State hospital reports 'progress' with Northern New Mexico man accused in 2017 killing spree

By John Miller
jmiller@taosnews.com
Posted 8/22/19

Doctors at the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas who have been treating an Ojo Caliente man charged with killing three of his family members and two strangers on June 15, 2017 say …

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State hospital reports 'progress' with Northern New Mexico man accused in 2017 killing spree

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Doctors at the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas who have been treating an Ojo Caliente man charged with killing three of his family members and two strangers in 2017 say they are "making progress" with the defendant, but will require additional time to ensure he is healthy enough to stand trial.

At a status conference on Thursday (Aug. 22) in Taos District Court, attorneys who have been working on a case filed for the killing of Michael Kyte of Tres Piedras reviewed a status report indicating that Damian Herrera, 23, may eventually achieve a level of awareness of his legal situation in order to stand for a criminal trial.

The hospital's status report recommends Herrera receive further treatment, which may include prescribing him psychiatric medication.

Herrera was admitted into the state's care earlier this year after doctors determined him to be "incompetent," a legal finding that a defendant is incapable of understanding charges filed against him, court proceedings related to his case or to rationally assist in his own defense.

The same finding has also been reached in a separate case filed in Santa Fe County for the murders of Herrera's mother, stepfather, brother and a man Herrera was accused of killing at a gas station in Abiquiu on June 15, 2017, the same day he allegedly murdered Kyte.

Following the killings, Herrera's sisters said that Herrera had suffered from an undiagnosed mental disorder.

If at any point doctors determine that Herrera is not responding to treatment, an evidentiary hearing will be held instead of a standard criminal trial. Such a hearing requires the state to argue by "clear and convincing evidence" before a judge that Herrera committed the crimes. That is a lower standard than a criminal trial, where a jury must find a defendant guilty "beyond a reasonable doubt."

While doctors working with Herrera can notify the court at any time that he is prepared to stand trial, state statutes do not require an update for another nine months.

"The state will be monitoring progress at the state hospital and the court will await further reports from the hospital," said Eighth Judicial District Court Judge Jeff McElroy, who is scheduled to retire at the end of October.

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