Homicide suspect set free after judge rules on evidence
It did not happen like it does on TV for prosecutors Thursday in Socorro Magistrate Court when Joe Lawrence Gallegos was set free — at least for now.
Socorro Magistrate Jim Naranjo found no probable cause to bind the homicide case over to 7th Judicial District Court following a day of testimony in the preliminary hearing on Thursday.
"And I'm sorry to say that," said Naranjo after announcing his decision.
Seventh Judicial District Attorney Clint Wellborn said charges can be brought again if more evidence is gathered, but Gallegos is free to go for now.
Joe Gallegos and his younger brother, Andrew, also known as "Smiley" Gallegos, both of Los Lunas, have been accused of killing Adrian Burns, also of Los Lunas, and burning his body on Nov. 12.
Veguita Volunteer Fire Department firefighters found the charred body near a burning car that evening in a wooded area near Bernardo and called the Socorro County Sheriff's Office, who in turn called New Mexico State Police to investigate the murder.
Burns' cause of death, according to testimony from an Office of the Medical Investigator forensic pathology specialist, was a gunshot to the head.
Andrew Gallegos remains in custody at the Socorro County Detention Center pending the preliminary hearing in his case, which has not yet been scheduled. Naranjo has been excused from hearing the case against Andrew Gallegos, according to the Magistrate Court clerk's office, although the clerk did not know the reason.
Another magistrate judge from a county within the 7th Judicial District will hear that case.
The state, represented by Wellborn and Assistant District Attorney Ricardo Barry, called 10 witnesses.
Jose "Tony" Ortega, the chief of the Veguita Volunteer Fire Department, testified firefighters found the body after they had begun spraying the burning car with water and were making a fire break with their shovels. He said the body was 10 to 15 feet from the back of the burning car.
Burns' girlfriend, Amber Sutton, a medical assistant from Belen who had been in a relationship with Burns for 3 1/2 years, testified Burns received a call at 7:33 p.m. Nov. 12, and when he hung up he grabbed his cigarettes and said he was going to meet Joe Lawrence and Smiley Gallegos, and that he would be right back. That was the last time she saw Burns alive.
Crying on the stand, Sutton explained Joe Lawrence and Smiley were customers who bought heroin from Adrian.
She testified Burns did not stay out all night on occasions when he left their home. When Burns did not return as promised, she called his mom and then called her mom help look for Burns. Sutton testified they went to Joe Lawrence's house but didn't see her car, a pearl white 2012 Mitsubishi Gallant that Burns had been driving.
After attempting without success to find Burns, his girlfriend and her mother returned to the home of Burns' mother to pick up the girlfriend's young son.
"Then I went home, and Adrian was not there," Sutton testified, crying.
The next morning, she received a text from NMSP about the burning car. She said she was already in contact with the state police because Burns and her car never returned home. Sutton said she then went to the site where the burning car was found.
Burns' girlfriend testified that she told NMSP Agent Nathan Lucero what Burns was wearing when he left, described his jewelry and tattoos. She said the agent couldn't be 100 percent certain the body found with the burning car was Burns' as they needed medical or dental records to be sure.
Sutton testified that when the women arrived at the NMSP office, agents asked more questions about Burns.
"He looked at me and said, 'It's your car.' Then he looked at his (Burns') mother and said, 'A mother knows when her child is not coming home,'" Sutton testified. "That's when we knew it was Adrian."
She also answered questions from Joe Lawrence's public defender, Lee Deschamps.
Sutton said Burns sold heroin regularly, but he did not sell other drugs. She testified Burns carried no wallet, just a rubber band around his driver's license and cash. She said he usually carried $2,000 to $3,000.
Dr. Cecelia Wu, forensic pathology fellow at the State Office of the Medical Investigator who performed the autopsy on Burns, testified she examined Burns' body Nov. 14.
When asked what was most striking about the body, Wu answered that the hands were cuffed behind the deceased's back and the body was severely charred and burned.
A NMSP crime scene investigator testified later in the day that when investigators removed the hood from Burns' head, they saw what appeared to be a plastic bag — it appeared to have been placed over his head with the hood pulled over.
Wu said other injuries were mostly in the head area, and described scrapes on the forehead and a gunshot wound to the left temple. There was one entrance wound, but two bullet fragments were recovered from Burns' skull.
Wu said further testing revealed Burns was not alive when his body was set on fire.
The assistant manager from Giant in Belen testified she was familiar with Smiley Gallegos and that he came into the store a little after 4 p.m. on Nov. 12 to buy gas, a little over $4 worth, which he pumped into a gas can.
The employee said Smiley was not his usual self; he seemed nervous. He was wearing a camouflage jacket she had seen him wear once or twice before.
A state police crime scene investigator testified while at the Gallegos brother's home in Los Lunas, state police found handcuffs in the cab of a Chevrolet flatbed pickup. They also found gas cans, a gun cleaning kit, a leather holster and .22-caliber ammunition, although no firearms.
Another NMSP agent testified they found several items in the Albuquerque motel room where the brothers were found, including five cell phones, letters from a penitentiary in Pennsylvania, a note marked "Q and A," drugs and a syringe.
He said sweat pants and jeans with blood on them were also found, but it is not yet known whether the blood was animal or human.
As for a motive, police said the brothers killed Burns to obtain his drugs and money.