Supreme Court overturns vehicular homicide conviction

CNJ staff

The New Mexico Supreme Court has ordered a new trial for a Melrose man convicted in 2004 of homicide by vehicle.

A two-year prison sentence for Harry Downey, 75, of Melrose, has been vacated and a pretrial conference is scheduled 8:15 a.m. Jan. 26.

Downey was convicted in February 2004 for the July 13, 2001, crash that killed former Curry County employee Anna Beth Austin, who was executive assistant to the county manager.

District Attorney Matt Chandler said a key point of the 2004 case was that Downey’s blood alcohol content wasn’t tested until hours after the crash.

A witness in retrograde extrapolation — a mathematical process to determine toxicology levels — testified Downey was legally drunk at the time of the accident.

The defense, Chandler said, appealed on a claim the expert was not qualified to make such a conclusion. The Curry County court’s ruling was upheld by the Court of Appeals but overturned by the Supreme Court.

Chandler feels confident a similar expert can be brought into the new trial.

The case was tried in Curry County in 2004, and was prosecuted by the 5th Judicial District to prevent conflicts of interest. Chandler, who was elected district attorney nine months later, is confident his office can handle the retrial.

Chandler said, “I was not privileged to have ever met (Austin), so in my opinion the conflict no longer exists.”

A phone call placed to Hal Greig, Downey’s attorney, was not immediately returned.

Downey’s attorney filed an immediate appeal after sentencing and Downey has remained free on bond.