Trial to begin in triple homicide case

Courtesy photo

A trial will begin Wednesday (Aug. 26) for John Powell (right), who is charged along with Roger Gage  (left) for the 2018 slayings of three people at a home near Dixon. The trial will take place in Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico.

One of two brothers accused in the execution-style slayings of three people in a home near Dixon is scheduled to stand trial this week in Rio Arriba County.

Authorities say John Powell, 36, and his brother Roger Gage, 35, fatally shot two men and a woman in the head at close range in late May 2018 in the tiny Northern New Mexico community of Cañoncito.

Each brother was charged with three counts of first-degree murder, as well as burglary, conspiracy and tampering with evidence shortly after the deaths of April Browne, 42; Abraham Martinez, 36; and Kierin Guillemin, 27.

Police said a surveillance camera at the home captured video of the shootings. The video has been kept under seal for the past two years. Parts of it likely will be played for jurors and the public during Powell's trial in a Tierra Amarilla courtroom.

Prosecutors have said the video is "of high resolution and the two males' faces are clearly visible."

Powell's attorney, Sydney West, has raised questions in court motions about what the footage will show.

The state's case "relies heavily on whether or not the jury believes that Mr. Powell is present on the video it intends to show the jury," she wrote.

Police have said they believe the killings were drug related.

Court filings say Powell was a heavy heroin user who did work around Browne's home - where the killings occurred - in exchange for heroin and a place to live. But he moved out or was kicked out prior to the slayings after Browne accused him and the mother of his three children of stealing drugs from her, documents say.

Prosecutors have said in court motions the disagreement is evidence Powell had a motive to kill.

Powell's only criminal history in New Mexico prior to the killings consists of traffic violations, court records show.

In addition to considering whether Powell is guilty of first-degree murder, jurors will have the option of finding him guilty of felony murder.

Unlike a first-degree murder charge, a count of felony murder does not require the state to prove a slaying was premeditated; prosecutors must prove, instead, the killing was carried out in the course of another felony offense - in this case, aggravated burglary.

Cañoncito is about four miles from Dixon on N.M. 580. Many area residents are expected to testify for the state at Powell's trial, according to witness lists.

State District Judge Jason Lidyard will preside over Powell's trial in the remote mountain village of Tierra Amarilla.

Public seating during the trial has been greatly reduced due to social-distancing requirements ordered by the state Supreme Court to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. People in the courtroom will have to remain at least 6 feet apart.

The layout of the courtroom has been reconfigured to comply with the rules, leaving only five seats available for the public and another nine seats in the hallway where people can view the proceedings on a television.

The state has asked that 10 members of the victim's families be given priority seating for the trial, which would leave only four seats available for other members of the public.

Jury selection in Powell's trial is scheduled Monday and Tuesday. Testimony is expected to begin Wednesday and could continue through Sept. 4.

Trial dates for the case against Gage have not been set.

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