Murder conviction overturned

Ninth Judicial District Attorney Matthew Chandler said he plans to retry accused killer Arnoldo Navarette, 42, after the New Mexico Supreme Court overturned the original conviction in a 1993 Portales murder case.

The state's highest court issued it's decision Jan. 17, saying Navarette wasn't allowed to confront a witness at trial.

Navarette was found guilty of first degree murder and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon at trial in September 2010, accused of the shooting death of Portales resident Reynaldo Ornelas on May 30, 1993.

Law enforcement said Navarette was on the run, a fugitive for 16 years moving back and forth between the U.S. and Mexico after the killing.

In June 2009, law enforcement received a tip that Navarette was working under an alias in Odessa, Texas, where he was arrested for the 1993 murder and brought back to Roosevelt County for trial.

He received a life sentence plus an additional three years for the aggravated battery conviction from District Court Chief Judge Teddy Hartley.

The Supreme Court reversed the decision after finding Navarette's rights were violated because he wasn't allowed to confront the state pathologist who conducted the autopsy used as evidence, according to court documents.

"The law on confrontation at the time of the trial was in flux," Chandler said Thursday. "At one time, it was permissible for one expert to testify on behalf of another that was unavailable.

"In this case," Chandler said, "the doctor (performing the autopsy) from the Office of the Medical Examiner was on a sabbatical in New Zealand at the time of the jury trial."

Chandler said the original doctor's supervisor testified about the results of the autopsy on behalf of the Office of the Medical Examiner.

"Subsequent to the conviction, the appellate courts ruled that criminal defendants must have the opportunity to confront the actual expert that conducted the testing, whether it is toxicology results in a DWI case or findings in an autopsy of a homicide victim," Chandler said. "Unless the expert that conducted the testing meets the court's new definition of 'unavailable,' the original expert that conducted the testing must be the same one that testifies at trial."

Trial testimony revealed that in May of 1993, Navarette drove to a Portales residence and opened fire on Ornelas, fatally injuring him. A bystander was also shot in the arm during the incident.

Chandler said while the New Mexico Supreme Court's decision seemed to be the result of a technicality more than anything else, the combination of rulings by the Supreme Court makes the justice system more reliable.

"And nobody can fault the intent behind their recent decisions," Chandler said. "Our plan at this point is to retry the case with a new jury. My understanding is the original doctor has returned to the United States, so it will just be a matter of substituting the original doctor back into the lineup of witnesses."

Chandler added that the Supreme Court has not yet formally issued their mandate in this case, so a new jury trial date has not yet been set.

"Unless Judge Hartley rules otherwise, the defendant will remain in custody pending his new trial," Chandler said.

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