SANTA FE—The New Mexico Supreme Court recently upheld an Albuquerque man’s convictions and life prison sentence for fatally shooting a man in Valencia County in 2014.
In a unanimous decision, the state’s highest court concluded there was sufficient evidence to support Tony Gallegos’ convictions of first-degree felony murder as an accessory, attempted robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery.
The justices rejected Gallegos’ argument on appeal that his attorney had a conflict of interest that prevented him from providing an effective defense.
A jury convicted Gallegos of killing Patrick Chavez, 26, of Los Lunas. Gallegos was among three men who planned to steal marijuana and money from Chavez’s house. Gallegos entered the house, struggled with the victim and shot him multiple times.
According to a News-Bulletin article in March 2017 when Gallegos and the other man convicted of shooting Chavez, Phillip Chavira, Valencia County sheriff’s deputies responded to a call of shots being fired at 21 Wild Wolf in San Clemente on the afternoon of April 24, 2014. When they arrived, they found Chavez dead with multiple gunshot wounds.
A relative of the victim who was home at the time of the shooting told investigators two men had gone into the house and asked for Chavez by name. The relative told investigators the men had began arguing with Chavez and that’s when shots were fired. He did not recognize the suspects.
“Initially, the information we had coming in was sporadic during the year and a half after the shooting,” said then VCSO Detective James Harris, who is now the Belen police chief. “Ultimately, the information we received in the last 30 days was what led to the arrests in this case.”
The detective said the anonymous information Detective Curtis Espinoza received about the case was enough to follow up on and it related directly to the scene of the crime.
“The information we obtained matched what we did find at the scene, so therefore we were able to link these two individuals to the death of Mr. Chavez,” Harris said.
Harris said they learned that Chavira and Gallegos went to Chavez’s house to rob him, knowing he would have a lot of money from selling marijuana.
“These individuals thought they could make a quick score of money,” Harris said. “When they went there, an altercation ensued between Chavez and Gallegos. Ultimately, Gallegos fired several rounds and killed Chavez.”
Arrest warrants were issued for both men, and Harris said Chavira was taken into custody on Aug. 15, 2017, during the Our Lady of Belen Fiestas when an alert deputy recognized him. Gallegos was arrested on Aug. 26, 2017, with the help of New Mexico State Police and agents with Homeland Security at his parents’ home in Albuquerque.
In his appeal, Gallegos contended that his private attorney, Amavalise Jaramillo, had a conflict of interest because he previously represented one of the prosecution’s main witnesses, Cody Cruz, who was one of the men who drove to the victim’s home with Gallegos. During his trial testimony, Cruz identified Gallegos as the shooter.
Before allowing Jaramillo to replace a public defender as Gallegos’ attorney, the trial court judge conducted a hearing on the conflict-of-interest issue and agreed that Jaramillo could serve as the defendant’s defense counsel.
Jaramillo had assured the judge there was no conflict, that the case had ended in which he represented Cruz and it was a property crime case unrelated to the murder.
The New Mexico Supreme Court determined the judge “did not abuse his discretion” in allowing Jaramillo to represent the defendant.
“While briefing certainly illuminates a potential conflict of interest, the record lacks critical facts to establish an actual conflict of interest was created by Jaramillo’s representation of Cruz and subsequent representation of defendant,” the court wrote in an opinion by Justice C. Shannon Bacon. “We stress, however, that defendant’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim is more appropriately suited for a habeas corpus petition, wherein defendant can develop a factual record regarding Jaramillo’s potential conflict of interest.”
A habeas corpus petition allows a prison or jail inmate to challenge matters that occurred at the trial level. A petition can be filed in a state district court after the defendant’s direct appeal is resolved and the post-conviction proceeding can lead to an evidentiary hearing.
In his appeal involving the murder, Gallegos argued that his defense was undermined by Jaramillo’s cross-examination of Cruz during the trial.
But the court concluded, “The record does not indicate a curtailed cross-examination. Jaramillo conducted a lengthy examination of Cruz that pursued multiple matters of impeachment, highlighted motivations to lie, and examined inconsistent statements. Furthermore, in closing argument, Jaramillo informed the jury on multiple occasions that Cruz was the one who shot victim.”
The court found there was “substantial evidence” to support the jury’s verdicts convicting Gallegos. During the trial, the court noted, “DNA evidence placed defendant at the scene of the shooting, and a friend of defendant testified that defendant admitted to shooting victim in the leg.”