An initially quiet year was fraught with high profile criminal cases in the last quarter.
Law enforcement scrambled to recapture eight escaped inmates and the prior year’s homicide rate doubled in the space of weeks.
With the exception of a summertime rash of home invasions, things were relatively calm leading up to the fall months of 2008.
All that changed at the end of August. Eight men used a key stolen from detention officers to unlock a plumber’s chase inside their pod at the jail. They shimmied up pipes inside the wall, then used handmade tools to cut a hole in the roof and gain freedom.
All were charged with violent crimes — one a convicted child-killer and another a murder suspect waiting trial.
The escape got national media attention and led local law enforcement to call on federal authorities for assistance.
One-by-one, law enforcement, often acting on community tips, caught seven of the escapees, most recently nabbing 19-year-old Louis Chavez on Dec. 8 at a Clovis grocery store.
Edward Salas — a 24-year-old recently sentenced to life in prison for the shooting death of a 10-year-old child —has managed to avoid capture in the four months since the escape.
But even before August, the Curry County Sheriff’s Office devoted significant time and effort to conducting criminal investigations into drug and contraband smuggling by detention officers, according to Undersheriff Wesley Waller.
In the course of the year, four detention officers were arrested for smuggling items into the jail.
“The jail has been a focus due to the past problems there during the first part of the year (when we) arrested several of the detention officers for smuggling drugs into the facility,” Waller said.
“A large number of staff hours and resources were dedicated to the problems experienced at the Curry County Adult Detention Center, to include the escapes and the internal criminal investigations.”
Subsequent investigations at the facility revealed security issues, staffing problems and lax or outdated policies and procedures.
As the hunt for the escapees continued, a double killing at the end of September shattered hopes for a homicide-free year.
Then, the November shooting death of a Honduran national at his home in Texico and the Dec. 20 slaying of a 54-year-old Clovis woman doubled 2007’s homicide rate, mimicking numbers of years past.
Homicide is likely the most noted type of crime in most communities, and, “There’s no doubt that’s big news in any circle,” said police Capt. Patrick Whitney, whose department is investigating three of the homicides.
But the number of homicides was lower than it could have been and, “Not for lack of trying,” Whitney said.
Violence was certainly present throughout the year, he explained, “We had plenty of other aggravated batteries (and incidents) that could have been homicides or (incidents where) people were shot at and they missed.”
An example of the violence can be found in July, when a hopscotch pattern of home invasions spanning multiple jurisdictions and more than half a dozen homes emerged.
During about a two-week stretch, Clovis, Portales and Curry County residents reported masked invaders busting through their doors in the middle of the night. Police said the suspects brandished guns and sometimes battered the startled, sleepy victims, stealing items of value and vehicles used to flee the scenes.
The series of home invasions ended July 29 when a battered man fought with invaders and escaped, his head grazed by a bullet as he fled a Sheldon Street residence where he had been house-sitting for a friend.
That night five males, three teens and two adults, were found hiding in a nearby house and arrested.
The man described by police as the “ringleader” in the home invasions, 19-year-old Jeremy “Cartoon” Enriquez, would later be among the jail escapees.
The incident also served as an example of criminal activity by youth.
Whitney said the greatest obstacle faced by his department in 2008 and the one they expect to face in 2009 is dealing with juvenile offenders and associated gang activity.
Stringent state criteria governing the juvenile criminal justice system hampered law enforcement’s ability to deal with youth involved in crime, he said.
“We need a larger juvenile detention center that can hold more and the (Children, Youth and Families Department) and the state need to change their requirements for detention and the Legislature coming in needs to change the law,” he said, “So that (juveniles) do not continue to terrorize the public over and over again.”
For the sheriff’s department, Waller said the focus in 2009 would be the capture of Edward Salas and the continuation of programs launched in 2008. Those include an Internet predator interdiction program that has netted almost a dozen arrests and programs for school-aged children like “Bullying Hurts.”
And as with any occurrence of growth in a community, Waller said law enforcement is preparing for an increase in traffic and calls for service in 2009 tied to expansion at Cannon Air Force Base.
Curry County 2008 homicides
• Elizabeth McAdams, 54, — Her body was discovered in the early morning hours of Dec. 20 by Clovis firefighters responding to a house fire at 1600 N. Lea St. Police said her throat had been slashed and the fire set in an attempt to disguise the crime and destroy evidence. Police have a suspect in custody but as yet, no one has been charged in the case.
• Elvin Osmin Orellanna Rivera — Nov. 25 in Texico was shot and killed during a robbery at his home, police said. No one has been charged with his slaying. His exact age is unknown.
• Gary Payne, 52, of Melrose and Melissa Ward, 36, of Lubbock — Shot to death on Sept. 25 as they traveled in a van on Clovis' west side. Anthony Ray Casillas, who worked with Payne, is awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges in that case.
