The Docket

Posted 6/14/19

The following is a selected overview of recent case activity in or related to the Taos County court system. All dates and times are subject to change.

Trials

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The Docket

Posted

The following is a selected overview of recent case activity in or related to the Taos County court system. All dates and times are subject to change.

Trials

No trials were scheduled for the selected cases as of press time Wednesday (June 12).

Other events

May 13

Cristian Orozco, plea agreement – Taos District Court, Courtroom B, Judge Jeff McElroy

Cristian Orozco, an Española man charged in five felony cases in Taos County, was sentenced in May to seven and a half years in prison after pleading guilty to eight counts in a global plea agreement.

Among the cases resolved by the agreement was a 2017 kidnapping and aggravated battery case that went to trial in 2018. The case failed to reach a jury after former Judge Sarah Backus declared a mistrial in district court, ruling that the state failed to share records from the kidnapping victim’s cellphone before trial.

While that case was pending in district court, Orozco picked up four other violent felony cases – for destroying jail property, beating up another detainee, assaulting jail officers and threatening to kill their families.

In the plea agreement, Orozco pleaded guilty to aggravated burglary; aggravated battery; two counts of aggravated assault; assault by a prisoner; resisting an officer; assault on a peace officer and criminal damage to property.

For more on this case, refer to past coverage online at bit.ly/2P5pUVH.

May 20

Jeremy Cozart, plea agreement – Taos District Court, Courtroom A, Judge Emilio Chavez

A Taos man who pleaded guilty to burglarizing the Taos Municipal Landfill Office in 2018 was sentenced to three years of probation on May 20 and will be required to pay restitution to the town of Taos.

Taos County Sheriff’s Deputies arrested Jeremy Cozart, a former Taos Solid Waste employee, in February 2018 after workers at the landfill identified him on surveillance footage that captured the burglary.

Taos Police had investigated the landfill case, along with three other break-ins reported at other businesses around the town of Taos during the same period. While Cozart was suspected in all of them, he was never charged for the other three burglaries.

For the landfill case, Cozart pleaded guilty to nonresidential burglary and larceny, both fourth-degree felonies.

The amount of restitution he will be required to pay to the town has yet to be determined by the Taos Adult Probation and Parole Office.

For more on this case, refer to past coverage online at bit.ly/2Izx8Lk.

May 30

Carla Casias and Isaac Martinez, order denying state’s motion to admit evidence – Taos District Court, Courtroom A, Judge Glenn T. Ellington

The 8th Judicial District Attorney’s Office will not be able to utilize critical evidence in an armed robbery case at Kit Carson Electric that was dropped in 2014 but reopened by the New Mexico Supreme Court in 2018.

The case was originally dropped after the Supreme Court determined that prosecutors had unlawfully issued subpoenas to obtain cellphone records from the two defendants in the case: Carla Casias, who worked as a billing clerk at KCEC at the time of the robbery, and Isaac Martinez, who was dating Casias’ daughter at the time.

The cellphone evidence allegedly showed that both Casias and Martinez had conspired to commit the armed robbery. A grand jury indicted Casias and Martinez largely on the basis of the cellphone records, but the Supreme Court later determined that the subpoenas had been issued without the prior approval of a judge or grand jury.

In 2016, Casias and Martinez filed a lawsuit against Taos Police Detective John Wentz and Emilio Chavez, who had worked with Wentz on the case as a prosecutor before he was elected to the position of district court judge. Chavez filed a motion to dismiss the complaint in 2018, but was denied.

In November, the DA’s office filed a motion to readmit the evidence on the basis of the “inevitable discovery doctrine,” arguing that the evidence would have eventually been obtained through other means, such as through search warrants.

After prosecutors made their case in court, however, Judge Glenn T. Ellington found that suppressing the evidence remained “the appropriate remedy for the prosecutorial misconduct that occurred in this case.”

For more on this case, refer to past coverage online at bit.ly/2RblMRE.

June 11

Damian Herrera, status hearing cancellation – Taos District Court, Courtroom B, Judge Jeff McElroy

The case of an Ojo Caliente man charged with shooting and killing a Tres Piedras man in 2017 continues to hit snags in Taos District Court.

Damian Herrera was set to appear for a status hearing before Judge Jeff McElroy on Tuesday (June 11), but the hearing was called off a day earlier because of a pending mental health evaluation Herrera has yet to complete.

A jury trial in the case had been scheduled for May, but was also cancelled due to difficulties with the mental health evaluation. The court ordered the evaluation on April 30 after finding that “the defendant may not be competent to stand trial,” the order reads.

A finding of “incompetence” determines that a defendant has no ability to understand the charges filed against him or the court’s proceedings in processing those charges. Such findings are rare, but even if a defendant is found to be incompetent, that doesn’t mean he will not be prosecuted. If Herrera is found incompetent, there will likely be further delays as he undergoes additional training and treatment to help him understand what is happening in court.

On May 15, Judge McElroy filed an order requiring the New Mexico Department of Corrections to release all behavioral health records that have been compiled for Herrera since he has been in custody.

Herrera’s defense attorney, Todd Farkas, filed another motion, on April 30, asking the court to prohibit the use of the words, “murder, homicide, crime or offense,” when making reference to the alleged killing of the Tres Piedras man, Michael Alan Kyte. In the motion, Farkas argued that using such language might influence a jury on the case.

Herrera is charged in a separate first-degree murder case for allegedly killing three of his family members in La Madera and an off-duty security guard in Abiquiú on the same day the Tres Piedras man was killed.

The high-profile nature of the killings influenced the second case filed against Herrera as well. After it was originally filed in Río Arriba County, the case was moved to Santa Fe County in November. The court decided that a jury selected in Río Arriba might have too much prior knowledge of the case and evidence that has come out in the media prior to a trial, which was set for a July 8 start, but has also been canceled.

For more on this case, refer to past coverage online at bit.ly/2uV3Tw6.

June 12

Carl Gage, arraignment – Ratón District Court, Courtroom not listed, Judge Melissa Kennelly

An Alaska man charged in a string of burglaries in Taos County and one burglary in Colfax County will appear for an arraignment this month in Ratón.

Carl Gage was charged with four fourth-degree felonies, one misdemeanor and one petty misdemeanor for allegedly breaking into Enchanted Circle Brewing in Angel Fire in September 2018.

Gage faces two pending burglary cases that were filed in Taos District Court in 2018 and a fugitive from justice case out of Alaska, where he is from.

For more on this case, refer to our past coverage online at bit.ly/2KLPPhq.

– Compiled by John Miller

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