Cops and Courts: Man sentenced to life in mental health facility

A man accused of beating his elderly mother to death has been sentenced to life in the custody of the Department of Correction’s mental health facility, court records show.

In a decision letter filed in the 9th Judicial District Court, Judge Stephen Quinn found Dwight Wagner, 52, to be incompetent and dangerous.

“He will be in the state’s custody for the rest of his life. It’s a situation, that in fact (is) the best resolution that we could ask for,” District Attorney Matt Chandler said of the ruling.

Quinn’s Feb. 27 letter said the state had presented him with clear and convincing evidence Wagner murdered 75-year-old Essie Thomas. Quinn ordered Wagner to serve the maximum sentence that would have been imposed if he had been convicted in a criminal trial, according to the letter.

On Dec. 28, 2004, police officers were called to Thomas’ home at 716 West Grand Ave. to check on her because neighbors hadn’t seen her in recent days and were concerned, court records show.

In the home, police encountered signs of a struggle and followed a trail of blood to a bathtub where they found Thomas’ body. Blood spatter throughout the house indicated she was struck several times in separate locations and eventually dragged to the bathtub, records show.

According to records, she died of blunt force trauma to the head approximately three to four days before her body was discovered.

When questioned, Wagner told police Larry “Jake” Lucero, 41, an acquaintance he owed money to for drugs, had gone with him to his mother’s house but she refused to give them money and told them to leave. Wagner told police the other man went crazy and beat his mother to death, records show.

Skeptical of the story, police obtained a search warrant and found Wagner’s clothing was soaked in blood and he had blood spatter on his shoes indicating he was near his mother when she was struck, records show.

In March 2006, Wagner was declared incompetent to stand trial and committed to the treatment of mental health professionals in hopes he could be brought to a level of competency and stand trial.

In December, doctors again said Wagner was incompetent to stand trial, records show.

Quinn stipulated in his decision letter that Wagner’s mental health is to be evaluated every two years, and if he reaches a point of competency will be brought to trial.

• • •

Police were called by a Clovis car dealer March 1 after down payment was made on a vehicle with a worthless $1,200 check.

According to police reports, a sales manager from the dealership in the 2500 block of North Prince called police to report fraud, stating the check had been accepted as a down payment on a 2002 GMC Suburban but the customer had asked the check be held until Feb. 28 and was allowed to leave with the vehicle.

The manager said Albuquerque police called to say the vehicle had been found at a dealership there, the report said. A person from the Clovis dealership went to the bank listed on the check and was told it would not be honored.

The Social Security number and date of birth used by the customer were also discovered to be false, the report said.

Officers are investigating the case. Charges of larceny between $2,500 and $20,000
are pending.

• • •

An electronic sewer snake that turned up at a local pawnshop March 1 spurred an embezzlement investigation, according to police reports.

The manager of a rental store in the 600 block of East First Street called police Friday to report he had been contacted by staff from a pawnshop who said a man had tried to pawn the item, valued at more than $1,000, saying the rental store had sold it to him, the report said.

The rental store manager told officers the individual who tried to pawn the item had been fired, according to the report. The sewer snake was not sold to the individual, he said. The case is under investigation.

• • •

A fence knocked down by a vehicle in the early morning March 4 is being investigated as felony criminal damage, according to police reports.
A resident in the 400 block of Sandoval Street told police he had discovered someone drove through his 8-foot-high cedar fence and gate. There was red paint on two poles that were pulled out of the ground, the report said.
A neighbor told police she heard a car around 2 a.m., the report said.
The fence is valued at about $1,500.

• • •

A March 4 fire in a vacant trailer at 809 Oak St. is being investigated as arson, according to police reports.

Firefighters were called to the scene around 5:30 p.m. for a fire under the trailer. After extinguishing the blaze, fire personnel told police the cause was likely arson, the report said.

There was little damage to the trailer. Officers were unable to locate a property owner, and there are no suspects.

• • •

A Clovis police officer shot and killed a pit bull after it attacked him about noon Tuesday in the 1300 block of Chama Street, according to department officials.
Sgt. Robert Denney was attacked as he walked to his car in the yard of a residence after responding to a domestic disturbance report, Capt. Patrick Whitney said.
Denney put out his left hand to ward off the attack, Whitney said, and the dog latched onto Denney’s middle finger. When the dog backed off and started to advance a second time, Denney fired three rounds from his sidearm, all three striking the dog, Whitney said.

The female resident of the home opened the door, Whitney said, and the dog ran into the house where it later died of its wounds.

The residents were cited for owning a vicious animal, rabies vaccination violations and having an animal running at large. Denney, who suffered a broken finger and puncture wounds, resumed duty following treatment, Whitney told.

Cops and Courts is compiled by CNJ staff writer Sharna Johnson. She can be contacted at 763-6991 or: