Catalogue of Tears, Part 1
April 15, 2008
By Staff Reports
1990 - 1999
Horse Fly updates Catalgoue of Tears and Catalogue of Tears, Part II from time to time to remind us of the pain and suffering of those who lost loved ones to the Grim Reaper Gang. The Horse Fly Staff has begun researching cases involving homicide and suicide in Taos County during the last twelve years. Initially, researcher, Ed Adams, thanks to a grant from The Horse Fly Institute, searched library records that included past issues of The Taos News. He also researched court records and Albuquerque Journal North records. Horse Fly acknowledges that the record below is necessarily incomplete and invites readers to submit more information about each case to email@example.com or horsefly@newmex..com.
Vehicle Deaths (Homicide): 4
June 21, 1990
Jarrett Lee, age 9, of Angel Fire was killed when the vehicle on which he was riding, driven by an intoxicated Robert Lewis, 49, of Angel Fire, lost control and flipped over, crushing Lee. They were on a camping trip heading south on State Road 434 near Black Lake with Lewis’s son Kayl, age 8. Both boys were riding on the flatbed trailer of the vehicle.
July 19, 1990
Double Vehicular Homicide
Viviano J. Herrera, 38, of Tooele, Utah and Terese Annette Trujillo, 28, of Taos were killed while riding together on a motorcycle northbound on State Road 68 at 80-85 mph when an intoxicated Telesfor S. Lucero, 55, pulled out in front of the pair from State Road 518. Open containers of alcohol were found in Lucero’s car. The motorcycle was a stolen vehicle. Since then, Lucero has been convicted of DWI in 1997 in Mora and convicted of DWI in 2001 in Las Vegas, New Mexico.
July 21, 1990
The body of John D. Gomez, 26, of Taos Pueblo, was found about 600 feet from the south entrance to Taos Pueblo at 12:22 a.m., the victim of a hit and run. Gomez was last seen at Allsup’s around midnight. There were no witnesses. Various rewards were offered by the family and F.B.I. for information. The B.I.A. reopened the case in May 1994, but it has yet to be solved.
Lloyd Hirsten, 48, of Excelsior, Minnesota disappeared into the wilderness around Tres Piedras and left his car containing weapons parked on the side of the road. Police suspected suicide after speaking with family members–he had mailed his personal valuables to them. His body was never found.
Patrick Chase, 43, of Taos, described as a loner who made smudge sticks for a living, disappeared leaving his vehicle at the rim of the Rio Grande Gorge. His body was not found.
The body of Siegfried Dirnberger, 40, of Eagle Nest, was found at the Santa Domingo Pueblo and his car was found at the Rio Grande Gorge. Suicide was initially suspected, but a Crimestoppers tip led to the arrest of Jaime Romero on July 7, 1991 for homicide. Robbery was suspected as a motive because Dirnberger, according to his family in Louisiana, had recently left there after a visit carrying fifteen thousand dollars.
October 19, 1990
Richard C. Allen, no age given, of Taos died of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. Allen, a silversmith and a senior member of Taos Search & Rescue, had been suffering from a lengthy illness.
November 15, 1990
The body of Mike Finley, 45, was found in the sagebrush west of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. The report states that Finley committed suicide, but does not say how. He was employed as a telephone technician in Taos.
Vehicle Deaths (Homicide): 4
January 27, 1991
The victims: Mary Ellen Sandoval, 19, Macario Gonzales, 19, Justin Gonzales, 6, Cheryl Rendon, 25, Ignacita Vasquez Sandoval, 36, State Police Officer Glen Huber and Rio Arriba County Deputy Jerry Martinez were killed by Ricky Abeyta, 29 following a domestic dispute involving Ignacita Sandoval who wanted to end her relationship with Abeyta. The victims, except for the two police officers, were related to Sandoval. On November 25, 1991, Abeyta was convicted on four counts of first degree murder, two counts of second degree murder, and one count of voluntary manslaughter. A Google search finds Abeyta serving four consecutive life sentences plus 26 years in an Amarillo, Texas Department of Corrections Facility where he was moved after threats to his life occurred in a New Mexico prison.
March 5, 1991
Natalie Friedman, 56, shot herself in the head at the Koshari Inn where she had been staying for two months. Police did not know where she lived before her stay at the Inn. Friedman left two suicide notes–one in her room and one in her car.
July 4, 1991
Renee Romero, 20, was killed while she was a passenger in a vehicle driven by Jason Rael, 18, who lost control of the vehicle and crashed at about 1:45 a.m. Alcohol was suspected to be a factor in the crash.
July 15, 1991
Paul Vigil, 17, of Ranchos de Taos was shot and killed with a single bullet to the heart from a 9mm pistol by Carl R. Parish, 31, of Hanover, Indiana. The incident occurred in a parking lot across the street from a bar in Arroyo Seco around 11:30 p.m. On July 30, 1991, Parish pleaded not guilty, claiming he acted in self-defense. He was convicted by a Taos jury on January 17, 1992, of voluntary manslaughter and for carrying a concealed weapon. On July 11, 1994, the New Mexico State Supreme Court overturned the conviction saying that instructions to jury did not place the burden on the State to prove Parish did not act in self-defense, but upheld the conviction on the concealed weapon charge. During a plea bargain on January 23, 1995, Parish pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter and did not serve any more time. Parish spent roughly 3 _ years in prison.
August 1, 1991
Karen Burns, 44, of Reinholds, Pennsylvania, was found dead of a gunshot wound to the chest in the Capulin Campground in Taos Canyon. A suicide note was left in scene.
October 18, 1991
Freddie Mondragon, 18, of Taos, died on Paseo del Pueblo Sur. Ronnie Elmer Pacheco, 28, was charged with vehicular homicide in the incident. He refused a blood/alcohol test on the scene.
October 18, 1991
Double Vehicular Homicide
Miguel Pena and Jesus Manuel Olivas Beltran, Mexican Nationals living in Santa Fe, were killed during a hit and run incident in Ranchos de Taos. Pena and Beltran were walking across State Road 68 after leaving the El Padrino Bar when they were struck by a vehicle around 12:45 a.m. There were no witnesses and the case was never solved.
December 3, 1991
Kathleen Shelton, 39, of Carson was shot and killed by her son, Allen Shelton, 13, who later turned the shotgun on himself. Their bodies were discovered outdoors and far apart in the Carson area. Kathleen Shelton was six months pregnant at the time of her murder–the fetus did not survive.
December 16, 1991
Dennis Magnusen, 54, of Astoria, Oregon jumped to his death from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.
December 26, 1991
Ezequil Chavira, 31, of Chihuahua, Mexico, was found dead by two boys walking through a field near the Holiday Inn. Chavira, who had apparently been dead for several days, was stabbed multiple times. She had been living on Cruz Alta for about two years. On March 30, 1992, Robert Miera, 19, of Taos, was arrested in Las Cruces and charged with first degree murder. Police investigator Manny Trujillo was lauded for locating an eyewitness that led to Miera’s arrest.
Vehicle Deaths (Homicide): 4
Other (Overdose and Accident):3
April 24, 1992
The body of Jamie Vargas-Flores, 20, of Taos, was found dumped on a porch in town. Vargas-Flores had just returned from a trip to Los Angeles. A drug overdose involving cocaine and heroin was strongly suspected, but foul play has not been ruled out.
May 23, 1992
Michelle Montoya, 16, was killed after being thrown from a vehicle during a crash in a truck driven by high school sports star, Gene Zamora, 18. Alcohol was a factor in the crash. Zamora pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and was sentenced to three years in prison while remaining eligible to apply for a reintegration program after six months.
May 30, 1992
Albert Martinez, 62, of Rodarte was killed when Andrew Cassados, 29, of Rio Lucio broke into his father-in-law Martinez’s home around 1:00 a.m. and started pouring gasoline in the front room. Martinez interrupted, and Cassados poured gasoline on Martinez, accidentally getting some on himself. Cassados ignited the gas with a lighter, setting them both and the house on fire. Cassados died from his burns a few days later. In June 1994, the families sued the State Police over the incident because Cassados had previously been jailed for domestic violence. His wife that night had called police more than once saying Cassados would kill everyone, but the police never responded.
June 9, 1992
Wilbert Esquibel, 24, was killed in a vehicle crash in a truck driven by Manuel Lopez, 21, of Los Lunas. Lopez, traveling at a high rate of speed while intoxicated, ran off the road in Chamisal, killing his passenger, Esquibel. On October 20, 1993, Lopez pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and was sentenced to three years in prison with one year suspended and two years probation.
July 12, 1992
Eileen Terry Hafner, 53, of Taos, owner of Coyote Pottery in Ranchos de Taos, was bludgeoned to death in her home at 114 Los Pandos. Antonio J. Archuleta, 51, who had a workshop on the premesis where Hafner was killed, was indicted on one count of second degree murder, but found not guilty by a Taos jury. Various family-related lawsuits followed in connection with Hafner’s will from which Archuleta stood to benefit.
August 10, 1992
Ollie Escarcida, 66, of Taos, was stabbed to death by Bobbi Montoya, 28, of Taos, at about 10:30 p.m. while camping at Black Lake after gathering firewood all day. Montoya claimed self-defense, saying Escarcida attacked her. Manslaughter charges against Montoya were dropped on September 29, 1992.
August 27, 1992
The body of Katherine Seed Kimbril, 50, of Taos, was found in the Rio Grande Gorge. She left a four-page letter in her 1967 Ford Fairlane addressed to her mother concerning the disposition of her possessions along with various other documents connected with witchcraft and UFOs, including a statement saying she was a "UFO breeder."
August 31, 1992
Matt Aurand, 20, of Dixon, disappeared and his truck was discovered at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. On September 9, 1992, kayakers found a body which authorities speculated was Aurand’s. No further information reported.
September 22, 1992
A Chamisal man was shot in the upper chest and killed at the Truchas overlook on State Road 76, his brother was seriously injured.
September 25, 1992
Double Vehicular Homicide
Chris Romero, 19, of Taos, and Amos Concha, 19, of Taos Pueblo were killed while passengers in a stolen vehicle driven by Corey Richardson, 25. Richardson was driving the vehicle at a high rate of speed on State Road 230 at about 2:20 a.m. when he lost control and skidded into another vehicle. Alcohol was a factor in the crash. Richardson pleaded guilty on two counts of vehicular homicide and was sentenced to six years with two years in Delancey Street. Richardson also had a 1990 DWI conviction out of Metropolitan Court. Since then, he’s been convicted of a DUI in 2004 in Springer. Caught numerous times for driving with a suspended license.
November 5, 1992
Kathy Henderson, of Taos, was found dead in her Las Colonias home of a likely accidental overdose of cocaine and prescription drugs. Henderson’s 17-month-old son had been alone in the house with his mother’s dead body for about three days, but was okay. Henderson had been depressed about the September 25th vehicular homicide incident because Richardson had been driving Henderson’s stolen car at the time.
December 10, 1992
Glen Hammond Jr., 42, distraught over an impending relationship break-up, shot himself in the head in Taos Canyon where he managed a convenience store at Sierra Village campground.
Vehicle Deaths (Homicide): 1
Other (Overdose): 1
January 28, 1993
Eleuterio Fernando Coca, 35, of Ranchos de Taos, was shot and killed by his cousin, Bonny Williams, 61, at her Mora County home. (No follow up).
March 10, 1993
Joe Ralph Cordova, 40, of Chamisal, was found dead near a garbage dumpster at the intersection of Tafoya Road and Camino de Caballo. Cordova had been on a "binge" and his death was attributed to an accidental overdose of drugs and alcohol. His body had been moved to the site where it was found. Johnny Sanchez of Utah faced charges of "disposing of an unclaimed human body" but no charges relating to Cordova’s death. The family was upset, but it appeared obvious that Cordova had accidentally killed himself with intoxicants. No follow up on Sanchez.
June 20, 1993
Leonard T. Anaya, 27, of Taos was stabbed to death by his wife, Tracee Anaya, 30, at around 9 a.m. on Sunday morning during a domestic dispute at their home on Calle de Oro. Tracee Anaya said she killed her husband in self-defense and was found not guilty of voluntary manslaughter by a Taos jury on November 15, 1993.
July 13, 1993
John Sparks, 40, one of three men "sitting around a campfire drinking," was shot and killed by Michael McGrath, 42, in the wee hours of the night about a mile southeast of the Stakeout Restaurant. The group had been drinking and target shooting all day and then argued during the night over who was "the best shot." McGrath, a felon on parole, pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter on August 29, 1994 and received a 7 _ year sentence.
July 18, 1993
James Carroll Conklin, 44, a mineral and gem dealer, disappeared around July 7, 1993. His body was found ten days later in the Rip Grande River in Velarde. A 1983 Mercedes that Conklin borrowed from a friend was found burned out at the Rio Arriba/Taos County Line. Conklin probably died from blunt trauma to the head and robbery was considered to be the motive. Police were seeking Roy Alderson, 40, and Mark Mitchell, age unknown, for questioning in connection with the murder. Alderson was located and questioned in April 1995. He agreed to take a polygraph test, then skipped town. No charges were ever filed and the case remains an unsolved murder.
August 6, 1993
Chris Romero, 30, of Taos was shot and killed at the home of Teena Trujillo, 20, on Upper Ranchitos Road. The case went from the D.A. Sammy Pacheco to the Attorney General and all around the block. At one point, Teens’s mother Frances, was tried for the murder, claiming she shot Romero in self-defense, and the jury deadlocked. Not until five years after the murder in 1998, was Teena Trujillo tried in Santa Fe and found guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the death of Chris Romero. She received three years probation.
December 22, 1993
Arnie Cisneros, of Questa, was run down and killed on State Road 522 in Questa by a hit and run driver. In November 1998, Cisneros’s parents filed a civil rights complaint with the F.B.I. to reopen the case after claiming it had been mishandled by local authorities. Cisneros was a known troublemaker and the family believes this fact prejudiced the investigation. The F.B.I. declined to get involved.
Vehicle Deaths (Homicide): 1
January 2, 1994
Richard "Boy" Lucero, 40, was found dead in Couse Pasture. Foul play had not been ruled out, but he died from hypothermia as a result of extremely high alcohol consumption as determined by the New Mexico State Medical Examiner.
April 22, 1994
Robert Valdez, 41, of Dixon, committed suicide by shooting himself in the head while sitting in his parked car in Vadito. Empty liquor bottles were found inside the vehicle.
June 11, 1994
A 21-year-old man shot and killed himself around 7:00 p.m. He had been experiencing severe medical problems. His name was not released.
September 29, 1994
Gloria Aguilar, 23, of Taos was walking with friends down State Road 75 near Penasco when she was struck and killed by a vehicle driven by Tammy Allen, 33, of Moriarty. Allen pleaded not guilty to vehicular manslaughter, drunk driving, and leaving the scene. Aguilar was pregnant and the episode caused a stillbirth–another third degree felony. Allen faced the possibility of eight years in prison. She pleaded guilty in an agreement to involuntary manslaughter and failure to stop, both fourth degree felonies, while the other charges were dropped. Allen received 18 months probation.
