The Docket

Posted 12/5/19

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.

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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. 

Nov. 12

Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, Jany Leveille, Lucas Morton, Subhanah Wahhaj, Hujrah Wahhaj, motion to delay trial - New Mexico District Court, courtroom unknown, Chief District Judge William P. Johnson

A team of defense attorneys representing five adults charged with planning terrorist attacks from a remote compound in Taos County have filed a motion to delay a trial that had been scheduled for April 13, 2020.

In the motion, the attorneys argued that they need additional time to prepare for trial, noting the complexity and scope of the case. Since the case was filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque in September 2018, U.S. prosecutors have filed an enormous amount discovery, including 2,237 pages of discovery this October alone. The defense also noted that one of the five defendants, Jany Leveille, was hospitalized in October for a competency evaluation, which was still pending as of press time Wednesday (Dec. 4).

The Taos County Sheriff's Office, assisted by a tactical team from the New Mexico Office of Superintendent of Insurance, arrested Leveille, Siraj Ibn Wahhaj, Lucas Morton, Subhanah Wahhaj and Hujrah Wahhaj on Aug. 3, 2018, near the Colorado border. Searching the compound, the FBI found 11 children in tattered clothing, a stockpile of weapons and ammunition, a shooting range and written materials indicating the group was planning to carry out terrorist attacks against government personnel and institutions. Three days after the raid, investigators found the remains of Siraj Ibn Wahhaj's 3-year-old son, who had been reported missing by his mother in Georgia in 2017.

While the five adults were initially charged with child abuse in Taos District Court, those cases were eventually dismissed due to a state error; the defendants were charged in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque with conspiring to supply an undocumented immigrant with firearms. Earlier this year, charges related to kidnapping and the alleged terrorist plot were added to the case.

A response to the motion had not been filed in court records as of press time.

Dec. 3

Corwynn Valencia, sentencing hearing - Taos District Court, Courtroom A, Judge Emilio Chavez

Corwynn Valencia, a 24-year-old El Prado man with a history of crimes in Taos County, was sentenced to eight years with the New Mexico Department of Corrections this week after pleading guilty to stealing a tow truck from Vigil's Towing Unlimited and fleeing from law enforcement in 2017.

Chief Taos District Court Judge Emilio Chavez handed down the sentence in spite of appeals from Valencia's public defense attorney, sister and two behavioral health workers, who explained that Valencia suffers from unresolved trauma from his time as a foster child in New Mexico.

"It's unfortunate the trauma you went through as a child. No child should go through that," Judge Chavez said. "We wish for every child to have as positive upbringing as possible. But it was apparent to the court that there are divergent paths that people can take."

Public defender James Mammalis had argued that a minimum sentence of four years, imposed because Valencia has two prior felony convictions, could be served on house arrest, instead of in prison, but Judge Chavez said state statutes do not allow that as an option for mandatory sentences.

Chavez also reminded Valencia that he had already been granted leniency by the courts throughout his criminal career, which includes crimes he committed as a juvenile in both Curry and Taos counties.

"You have had substantial opportunities on probation. You have had substantial opportunities to rehabilitate in Curry County and in Taos County," the judge said. "While you were on probation there were failures to report, there were new crimes that you had pled guilty to that were committed."

Valencia was charged in the tow truck case in September 2017 while on probation for another crime. Prosecutor John Lovelace said that Valencia drove away from the towing company even while the truck's owner had climbed onto the vehicle in an effort to stop the theft. Several law enforcement agencies joined in a nine-mile pursuit to stop Valencia in the stolen vehicle. At one point, Valencia reversed the heavy vehicle into a police cruiser. Charges alleging assault upon a peace officer were eventually dropped as part of the plea agreement earlier this year, however.

While Valencia faces eight years, that sentence will be reduced by roughly one-and-a-half years because of time the defendant has already spent on house arrest. If he behaves well in prison, the New Mexico DOC could choose to cut his remaining prison sentence in half, a reduction known in the criminal justice system as "good time."

Dec. 16

Corina Trujillo, preliminary examination - Taos Magistrate Court, Courtroom A, Judge Ernest Ortega

A Santa Fe woman charged in two strong-arm robberies in Taos late last month will appear for a preliminary examination on Dec. 16 in Taos Magistrate Court.

Corina Trujillo, 40, was charged Nov. 27 with stealing a woman's purse in Smith's grocery store. Police also found Trujillo in possession of stolen credit cards, leading them to believe she was involved in another strong-arm robbery a day earlier on Camino de la Placita.

At this month's hearing, the state will present evidence to uphold charges of robbery, tampering with evidence and receiving stolen property that were filed against Trujillo last month.

Dec. 23

John Powell, motion hearing - Tierra Amarilla District Court, courtroom unknown, Judge Jason Lidyard

State attorneys prosecuting a triple-homicide case filed against two Taos County brothers accused of killing three people at a home in Cañoncito in 2018 filed a motion last month to admit new evidence.

The evidence, prosecutors say, includes video from a surveillance system installed around the home and text messages that indicate motive for one of the brothers to carry out the grisly murders.

New Mexico State Police say the same surveillance system caught brothers John Powell and Roger Gage shooting and killing April Browne, 42; Abraham Martínez, 36; and Kierin Guillemin, 27 in a bedroom at the home east of Dixon on May 29, 2018. Following the killings, the brothers can be seen going to a drawer in the home and stealing what appears to be drugs and cash Browne had kept hidden.

Prosecutors say that video footage captured in the days prior to the killings indicates that Powell had at one point been a guest at the home. They say Powell can be seen wearing hiking boots and camouflage pants with a handgun tucked in his rear waistband. In some clips, he can be seen doing yard work, which they believe he performed in exchange for heroin. In others, he can be seen arriving in a white truck with his girlfriend, Sonya Chavez, and loading bags from the house into the vehicle.

Following his arrest, the state has said that Powell indicated during jail phone calls that he was a "heavy heroin user" prior to his incarceration.

In a text message conversation on May 26, prosecutors say that Browne at one point accused Powell and Chavez of stealing drugs from her home. Browne continued to accuse the couple of theft after they moved out of the home. Several witnesses, the state says, said that Powell later returned to the house, where he became involved in an altercation with Martínez, who was allegedly armed with a firearm during the exchange."

The fact that the defendant was a heavy heroin user at the time of the murders is evidence of a motive to commit the robbery and murders," the motion reads. "The defendant had previously been kicked out of April Browne's house and therefore lost his free drug connection. At the time of the murders the defendant needed drugs bad enough that he was willing to execute with a handgun three people."

State prosecutors argued that the new evidence would not violate state statutes barring "character evidence or sensational evidence that is prejudicial against a defendant."

A hearing for the motion has been set for Dec. 23. A trial for the brothers has been tentatively scheduled to begin Jan. 22.

- Compiled by John Miller

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