By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
Jerry Wayne Fuller avoided a possible death sentence Thursday in connection with the 2005 slaying of an elderly Portales couple.
Ninth Judicial District Judge Stephen Quinn accepted Fuller’s guilty plea to two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of first-degree kidnapping as well as one count of tampering with evidence and three counts of assault on a police officer and one count of aggravated burglary.
The judge ordered Fuller, 34, be held in Roosevelt County Detention Center pending sentencing, which has not been scheduled.
“Essentially the offer was that Mr. Fuller would enter a guilty plea to all the charges against him and testify against any other individual in the case in exchange for 127 years (in prison),” 9th Judicial District Attorney Matt Chandler said.
Fuller did not speak during the court hearing and showed little emotion throughout the proceedings at the Roosevelt County Courthouse.
Dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit and wearing handcuffs and leg chains, Fuller briefly embraced his mother, Donna Switzer, before deputies escorted him from the courtroom.
The plea was agreed upon Thursday as a pre-trial hearing was set to get under way.
“My focus on this case is Jerry’s life be saved,” said Fuller’s attorney, Jeffrey Jones, of Santa Fe said. “And we were finally able to make that happen.”
Jones said because Fuller pleaded guilty to all the crimes he was charged with and has agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of other individuals, that he thinks everyone involved was pleased with the agreement.
“Our condolences, me and Jerry, go out to the family of the Newmans,” Jones said. “He (Fuller) has been very remorseful since the onset of this incident.”
Newman family members declined comment.
The burned bodies of Odis Newman, 70, and Doris Newman, 69, were found by police in the trunk of their charred vehicle on March 3, 2005, east of Portales.
Chandler said the agreement was reached after close consultation with the Newman family and law enforcement and all were in agreement that the plea was the right thing. Chandler said the most important thing to the Newman family was that those involved in the crime be off the street for life. The district attorney indicated that in plea negotiations Fuller had been remorseful and cooperative.
“Fuller will never live long enough to meet the people on the parole board,” Chandler said.
Chandler said the offer had been on the table for approximately a week.
Before Quinn accepted the plea, Jones told the judge it was important for Fuller to remain in Portales during the time leading up to his sentencing.
“We do have concerns about the integrity of his testimony and his safety and well being,” Jones told the judge. “Obviously he is going to implicate others in this case and we’d like to see that he remains safe.”
Chandler said the sentencing hearing would include victim’s impact statements and provide a chance for family, friends and community members to speak out. It will also provide Fuller and his family the opportunity to make a statement if they wish, according to Jones.
“Everyone who’s had some part of their life touched by Odis and Doris Newman is welcome to come to the hearing and participate,” Chandler said.
Prosecutors have said Fuller and co-defendant Stanley Bedford, 43, forced their way into the Newmans’ home, beat Odis Newman, then bound the couple and placed them in the trunk of their car before setting it on fire. Prosecutors have said the Newmans probably died as a result of the fire.
Bedford is charged with two counts of first-degree murder and other felonies and faces a possible death sentence if he’s convicted. He’s being held in RCDC awaiting trial.
Bedford and two others prosecutors said were involved in the case were arrested March 7, 2005, at a Clovis pawn shop. Police said information they gained following that arrest led them to Fuller, the couple’s nephew by marriage.
Fuller was arrested March 8, 2005, after police found him at a North Main address in Portales. As Fuller exited a shed, police noticed he had a weapon — which turned out to be an air gun — and he refused to drop it on police orders. Police fired multiple rounds, wounding Fuller before he was placed under arrest.