.m. that night and it was the last time she saw her friend.
Richard Baca is charged with first-degree murder and two counts of tampering with evidence in connection with Robinson’s death.
Clifford “Bubba” Baca pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and tampering with evidence in March of 2006 and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
In opening statements, Deputy District Attorney Donna Mowrer told the jury evidence would be presented in the case that would prove Richard Baca beat Robinson unconscious and buried her in the back yard of the family residence while she was still alive.
“You’ll learn that this was a premeditated, vengeful attack, Mowrer said. “The blood evidence shows that Amber was not struck just one time. … This wasn’t just a one punch and she’s down (situation) like he says. This was a brutal attack.”
Mowrer offered two possible motives for the beating:
• an argument over damage to a pickup truck owned by the Baca family;
• remarks made about Richard Baca’s lack of sexual prowess.
Rodich told the court she had been in a relationship with Richard Baca in April 2004 and Robinson had been in a relationship with Clifford “Bubba” Baca at that time.
Rodich said she and Robinson drank about a six-pack of beer apiece and Richard encouraged Robinson to drink more.
Rodich also testified she and another woman had vandalized the Baca’s pickup truck and she had been wearing Robinson’s shoes at the time.
She said Richard Baca had wanted to see Robinson’s shoes because he felt a shoeprint on the truck would match her shoes.
Rodich said she tried to get Robinson to leave the house with her that night but Robinson said she was too drunk and didn’t want to leave.
She said the next day when Robinson hadn’t called her as she normally would have, she became worried, began to inquire about her, and called Robinson’s family, who subsequently filed a missing persons report.
Other key testimony included the Baca brothers’ father, Clifford Baca Jr., who lived in the house with his wife and two sons. He testified he and his wife were in Albuquerque at the time.
The elder Baca testified Richard Baca had told him by phone he needed to get out of town because he had beaten up another boy.
When questioned by District Attorney Matt Chandler about whether Richard Baca had told him he thought he had killed Robinson, he said he didn’t recall him saying that. Chandler pointed out in statements made to detectives the elder Baca had told detectives Richard had admitted killing Robinson.
Also called to the witness stand were Robinson’s mother, Richard Baca’s juvenile probation officer at the time, a juvenile probation office volunteer, a detective sergeant with the Portales Police Department and a woman who said she saw the Bacas washing up with a hose.
The juvenile probation volunteer testified to noticing an area of disturbed soil in the Baca back yard while the police sergeant detailed how the body of Robinson was later discovered in the Baca back yard and how it was identified.