October 4, 1994
Karon "Roni" Braunlich, 31, of Taos, was found dead under a juniper tree on the Weimer hillside. She is believed to have been killed on the 4th or 5th of October. She had been raped and then beaten to death with a rock. Daniel R. Vigil, 18, of Llano Quemado pleaded no contest to second degree murder, rape, and tampering with evidence. He received fifteen years for the murder, eighteen years for the rape, and eighteen months for tampering. The sentences run concurrently so he really gets eighteen years, though he can be released in nine. Jose Mondragon was also charged initially, but the charges were dropped.
Vehicle Deaths (Homicide): 3
Missing Person: 1
January 17, 1995
Duran DeLaRee, of Monte Vista, Colarado was shot point blank in the head in Tres Piedras on the side of U.S. 285. Fred Elinski, 20, of Del Norte, Colorado, admitted shooting the victim in self-defense. Drugs were involved. On July 25, 1995, Elinski was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to ten years with the possibility of parole in four years. In October 1997, the conviction was overturned because evidence was admitted into court that should not have been admitted. On June 2, 1998, Elinski pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence. He was sentenced to 7 _ years–all of which was suspended excluding time already served.
June 23, 1995
Barbara Holik, 33, from Germany, living and working in Taos, was last seen having a drink with friends at a restaurant near the plaza. Foul play is suspected. She lived on Rosarita and often walk the half-mile into town. Her car in her driveway contained her handbag and identification. In April 2003, a blouse was found in Ojo Caliente that may provide a clue to the case. The case remains unsolved.
July 2, 1995
Crystal Sanchez, 18, of Ranchos de Taos was killed when the pickup truck driven by her father, John R. Sanchez, 48, plunged from a forest service road about _ mile west of State Road 518 in Talpa. Sanchez was charged with vehicular homicide while driving under the influence. He was sentenced to three years all of which were suspended.
August 8, 1995
Judith Cisneros, 45, of Questa, was killed when her son, Robert Blanco, 22, struck her vehicle from behind on State Road 522 in Questa around 7:00 p.m. Blanco was charged with vehicular homicide while driving under the influence and pleaded guilty to homicide with a motor vehicle, a third degree felony. He received five years probation.
August 8, 1995
Joe Cisneros, 26 of Questa was killed on State Road 38 around midnight. Andy Ortiz, 28, of Questa, the driver of the vehicle in which Cisneros was riding, hit a guardrail ejecting and killing Cisneros who was hanging out of the window of the car. Tom Trujillo, and investigator with the D.A.’s office, believes the pair were involved in criminal activity at the time. Alcohol was involved in the crash. On December 19, 1995, Ortiz pleaded not guilty. On March 11, 1997, the case was dismissed without being tried after a series of delays. Ortiz was indicted all over again on April 1, 1997, and on January 23, 1998, he pleaded guilty to tampering and leaving the scene, both fourth degree felonies, and to misdemeanor counts of reckless driving and driving under the influence. The court sentenced him to three years and suspended all three years, then places Ortiz on three years of probation with additional orders to perform 80 hours of community service, attend DWI school, and deposit a sample of his DNA.
September 10, 1995
Tony Serna, 42, of Canon, was stabbed to death with an eight-inch kitchen knife at about 6:40 p.m. in the parking lot behind Bent Street by Manuel Archuleta, 40, of Taos. Serna was standing with Archuleta’s wife, Ruth, at the time of the attack. The Archuleta’s had been married for twenty-one years and were in the process of a divorce. Serna apparently was not involved romantically with Ruth Archuleta and she believes he had only meant to kill her. Archuleta was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter in August 1996 and sentenced to 14 years, though the prosecution sought 22 years. Now ex-wife Ruth said she is shocked by the sentencing, saying the sentence was like "giving permission to murder."
September 22, 1995
Rueben Orlando Rubio, 34, of Alabama left his 1994 pickup truck in the Pueblo Canyon with a note and committed suicide on a remote 11,000-foot mountaintop using a gun.
