Court overturns one count in burning-death conviction

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The New Mexico Court of Appeals affirmed all but one conviction of a Rio Communities woman found guilty in the 2005 burning death of Barbara Valdez Lumsey.

Sheila Bahney, 53, who is currently serving a 55-year prison sentence in the New Mexico Women's Correctional Facility in Grants, appealed her six-count conviction, claiming her convictions are unsupported by sufficient evidence, the multitude of convictions violated double jeopardy, improper admission of photos and ineffective counsel.

Bahney was convicted in 2007 on six counts, including second-degree murder, kidnapping, conspiracy to commit kidnapping, aggravated arson, conspiracy to commit aggravated arson and tampering with evidence.

The Court of Appeals determined one of the conspiracy convictions violated double jeopardy, thereby vacating the conspiracy to commit aggravated arson, a third-degree felony, and remanded the case back to District Court Judge John Pope for re-sentencing.

Bahney was sentenced to three years for the third-degree conspiracy to commit aggravated arson conviction.

Bahney, along with her husband, Thomas Bahney, Angel "Diablo" Esquibel, Patricia Sipes, Jessica Cavasos and Anthony Sanchez were all convicted on charges relating to the 2005 Rio Communities homicide.

The Court of Appeals determined that the trial court did not abuse its discretion by admitting photographs, which included images of Lumsey, her injuries and the crime scene photos, and concluded that Bahney "failed to establish ineffective assistance of trial counsel."

According to the opinion, written by Judge J. Miles Hanisee, "…we hold that (Bahney) 'entered into only one agreement and took part in only one conspiracy.' (holding that conspiracies of first-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated arson must merge in light of the fact that 'the conspiracy to commit kidnapping should be understood as one aspect of a larger continuous combination that eventually embraced murder as a central objective.')"

The court holds that Bahney and her co-conspirators "formed one overarching agreement, rather than two distinct agreements separated by time and space …"

Thomas Bahney entered a no-contest plea in March 2007 to first-degree felony murder. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Esquibel, who prosecutors named the mastermind of the group, was sentenced to life, plus 30 years behind bars for his role in the murder. Esquibel pleaded no contest to first-degree murder, kidnapping, and four counts of conspiracy, aggravated arson, aggravated assault, aggravated battery and tampering with evidence.

Cavasos pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, two counts of tampering with evidence and one count of conspiracy to commit tampering with evidence. She was sentenced to three years in prison followed by five years supervised probation.

Sanchez pleaded guilty to aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and conspiracy to commit aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to three years in prison followed by one year of parole.

Sipes, who was convicted on charges of second-degree murder, kidnapping and aggravated arson, was sentenced to 22 years in prison followed by five years of probation.

On Nov. 4, 2005, these six people played a part in the death of Barbara Valdez Lumsey. For 10 hours, the Albuquerque woman was held hostage in a Rio Communities mobile home, beaten and tied up.

In the end, she was thrown in the trunk of her own car, doused in lighter fluid, driven to a remote location near La Merced Elementary School and lit on fire.

Her body was discovered by firefighters who had been dispatched to the fire. They did not know Lumsey was in the trunk of the car until the fire was extinguished


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.