Homicide numbers see drop in 2007

CNJ file photo Stanley Bedford, right, talks to defense attorney Gary Mitchell in District Court in Albuquerque following the penalty phase.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Curry County had its lowest number of homicides in seven years in 2007, according to state statistics.

The two homicides in 2007 tied for the lowest homicides in the last 10 years, matching 2000.

There were four homicides last year, four in 2005 and 11 in 2004.

District Attorney Matt Chandler said a stronger street level police presence, drug enforcement and aggressive prosecution is responsible for the decrease.

Chandler also said preliminary area data indicates violent crimes in general dropped during 2007, though the final figures won’t be available for a few months.

The Curry County homicides last year were two men who were shot to death in Clovis in separate incidents, Chandler said.

Chandler said two 2007 Roosevelt County cases of death resulting from child abuse are not classified as homicide under crime data parameters set by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Drug enforcement and community relations are tactics being employed throughout both counties, Chandler said, explaining violent crimes often grow out of illegal drug activity and feuding on the street level.

If officers can reduce or diffuse friction before it festers, homicides and violent crimes drop, he said.

Building strong cases for prosecution and seeking tougher penalties for repeat offenders also acts as a deterrent to the criminal element in the community, he said.

Portales Police Capt. Lonnie Barry said Roosevelt County, which has had six homicides in 10 years compared to 47 in Curry County during the same time frame, is a rural community, but the effects of crime have the same impact as larger numbers in more urban areas, Barry said.

With that in mind, Portales police are joining other area law enforcement in taking a proactive rather than reactive stance, he said.
“Last year we were very aggressive in our narcotics enforcement, and we had an increase in cases that went to the district attorney’s office… Those are not the (cases) that typically drop in our laps. We have to go out and get them,” he said.

Focused efforts on increasing police presence in Clovis by adding a street enforcement team, which saturates problem areas, and continually seeking community input in addition to having four officers assigned full-time in Clovis schools are making an impact on violent crime, Clovis Police Capt. Patrick Whitney said.

Prosecutors were busy in 2007, gaining convictions against eight men involved in homicide cases in previous years.

High profile cases for Roosevelt County included the January sentencing of Jerry Wayne Fuller, 35, who will serve 127 years in the double murder of Odis and Doris Newman. Fuller, the Newmans’ nephew, pleaded guilty to kidnapping, beating and burning the elderly Portales couple in the trunk of their car in March 2005. Fuller’s codefendant, Stanley Bedford, 44, was found guilty of first-degree murder by an Albuquerque jury who spared him from the death penalty. He was instead sentenced to 120 years imprisonment.

In Clovis, Demetrio Salas, 22, was convicted of first-degree murder, and David Griego, 31, was convicted of second-degree murder Oct. 4 in the 2005 shooting death of 10-year-old Carlos Perez, killed while sleeping in his Clovis home. The men are scheduled for sentencing Jan. 14. Salas faces a minimum of 46 years and Griego up to 20 years imprisonment.