Death penalty phase planned

By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers

A dozen Albuquerque jurors found Stanley Bedford guilty last week of killing Odis and Doris Newman of Portales.

The same jury will reconvene Thursday in Albuquerque to determine whether Bedford should die as punishment.

The death penalty phase is unlike any other trial in New Mexico, District Attorney Matt Chandler said.

“This is the only instance where a jury hands down the sentence,” Chandler said. “Their choice is whether to impose the 120-year sentence (given by Judge Stephen Quinn) or to impose the death penalty.”

The prison sentence will apply unless the jury unanimously opts for the death penalty.

Bedford would be the third person on death row in New Mexico if given the death sentence. He was convicted Thursday of two counts each of murder and kidnapping in the March 3, 2005, deaths of the Newmans.

The couple’s bodies were found in the trunk of a burned car outside of Portales. Jerry Fuller, a nephew of the Newmans, pleaded guilty to his role in their deaths and testified against Bedford in the criminal trial.

Defense attorney Gary Mitchell said he believes Bedford is innocent. He said even a guilty Bedford should receive no more of a penalty than the 127-year sentence given to Fuller, who admitted to setting the Newmans’ car on fire by himself.

The penalty phase is like two miniature trials, Mitchell said.

In the first part, Mitchell said, the jury must agree there is an aggravating circumstance. A murder committed during the course of a kidnapping is one such circumstance.

Mitchell figured since the jury already convicted Bedford of kidnapping, they’d reach a decision on aggravation quickly. Chandler didn’t want to assume that, and said the procedure applies regardless of the criminal trial results.

“In the sentencing stage, they must determine whether the murder took place in the commission of the kidnapping,” Chandler said. “We believe we’ve proven that, but the question must be asked.”

Should the jury make a finding of an aggravating circumstance, the next phase will begin. The defense is allowed to give mitigating evidence, which may include the defendant’s character and role in any crimes.

The prosecution then responds to the mitigating evidence and may use impact statements from friends and family as part of its case.