December 8, 1995
Linda Vigil, 44, of Taos, was shot and killed by her husband, Walter Vigil, 46, on the front lawn of their Lower Ranchitos home, and then Vigil killed himself. They had been married for twenty-four years and had four children, but a divorce was pending.
Vehicle Deaths (Homicide): 2
March 28, 1996
Elmer D. Parham, 75, of Fairview, jumped to his death from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge at about 12:30 p.m.
August 15, 1996
Alicia Lauritzen, 51, a psychotherapist with two children jumped to her death from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge.
August 23, 1996
Paul Martinez, 41, shot himself in the head.
September 7, 1996
Gary Rael-Walker, 68, of Tijeras, was killed on State Road 68, south of Taos, by Alan D. Johnson, 29, of Texas who was driving drunk. Johnson pleaded no contest. The Victim’s widow requests that Johnson be made, while on probation, to build and maintain a memorial to her husband, and also requests that Johnson be made to wear a sign stating the nature of his offense while standing outside of Taos High School. On January 19, 1999, in a plea agreement accepted by the court, Johnson pleaded guilty to homicide by motor vehicle and to driving under the influence and received three years probation.
October 6, 1996
Reuben Trujillo, 76, was killed while a passenger in a vehicle driven by Tom E. Archuleta Jr., 42. Archuleta drove off the road in El Prado and struck a tree, killing Trujillo. Archuleta, who had three previous DWIs, pleaded guilty in January 1998 and was sentenced to seven years. He apologized to Trujillo’s family saying that drinking had cost him his friend, his home, and his wife.
October 10, 1996
Matthew Mark Cisneros, age 6 months, of Questa, died from "shaken baby syndrome." His father, Marcos Mascarenas, 21, was charged in the death, found guilty on May 15, 1997, and sentenced to twelve years. However, on September 7, 2000, the New Mexico Supreme Court overturned the conviction, citing the need to emphasize the distinction between civil negligence and criminal negligence.
November 22, 1996
Newlyweds Charlie Sutherland, 21, and Kamala Sutherland, 21 jumped to their deaths from the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. The bride suffered from a bi-polar disorder.
Vehicle Deaths (Homicide): 4
March 26, 1997
Michelle Valdez, 21, of El Rito, was killed while a passenger in a vehicle driven by Dwayne Garcia, 18, of Ojo Caliente. The crash occurred on U.S. 84 near El Rito around 7:00 p.m. when Garcia, under the influence, crossed the centerline and crashed head-on with another vehicle. In September 1997 he pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide.
May 3, 1997
Retired priest Father Armando Martinez, 47, of Questa, was beaten to death by Dennis P. Carabajal, of Cuba, New Mexico, a hitchhiker Martinez picked up near Jemez Springs. The murder occurred on State Road 4 in the Valle Grande area in Sandoval County. Martinez’s body was found in a ditch on the side of the road. In March 1998, Carabajal was found guilty of murder in the second degree. Records indicate Carabajal has been deceased since 2003.
August 4, 1997
Leslie Gonzales, 32, of Taos shot herself in the head at her Maestas Road home following a domestic dispute with her husband.
September 3, 1997
Kenny Reynolds, 36, of Espanola, shot himself in the chest on Taos Pueblo land.
September 16, 1997
Triple Vehicular Homicide
Alfonso Martinez, of Tres Piedras, was killed when his vehicle was struck head on by a vehicle driven by Juan Fernandez Peras, of Mexico. Peras was driving a vehicle containing eleven undocumented Mexican nationals about three miles west of the Gorge Bridge on State Road 64 when he left his lane and crashed into Martinez’s vehicle, killing Martinez and two of the occupants in Peras’s vehicle. In a plea agreement, Peras was sentenced to three years for three counts of vehicular homicide raising protests and prompting the filing of civil suits by the family.
