Year in review: Killings, captures mark year

The year 2012 saw a stunning, senseless killing, local courts struggling with the jury process and an end to the years of running from the law by two of Clovis' most notorious fugitives.

Jimmy Reagan, 31, awaits trial on multiple charges, accused of shooting and killing Shondel Lofton at his home in Clovis on June 8. Officials say Reagan also sexually assaulted Lofton's girlfriend, then kidnapped two other women before being captured by police.

Lofton's killing was one of three homicides in Clovis for the year. The sheer randomness of Reagan's alleged night of death and terror, however, shook law enforcement and much of the city.

Police said they knew of no connection between Reagan and Lofton — a mild-mannered elementary school custodian — other than Reagan had reportedly been camping near the Lofton house weeks before the unprovoked attack. Officials noted Reagan had a long record of arrests for violent crimes dating back to 2002, including drug and armed robbery charges.

Chandler said Reagan's parents dropped their son off in Clovis from Portales a few weeks before the terror spree.

Also dominating crime headlines were the captures of longtime fugitives Noe Torres and Edward Salas.

Torres was brought down by Mexican authorities outside a religious compound that had been hiding him near Chihuahua, ending almost seven years on the run. He faces a murder trial Jan. 28, accused of being part of the September 2005 shooting death of 10-year-old Carlos Perez.

In October, Salas was captured by Mexican law enforcement outside a convenience store in Chihuahua. Salas was convicted of murder in the Perez case and had been on the run since 2008, when he and seven other violent inmates escaped the Curry County jail in another incident that put Clovis in the national spotlight.

Events involving juries led to the dismissal of charges against a former Clovis police officer, and questions about the way jurors are selected in Curry County.

Vehicular homicide charges were dismissed in June against former Officer Stephen Gallegos by District Court Chief Judge Ted L. Hartley, who ruled Chandler had interfered with the grand jury that indicted the officer.

Gallegos was accused of killing Mary Castillo of Clovis in a November 2010 crash on the city's east side. Chief Steve Sanders said Gallegos was speeding in his police cruiser, ran a stop sign and crashed into the car Castillo was riding in, also seriously injuring the driver, Edith Payton.

The grand jury initially returned a "no probable cause" decision on the more serious vehicular homicide charge. But according to Hartley, Chandler then went too far.

In his ruling, Hartley concludes: "DA Chandler advises (the grand jury) that he does not want to intrude on their deliberations, stating with regard to Count I no probable cause and Count II probable cause that 'Well it, I'll just have to accept it as it is so…'"

Hartley goes on to say: "DA Chandler then disregards his own advice and proceeds to impermissibly ask and answer questions.

"DA Chandler should have accepted their findings and concluded the grand jury. The questions asked by DA Chandler, the further reading of instructions, the second round of deliberations, and the polling of the grand jury, etc., are acts of DA Chandler which constitute improper influence, or at least the opportunity for improper influence."

Chandler said grand jury members were arguing among themselves and he didn't believe he did anything wrong.

Grand jury selection was the focus of another controversy in August, when several defense attorneys challenged the district attorney's office involvement in selection.

Attorneys Dan Lindsey and Kirk Chavez, both of Clovis, and Matt Coyte of Albuquerque charged that district attorney employees had been allowed for years to dismiss grand jurors from service. Only a judge can dismiss a grand juror, they said, and allowing Chandler's employees to do so was tantamount to allowing Chandler to handpick jurors.

Hartley and Chandler both denied any such intent to taint the grand jury. Both said the process was strictly clerical and one of convenience. Grand jurors unable to attend a session would contact the district attorney's office and employees there would dismiss them from duty.

Chandler and Hartley said it was a system practiced by several other districts in the state and had been taking place locally longer than either has been in office.

Nonetheless, Hartley later issued orders changing the grand jury process, specifying that jurors were only to contact district court employees.

In August, Hartley was scrambling to correct another issue in selecting jury panels. A district court employee, after checking with the state office, placed all jury candidates who only spoke Spanish on one jury panel, potentially jeopardizing a murder conviction a few weeks later.

Court records indicate the employee placed all Spanish speaking jurors on one panel to save money on the cost of interpreters. But defense attorney James Klipstine of Hobbs argued it amounted to jury tampering because "you cannot move jurors from one panel to another for reasons that have nothing to do with their qualifications."

Klipstine argued that jurors must be selected at random and regardless of the original intent, jury candidates placed into one panel because they only spoke Spanish was not allowed.

District Judge Stephen Quinn, however, ruled against Klipstine motions to dismiss a jury conviction of murder against his client Guadalupe Flores and request for a new trial. Chandler said he believed Flores got a fair trial from a jury representative of the community. The jury included seven Hispanics.

Klipstine plans to appeal Quinn's decision.

Speak Your Mind

*