Homicide jury trial continues this week

By Laurie Celine
Posted 3/16/16

Did Ivan Cales, the 51-year-old wanderer from West Virginia, kill Roxanne Houston? Or could the murderer have been someone she knew – or maybe a serial killer?

Cales’ jury trial began Monday (March 14) and is expected to last until Friday …

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Homicide jury trial continues this week


Did Ivan Cales, the 51-year-old wanderer from West Virginia, kill Roxanne Houston? Or could the murderer have been someone she knew – or maybe a serial killer?

Cales’ jury trial began Monday (March 14) and is expected to last until Friday (March 18) in the Eighth Judicial District Court before Judge Sarah Backus in Taos.

He is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Houston, whose remains were found by hikers in a shallow grave in the Two Peaks area Christmas Day 2014.

Police found him at the St. Elizabeth Shelter in Santa Fe after he had left Taos following Houston’s disappearance.

Cales is also charged with two counts of tampering with evidence for allegedly burying Houston’s body on or about June 13, 2014. He is also charged with selling a gun with the intent to prevent the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of himself or to create the false impression that another person committed the crimes. Both actions are capital crimes or first- or second-degree felonies.

Cales has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

The jury is in the process of hearing testimony from witnesses who said they saw Cales and Houston on or around June 13, 2014, the day Houston disappeared.

The jury learned early on in the trial that Houston was 33 when she died and she was an estranged mother of three who had given birth to a set of twins with the man she called “Poppa” and goes by the name “Vern.” He raised Houston as a child. When she became an adult, they began a sexual relationship. Her third child was with her husband, George Houston, from Colorado. The couple was separated, and Houston had placed a restraining order against him because of his alleged violence.

“Vern” lived with Houston and Johny Hanson, who were then in a relationship, in a half-buried school bus with a small Earthship-type living room addition in the Two Peaks area west of the Río Grande Gorge Bridge.

Hanson was the first witness called Tuesday. He said he often spent time with Cales in “The Patuaka” area, where Houston’s remains were found.

He said he left on foot for a couple of days after a squabble. When he returned, he saw Cales’ belongings strewn across the property. He said Cales told him, “Roxanne is a liar, and I voted her out of the council.”

Hanson said Cales moved one-half of a mile away to house-sit after that, but his belongings were at the property, so he’d come around a lot.

The second witness, Brandon Hethcox, who lived on the same property, told the jury he heard Hanson yelling at Houston, saying, “I will not put up with any more lies from you, woman!”

Hethcox said he did not attend Houston’s service because “it was a New Age, mystic, pagan service” that went against his Christian religion.

Michael Thebo, who testified as the third witness Tuesday, said Cales had a 30-caliber pistol that he sometimes showed others. Thebo had reportedly locked it away in a shed for safekeeping.

The state presented a calendar and a map as evidence. Thebo confirmed these were items he found in Cales’ residence, which he had turned in to police. Cales was living on Thebo’s property.

The calendar had the words, “Roxanne leaves Johny’s” on June 13, with a full moon symbol showing. There was a symbol in the corner that said, “DRE = Dream.” On the calendar’s November page, the words “DRE skeletal left arm” were written.

The defense attorney told the jury that what they saw on the map was a note about a dream Cales had.

The map showed details of the area, including the well near where Houston’s body was found and a place, the defense pointed out, Two Peaks residents use as a shooting range.

The state asked Judge Backus to allow drawings Cales created to be presented as evidence to show he believed Houston was a witch.

The state intends to call a witness who shared a jail cell with Cales and who reported to Taos County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Salazar that Cales said, “Roxanne Houston was a witch and that he is a witch hunter.” He said Cales made drawings denoting he was a witch hunter.

That report, dated Feb. 3, 2016, prompted a search warrant by the sheriff’s office. Subsequent drawings were found signed by the defendant labeled “witch hunter” or “witch kill” during the search.

The former cell mate reported that Cales “talked about burning the body of a witch and cutting her hands off,” wrote a deputy district attorney on March 10.

“[Taos County Deputy] Zach Wright, who attended the autopsy of Roxanne Houston, remarked in his preliminary hearing testimony that the thing he found odd about the autopsy, was that the victim’s hands were missing,” reads the state’s response to defendant’s motion to exclude testimony that was dismissed.

“This witch business is total nonsense,” Thomas Clark, defense attorney, told The Taos News after the second day of the jury trial. “Like a lot of people on the mesa, Ivan Cales believes in the supernatural and all these things. That doesn’t make him a murderer.”

“The state is grasping,” Clark said. “They don’t have any evidence.”

Clark argues there are many other people with motivation to commit the crime, but his client has none.

“Hanson had a truck the whole time. If you’re a police officer and you know the statistics, one-third of all women who were murdered in the U.S. were murdered by a domestic partner. They didn’t even bother to test the truck of the domestic partner,” he said.

“The police should be more concerned about a serial killer out here than Ivan Cales,” Clark said in a phone call after the trial.

Clark said the most important witness of the day was the fourth and last witness, Betty Harper, who goes by the name “Sunshine.” Harper, who was the last known woman to have seen Houston alive, lives on the same road as Hanson.

On Tuesday, she testified she talked with Houston on the side of the road for about 30 minutes at about 4:30 p.m. Friday, June 13. Harper said Houston had her backpack, and she had been hitchhiking into town to meet “Vern” to go to Colorado. Houston didn’t know when she would return.


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