Curry County homicide statistics
2008 — 4
2007 — 2
2006 — 4
2005 — 4
2004 — 11
Some other high profile 2008 criminal cases:
• Demetrio Salas and David Griego — Sentenced in January for the 2005 slaying of 10-year-old Carlos Perez. Salas, 23, was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder and Griego, 32, to 16 years for second-degree murder. The two were convicted during a 2007 trial.
• Airman Edward Novak II — Was acquitted of first-degree murder in February in connection with the 2004 death of his wife. During a military court-martial at Cannon Air Force Base, prosecutors tried to prove Novak battered and asphyxiated his then 20-year-old bride, Kimberly Novak, in a second-story bathroom of the military housing unit they shared. But a defense pathology expert testified the young woman died of a rare, undiagnosed heart condition. After four days of deliberation, a jury panel of military officers found the 25-year-old “not guilty.” At the time of the verdict, he had already been discharged from the military in connection with an unrelated case.
• Former Curry County Treasurer Rhonda Bookout — was indicted in February and later pleaded no contest to tampering with public records in connection with an investigation into more that $19,000 missing from county fair funds. No one was charged in connection with the missing money, which was never located. Sentenced to probation and fines, Bookout resigned her position as treasurer after her plea agreement.
• Larry McClendon Jr., Joshua Martinez and Anthony Wallace — Arrested in February for the January 2007 shooting death of second-hand store owner Emmett Salisbury. Police said McClendon, 21, Martinez, 24, and Wallace, 20, robbed people visiting Salisbury at his store and then attempted to rob the 36-year-old man, shooting him in the chest. The three are awaiting trial. McClendon was among eight inmates who escaped from the jail Aug. 24. He was captured Oct. 4 and remains in custody.
• Leroy “Roy” Jaramillo — Sentenced to 19 years imprisonment in February, the 44-year-old was convicted in January of child abuse resulting in death. Police said in 2004 he shook a 9-month old male baby left in his care. The child later died of head injuries.
• Edward Salas — Convicted of first-degree murder and related charges during an April trial, for his role in the 2005 shooting death of 10-year-old Carlos Perez and was later sentenced to life in prison. Witnesses testified Salas, 24, his two brothers and two other men conspired to shoot Perez's older brother and that four of them — Salas, his brother Demetrio Salas, 23, David Griego, 32, and Noe Torres, 29, met up outside the boy’s window and fired nine rounds through the glass. One round struck the fifth-grader in the head. Edward Salas escaped from the Curry County jail on Aug. 24 and remains at large. Noe Torres is also wanted in the case and has evaded law enforcement for more than three years.
• Frank Lasky IV — Arrested in April, charged with the 2006 robbery of the New Mexico Bank and Trust at Hilltop Plaza. Police said Lasky, 22, wearing sunglasses and a long, blond wig, robbed the bank of an undisclosed amount of money using a dummy explosive device he left on the counter. The robbery led to the shutdown of several surrounding businesses while Cannon Air Force Base explosives experts worked to determine the device was a hoax.
• Albert Ramirez — Was Declared competent to stand trial upon completion of a psychological evaluation in September. The 19-year-old is accused of shooting 39-year-old Eladio Robledo in July 2007 outside a Sixth Street home the victim shared with Ramirez’ mother. Trial is scheduled for January.
• Larry Hatcher — Accused of 143 counts of child molestation, is awaiting a second trial after jurors were unable to reach a verdict and a mistrial was declared in October. In 2007, a 16-year-old girl said the 48-year-old man, who was initially held on a $2 million bond that was later reduced, forced her to have sexual relations with him over a seven-year period. The new trial is scheduled for March.
• Jimmy Bentley — Died of natural causes in prison in May at the age of 74, according to the New Mexico Department of Corrections. Bentley had served about 18 months of a 16-year, second-degree murder sentence for the Christmas Eve 2006 shooting of Joseph Phillips, a 48-year-old photo salesman from Guthrie, Okla. Defense attorneys argued Bentley, a guest at the same Clovis hotel as the victim, had mental issues and shot Phillips in the face out of fear in the Econo Lodge parking lot. Prosecutors said a smiling Phillips was approaching Bentley, most likely, to wish him a merry Christmas.
• Home invasions — Five males were arrested in July in connection with half a dozen home invasions in Clovis, Portales and Curry County. Police said the masked suspects kicked or knocked in doors of inhabited residences in the middle of the night, battered and robbed the occupants of valuables and vehicles. Raynaldo “Jeremy” Enriquez, 19, Fernando Romero, 22, Alex Romero, 16, Mark Aragon, 15, and Oscar Hernandez, 16, all remain in custody awaiting trial.