Man found guilty of murdering woman he said was a witch

By Laurie Celine
Posted 3/18/16

After a weeklong jury trial, with four hours of deliberation, a jury determined Friday (March 18) Ivan Dennings Cales, the 51-year-old drifter accused of killing 33-year-old Roxanne Houston, was guilty of first-degree murder and two counts of …

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Man found guilty of murdering woman he said was a witch

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After a weeklong jury trial, with four hours of deliberation, a jury determined Friday (March 18) Ivan Dennings Cales, the 51-year-old drifter accused of killing 33-year-old Roxanne Houston, was guilty of first-degree murder and two counts of tampering with evidence.

The verdict was a victory for prosecutors who argued Cales killed Houston because he thought she was a witch who cast a spell on him. The state’s argument hinged on two witnesses who coincidentally spoke of conversations they had with Cales about witches, which proved a motive.

Sentencing will take place at a later date in the Eighth Judicial District Court before Judge Sarah Backus in Taos.

Hikers found Houston’s remains in the Two Peaks area Christmas Day 2014. She was last seen alive six months earlier on June 13.

Witness Michael Thebo testified Cales told him that if a Wiccan ever cast a spell on him he would kill the witch to get rid of the spell.

The other witness was inmate Raymond Martinez, who formerly shared a cell with Cales. He testified Cales drew pictures of a witch hunt, and told him the victim was a witch. He said Cales told him he was Native American, and that Native Americans believed if a witch cast a spell on them, they needed to kill the witch to break the spell. Artwork that looked like pencil sketches of a witch hunt — done in jail and presumably signed by Cales as “Kwenishguery Manito Lenepe Witch Hunter 2000”— were exhibited in the courtroom as evidence.

The state also presented a calendar and a map that Thebo said he found in Cales’ residence months after Houston’s disappearance. The calendar was marked, “the day Roxanne left Johny’s," on Friday, June 13, and a dream Cales had of a “skeletal left arm.” The map was a topographical map of the Two Peaks region that Cales had marked: An X at a well near the spot Houston’s remains were found, along with other markers significant to Cales, like a shelter, roads, and his friend’s residences.

The state argued Cales was guilty for the following: he lied to the police in an initial investigative interview about not having a gun, when asked if he had one, (Cales was a “person of interest” at the time and not under arrest); he admittedly scrubbed the interior of his jeep clean after the disappearance of the victim; and he left town and changed his appearance by shaving his head and growing a beard, instead of showing up at a second interview requested by Taos County Detective Robert Salazar, now a deputy.

The ballistics report, though inconclusive, showed that the bullet found in the victim’s head was from the same class of gun Cales owned, and there were individual markings on the bullet to link it to that gun.

Cales voluntarily told Salazar in the initial interview he found a bone and a burnt bra in Tres Piedras, before it was made public that the same was found in the Two Peaks area with Houston’s remains.

Cales’ defense attorney, Thomas M. Clark, argued there was no evidence his client murdered Houston. He focused on Cales’ lack of motive, and that there was no evidence, but speculation. The report determined that there were no traces of blood in the jeep, and the suspected clothing with blood on it came back negative for DNA as well, he told the jury.

Clark argued Detective Salazar made a mistake by not confirming the alibi of Houston’s domestic partner, Johny Hanson. Hanson had been jealous of Vernon McCune, who was Houston’s former lover and the man who raised her from childhood.

Hanson had told police he left Tres Piedras on a Thursday and returned on a Sunday to find Cales “had run off his girl.”

The defense attorney described the relationship as a love triangle with “one link dead, and two of the male links alive.” He suggested both men had a motive, since both were domestic partners of Houston.

Houston ran into a neighbor, Betty “Sunshine” Harper while walking on the road with her backpack on June 13 at about 4:30 p.m. The defense argued that Houston told Harper she was going back to Colorado to reunite with McCune, and said that this made Hanson jealous and created a motive, which meant there was a “reasonable doubt” that Cales was guilty.

In an interview after the trial, Harper told The Taos News that she did not state in her testimony that “Roxy was going to Colorado to be with Vern,” as the defense argued, but that she had described, “Roxy was going to Colorado to drop off Vern and come back to Colorado to be with Johny.” The recorded testimony did not replay Harper’s statement on this subject because of an objection by the defense, saying it was "hear say."

The defense suggested Taos County detectives made mistakes when they did not search Hanson’s blue truck, which was parked next to Cales’ jeep, or gather DNA evidence from the burnt bra that was found near Houston’s remains.

The defense attorney is expected to file post-trial motions.

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