October 13, 1997
Steven Zotigh, 18, of Taos Pueblo, was stabbed to death around April’s Photo on Paseo del Pueblo Norte while taking a walk to the store with his thirteen-year-old cousin. Viento Herrera, 20, Fredrick Gaitan, Jr., 21, of Ranchos de Taos, and Richard Padilla, 16, of Denver were charged in the murder. The motive appeared to be money and a hatred toward Native Americans. On October 2, 1998, Padilla pleaded guilty to second degree murder as part of a plea bargain agreement. Padilla was sentenced as an adult to 16 _ years, 6 years of which was suspended so that he may seek treatment for drug and alcohol problems. His attorney, Joe Shattuck, described him as "an intelligent young man with a lot of potential." Thanks to New Mexico’s Good Time Laws, he was released on parole in 2005. On October 26, 1998, Herrera plea-bargains rather than go to trial for first degree murder, and he was released on parole in 2003. On February 26, 1999, he gets 15 years with 5 years suspended and, with Good Time credit and credit for time served, could be out in 3 _ years. On November 13, 1998, Gaitlin was found guilty by a jury of second degree murder. On April 12, 1999, he is sentenced to eighteen years, but will serve a maximum of 15.
November 6, 1997
Joseph Mermejo, 23, of Picuris Pueblo, was strangled to death and his body found under a bridge in Espanola. His twin brother, also a police officer for the Pueblo, was the last person to see him when he dropped him off on the road following an argument. The case has not yet been solved.
Vehicle Deaths (Homicide): 1
January 6, 1998
Paige Ladd, 23, of Dulce, was killed while riding on a motorcycle driven by David Lurbati, 24, of Taos. Ladd and Lurbati were riding on his motorcycle in Austin, Texas, when he crashed into a car killing Ladd. Lurbati was under the influence and faces charges in Texas.
January 27, 1998
Samuel Mascarenas, 25, of Taos, was shot in the head at a party at Cohn’s Trailer Park in Los Cordovas by an inebriated Annette Gallegos, 31 at around 1:00 a.m. On August 12, 1998, Gallegos was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter but the verdict was overturned because instructions were not given to the jury regarding self-defense and the defense of others. On December 12, 2001, D.A. Gallegos announces a retrial set for February 12, 2002. Gallegos was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter on February 14, 2002. On September 16, 2002, Gallegos was sentenced to 18 months with 6 months suspended followed by a year of parole.
November 11, 1998
Newborn Baby found dead in a trash bag in the garbage at the home of Lori Vigil, 21. OMI determined the baby was stillborn.
November 24, 1998
Erik Sanchez, 18, of Espanola, was strangled and thrown off the Gorge Bridge after being carjacked at gunpoint in Espanola by David Sandoval, 23, and Luis Acosta, 19, both of Taos. They wanted his car because the perpetrators were involved in a drug deal. Sandoval, previously convicted of child abuse, gets life in prison by pleading guilty and agreeing to testify against Acosta. He’ll be in his 90s before he can be released. The D.A. sought the death penalty for Acosta and the case eventually ended up in the hands of the Attorney General. On September 21, 2001, Acosta pleaded "guilty but mentally ill" to first degree murder and gets life plus 71 years. He’ll be eligible for parole in 65 years.
Vehicle Deaths (Homicide): 2
January 7, 1999
Vicky Trujillo, 29, of Questa was missing since December 15, 1998. She was found dead in the Rio Grande Gorge by a Questa man fishing near Cerro. Her 1978 Chevy pick-up was parked nearby. Trujillo was considered suicidal at the time of her disappearance, though police are calling it "an unattended death."
March 25, 1999
"Baby Angelica Maria," newborn, was found dead off Chamisa Road partly gnawed on by animals with her unmbilical cord tied off indicating homicide. A crowd performed a burial on May 7, 1999 for "Baby Angelica Maria." The crime was never solved.
August 6, 1999
The body of Walter Fields, 17, of Penasco was discovered hanging from a tree in Baca Park by a groundskeeper at 8:45 a.m.
