The legal saga behind a horrifying murder, B-1 bombers and the restoration of San Francisco de Asís Church


As part of our weekly series, The Taos News dug into the newspaper's archives to uncover the top stories of the week from 10, 25 and 50 years ago. This week, we found a story about the long and convoluted legal saga of a horrifying murder, a story about citizen furor over B-1 bomber flyovers, and the 1967 restoration of San Francisco de Asís Church.

-- 10 years ago --

Trial delay for four charged in Alcántar murder

By Chandra JohnsonAug. 30-Sept. 5, 2007

One night in 2003, 24-year-old José Juan Alcántar lost his life. Evidence pointed to a horrifying murder.

That night, Alcántar had been involved in a bar-room brawl in Taos over drug debts with Ivan "Diablo" Romero. Then he went to a friend's house. Unfortunately for Alcántar, it was not to be a place of shelter. There, Lawrence Gallegos, Luís Trujillo, and Steve Tollardo allegedly beat Alcántar and tied him up. According to police, two of the conspirators then traveled to the house of Elias "Baby" Romero, Ivan's father, where the men decided to inject Alcántar with a full syringe of heroin that was allegedly in Romero's house. Returning to the other house, the men allegedly held Alcántar down and injected him with the syringe. Later testimony suggested it was a woman named Michelle Martínez who had performed the injection.

"At one point, Juan cried out for Steve to help him," Martínez later testified during her trial. "That's when Steve leaned in and said, 'You shouldn't have f***** with Diablo."

"They waited for him to die on the kitchen floor," The Taos News staffer Chandra Johnson reported in 2007.

But Alcántar didn't die -- at least, not immediately. Instead, the men carried Alcántar to his car in a church parking lot. They reportedly placed him in the car, dropped off Martinez, and then returned to the scene to set the car on fire.

Medical investigators said that though carbon monoxide poisoning likely contributed to Alcántar's death, large doses of heroin were the ultimate cause.

In 2007, the case finally made it to trial. The four men were each charged with first-degree murder, but on Aug. 23, Judge Eugenio Mathis delayed the trials till February 2008. Ivan "Diablo" Romero and Michelle Martinez already pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit second-degree murder and first-degree murder, respectively, but Ivan Romero got off free without parole due to time already served. In 2008, Lawrence Gallegos, Luis Trujillo and Steve Tollardo were all convicted of first-degree murder. On the other hand, Elias Romero was acquitted by a jury.

That concluded the case -- or so we thought. In 2012, The New Mexico Supreme Court overturned Tollardo's sentence. Yet even that wasn't the end -- in 2014, Tollardo pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, among other charges. Then, at last, the case appeared closed.

-- 25 years ago --

"Flyovers ID'd; People PO'd"

By Mike StaufferAugust 27, 1992

"Ah, those magnificent men in their flying machines," The Taos News journalist Mike Stauffer wrote in 1992. "Peggy Beck and fellow San Cristóbal residents say they've had just about enough of them."

In 1992, Beck and some of her neighbors had written letters to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), the Federal Aviation Administration, and every Air Force base within three neighboring states. Over the course of two years of research, she had discovered that B-1 bomber planes persistently conducted low-altitude exercises in which planes flew at 1,500 feet and used visual radar for navigation. Another flight path at the time involved B-1 bombers and KC-135 tanker planes (which could refuel fighter jets and bombers from the air). These planes often conducted refueling exercises over Taos County.

"Those Air Force jets are frightening, noisy and dangerous," Beck said. "They fly too low and too often, and we can't seem to be able to do anything to make them stop."

To make matters more unpleasant for residents, the planes' loud engines and their low altitude meant that the drone of the planes echoed off of the mountains.

In 2010, The Taos News reported that in 2000, Bingaman had raised the question of Northern New Mexico training flights to Air Force officials. But also in 2010, The Santa Fe Reporter published an article stating that the German Air Force was training B-1 bomber pilots in New Mexico, so it seems that the problem had not quite vanished in the meantime.

-- 50 years ago --

"Ranchos Mission: After prayers, lots of work, and $65,000, St. Francis of Assisi Mission now stands ready to face another century or two"

By Keith GreenAugust 31, 1967

In 1967, the San Francisco de Asís Mission Church underwent much-needed renovations at the cost of $65,000, (which is about $476,000 in 2017 dollars). By the end of August, those renovations were finally complete. While the renovations were predominantly lauded for helping save the late 18th century-era structure, there was some controversy to the methods.

"Less satisfactory to some is the 'hard plaster' finish which was opposed by those who believe that the classic raw adobe 'soft plaster' would have been preferable to preserve the fluid lines of the famous building," The Taos News editor Keith Green wrote in 1967. "Cracks which have appeared in the hard plaster since it was applied resulted in examination by the architect, who determined that they were surface cracks and would not cause deterioration."

As a result of the renovations, new roofs on the bell towers and new doors were installed. The front facade gained sharper, vertical lines. The rear of the structure, arguably the most famous aspect of the building, was retouched to make sure that "the earth embankments to retain the 'growing from the earth' feel."

"According to Fr. Manuel Alvarez, visitors' comments since work was completed have been uniformly favorable," Green wrote.