A local tree trimmer accused of shooting and killing World Cup Café owner Patrick Larkin in Llano Quemado last summer may see some of his charges dropped in exchange for revealing evidence he may have concealed following the alleged crime.
A .45-caliber handgun that New Mexico State Police believe was used to carry out the killing but could never locate may be one of the pieces of evidence Gregg Steele will reveal in exchange for a deal that could reduce his prison time if he is convicted.
Steele, 51, has been incarcerated at the Taos County jail since September on charges connected to the death of Larkin, 63, who lived near Steele in a rural neighborhood west of Ranchos de Taos.
According to neighbors, the two men had clashed over Steele's dog crossing into Larkin's property and harassing his goats. One of the goats was found mauled to death the morning of Aug. 27, when Larkin was reported missing. His body was found the next day in the sagebrush near the road a mile west of his home. His corpse had two gunshot wounds - one to the knee and another through the chest.
State police began to consider Steele as their unofficial suspect early on in the investigation. Steele was first arrested in an unrelated resisting arrest case and faced charges in two other cases of having vehicles parked on his rented property with their engine numbers allegedly altered.
After a tense two-week investigation that set the neighborhood on edge, New Mexico State Police charged Steele with second-degree murder, two counts of tampering with evidence and one count of armed robbery.
State police later filed an affidavit with the case revealing that Steele's landlord in Llano Quemado said Steele had admitted to killing Larkin. Steele, however, argued that he had shot Larkin in self-defense. He said he fired the fatal shots when the café owner crossed into his land firing a .22 rifle at him.
According to the interview, Steele then told the landlord that he had wrapped Larkin's body in a blanket, loaded it into the bed of his truck and drove around for hours, debating whether to take Larkin to a hospital.
Instead, he said he discarded the body in the brush and hid the .22 rifle and the weapon he used to kill Larkin.
While 8th Judicial District Attorney Marcus Montoya said he could not say which pieces of evidence are involved in the discussions of a deal with Steele's defense attorney, Alan Maestas, he said they could potentially make a big difference in his office's prosecution of the case.
In exchange for new evidence, Montoya said the state has made a preliminary offer to drop two fourth-degree felony charges for altering or changing engine numbers filed in one of Steele's separate cases.
"There is an agreement we're working on but we haven't finalized it," said 8th Judicial District Attorney Marcus Montoya. "The charges haven't been dismissed yet."