August 17, 1999
Juniper Pino, 17, of Taos, a cousin of the above Walter Fields who was reportedly depressed about his suicide ten days earlier, ended her own life in Llano Quemado by taking an overdose of a friend’s anti-seizure medication.
September 2, 1999
Clarissa Gonzales, 9, and her father Earl Gonzales, 51, of Questa were found dead by Gonzales’s girlfriend in their home. The girl was strangled with an electrical cord and the father was shot in the head apparently with his own gun, though the weapon was not at the scene. Gonzales’s vehicle had been stolen about one week prior to the murders and he had threatened several people who he had suspected of taking his vehicle. His vehicle was located about one month after his death, and two juveniles were charged with the theft. These were two of the juveniles Gonzales confronted about his stolen vehicle. There has been no evidence or motive to link these juveniles to the murder. The missing murder weapon is a .45 Ruger Blackhawk. The case remains unsolved.
September 11, 1999
Justin Sinclair, 18, of Taos was killed when Jedediah Lee, 19, of Taos, pushed Sinclair during a fight at a party and Sincair fell into the gorge. Underage drinking was involved in the incident. Lee was indicted on a single count of involuntary manslaughter to which he pleaded guilty and received an 18-month suspended sentence.
Ralph Faust, 40, of Angel Fire, died when he was struck by a vehicle as he walked on the shoulder of State Road 434 between Angel Fire and Eagle Best early on Saturday. DA Paternoster said the vehicle hit Faust with such force that "it pulled him out of his shoes and socks." Unsolved.
September 17, 1999
Estelle Romero, 44, of Mora, was killed by drunk driver Robert Rodney Lopez, 25, of Colorado, on State Road 518 at the Penasco turn-off. Lopez’s driver’s license had been revoked for previous DWI convictions. On Januray 18, 2000, the court accepted a plea agreement in which Lopez admits guilt to homicide by vehicle aggravated while driving under the influence and sentenced him to eight years in prison.
September 26, 1999
Homicide; Longmont, Colorado
Natalie Mirabal, 24, of Chamisal, was beaten and strangled to death by her husband Matthew Mirabal, originally of Chamisal, who then dumped her body in a remote area of Lefthand Canyon, leaving their 4-month-old daughter motherless. The coroner also reported that she had been decapitated. Matthew had also taken out a $250,000 life insurance policy on his wife that was due to expire a few days after the murder. Matthew was also apparently having an affair with his sister-in-law. It was an apparent copycat crime similar to then-recent killings of Denver-area transients who were all decapitated. The case was featured on Court TV’s "Forensic Files" because of its bizarre details including the Mirabals’ membership in a cult-like church called "Soul’s Arbor Tabernacle Revival" founded by Troy Hancock in Penasco, who later moved his congregation to Espanola, then to Colorado. The Mirabals followed the congregation to Colorado in 1996.
October 2, 1999
Chris Medina, 24, of Taos, was found dead from bullet wounds in the front seat of his car on Las Cruces Road near Spruce; a drug deal was involved. Andrew Martinez, 27, of Taos, was indicted on first degree murder in November, but then escaped from the Taos County Courthouse by simply walking away during a work detail on the Courthouse grounds, prompting a statewide manhunt…to be continued November 21, 1999.
November 21, 1999
Jonathan Weiss, 42, of Taos, was shot and killed in Taos Canyon by the above accused murderer and recently escaped prisoner Andrew Martinez, 27, of Taos. On February 8, 2001, Martinez pleaded guilty to both the Medina and Weiss murders in a plea-bargain that spared him his life. He will be eligible for parole in 37 years. By way of explanation for his actions, Martinez, described as having been a good student with no previous criminal record, blamed his addiction to crack cocaine. He said he owed Medina money for the drug, and he indicated he was smoking crack again when he shot Weiss. He said he escaped prison while raking leaves when the guards told him they would give him a head start.