By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
Editor’s note: The following is the second in a four-part series reviewing the top news stories of 2007. This installment deals with April, May and June.
A major capital murder trial with some of the most noted attorneys in the state started in late May in Albuquerque and was in the news daily through most of June. That case related to the death of an elderly Portales couple in 2005.
Stanley Bedford, 44, was convicted of first-degree murder by an Albuquerque jury in the deaths of Odis and Doris Newman. The trial was moved to Albuquerque on change of venue.
He was accused of participating in the kidnapping and beating the couple, whom prosecutors say were eventually burned to death in the trunk of their car on a rural Roosevelt County road by Bedford and an accomplice.
Following Bedford’s conviction in the first phase of the capital murder trial, 9th Judicial District Attorney Matt Chandler spoke of the relief of all of Roosevelt County.
“This is a day of justice for the Newman family and the people of Roosevelt County,” Chandler said. “Our residents from Albuquerque delivered the justice we have all hoped for the last two years.”
Chandler prosecuted the case with the help of the state’s major crimes prosecutor Michael Cox.
Cox faced off with defense attorney Gary Mitchell of Ruidoso, an opponent he’d gone up against before in other high profile capital murder cases in the state.
Mitchell stood by his client’s innocence throughout the trial.
“It’s scary a jury can have this much evidence he was innocent and still convict him,” Mitchell said. “It’s scary that nobody has stopped it at this stage.”
Mitchell prevailed in saving his client from the death penalty during the penalty phase of the month-long trial. Bedford received a sentence of 120 years in prison for the crime.
“I think we can live with this decision,” said Vickie Dixon, daughter of the Newmans. “We wanted more, but this man will never be on the streets again, and that’s what we wanted.”
Bedford family members embraced Newman family members following the verdict and offered condolences throughout the penalty phase.
“Their family has lived through heartache just like ours has,” Dixon said. “They are a family just like we are and they deserve just as much respect as we do.”
Bedford’s appeal process is automatic, as with all first-degree murder convictions.
A co-defendant in the case, Jerry Fuller, the couple’s nephew pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and testified in Bedford’s trial. He received a 127-year sentence.
Before the Bedford trial had ended, Roosevelt County residents were shocked to learn that federal law enforcement officials had made arrests in another homicide investigation in Causey that officials said had links to the Aryan Brotherhood, a notorious prison gang that authorities say is an organized crime group.
The federal investigation of the organization’s activities in New Mexico converged with the investigation of the shooting death of Causey rancher Jimmy “Bo” Chunn, who was shot through a window while sitting in his living room.
A federal indictment charged Donald Taylor, 27, of Rogers with first-degree murder and racketeering. He is alleged to be a lieutenant in the Aryan Brotherhood, according to court documents.
Another man, Roosevelt County farmer Billy Jo Watson is accused of entering into a bargain with the Aryan Brotherhood to provide chemicals for methamphetamine production in exchange for the killing of Chunn, according to a federal indictment.
Authorities wouldn’t say why Watson would have wanted Chunn killed. He was charged with racketeering and conspiracy to commit manufacturing methamphetamine over 50 grams for his part in supplying anhydrous ammonia, an ingredient used in manufacturing the illegal drug and also a common farm fertilizer.
Many of the court documents in the case were under federal seal and authorities said the investigation, which netted 19 arrests, was still under way earlier this year.
In other top stories, Roosevelt County commissioners finally passed a burn ban ordinance after taking lots of input from residents about the restrictions.
County officials assured residents the mechanisms for enacting burning restrictions would only be used when necessary.
Eastern New Mexico University regents took up the topic of the permitting of a sewer lagoon at a dairy south of Portales, saying noxious odors and insect problems from the dairy and other sources were a concern in student recruitment efforts.
A local hearing conducted by New Mexico Environment Department later drew a packed house at the Memorial Building from people on both sides of the issue wanting to comment. The dairy received its permit late this year.