Bedford jury finds aggravating circumstance

CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson District Attorney Matt Chandler shows a picture of Odis and Doris Newman during a response to the defense’s closing argument in Thursday’s death-penalty hearing for Stanley Bedford at District Court in Albuquerque.

By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer

ALBUQUERQUE — An Albuquerque jury on Thursday found murder in the course of kidnapping to be an aggravating circumstance, allowing the state to proceed in seeking the death penalty against Stanley Bedford.

If he is given the death penalty, Bedford, 43, would be the third person on New Mexico’s death row.

The 12-person jury has the option of a 120-year sentence if it can’t unanimously agree on the death penalty.

Bedford was convicted by the same jury last week on two counts of murder and two counts of kidnapping in connection with the March 3, 2005, deaths of Doris and Odis Newman of Portales, whose bodies were found in the trunk of their burned car.

The defense will begin presenting mitigating evidence today.

Based on the jury’s previous judgments, District Attorney Matt Chandler chose not to present new evidence during Thursday’s hearing.

“This could quite possibly be the quickest proceeding in this trial … because you can rely on the evidence that’s already been presented to you,” Chandler said in opening statements. “We’re going to allow you to recall and reflect on your own memories.”

Prosecutors didn’t want to call it a formality to agree on the kidnapping charge for aggravation purposes, but felt confident they’d proven the facts during the criminal trial.

Defense attorney Gary Mitchell wanted jurors to reflect on their week-old decision, and consider Jerry Fuller was wholly responsible for the kidnapping and the murder. Fuller, a nephew of the Newmans, pleaded guilty to murder and kidnapping and testified against Bedford in the criminal trial. He said he poured gasoline on the Newman car and set it on fire by himself.

Fuller was sentenced to 127 years in prison.

Mitchell said in the aggravation stage, there is no concept of accomplices being just as guilty as the person who committed the crime.

His arguments were similar to his closing arguments in the criminal trial, including the notion of Fuller — who is white — being given full credibility while Bedford — who is black — and his relatives received none. He also pointed to a prosecution witness, Julie Caviness Parker, who lived next door to the Newmans, and testified to not seeing Bedford that evening.

“It troubles my soul … to think we have the neighbor and we have two black men who say (Bedford) wasn’t involved with this,” Mitchell said, “and yet believe a man who admitted killing his aunt and uncle.”

Chandler responded to Mitchell arguments during his closing statement while holding up a picture of the Newmans.

“You know what troubles my soul? There is absolutely, undeniably, no doubt what happened to these people,” Chandler said.

Including the lunch break, jurors took three hours to make their unanimous decision — only a unanimous decision would have moved the penalty phase forward.

Highlights of Thursday’s testimony in Stanley Bedford’s death-penalty hearing:

Scott Albert
Relationship to case: Brother of Stanley Bedford

Testimony: He was brought into the Roosevelt County Law Enforcement Center in handcuffs in March of 2005. He said he was not arrested, but handcuffed, and officers
threatened to execute him and his brother if they didn’t tell the truth. He allowed police to search his house, vehicle and storage facility.

Cross-examination: Albert incorrectly
identified District Attorney Matt Chandler as one of the officers who questioned him in Portales. He was handcuffed for his own safety when he went in the police car, and was allowed to drive to the station himself later.

Brandon Albert
Relationship to case: Nephew of Bedford

Testimony: Brandon said he went to the police station in June, and talked on the phone with somebody who said he was “on Stan’s side.” The person who questioned him wasn’t a member of Gary Mitchell’s defense team. Nothing about the trial or the verdict changed his mind about the fact his uncle was with him the night of March 2, 2005.

Cross-examination: An audio recording of his interview with Terry Mulligan of the District Attorney’s office was replayed, and Mulligan was heard on the tape identifying himself and his office. He never raised an objection to whose side Mulligan was on during the
interview.

David Luera
Relationship to case: Investigator with District Attorney’s Office.

Testimony: Chandler was not present in his interview with Scott Albert, and the interview is videotaped. He said the tape shows Chandler was not present.

Cross-examination: He didn’t know how many officers showed up to Scott Albert’s home to bring him in for questioning, and he wasn’t wearing handcuffs when the two met. When asked if any cursing or shouting was present or if any threats were made, he said he didn’t recall.