Tom Sharpe Lawyers in the case of an Allsup's clerk murdered during her graveyard shift settled her estate's wrongful-death lawsuit Tuesday, minutes before a Santa Fe jury was to return a $51.2 million verdict.

Jury forewoman Jean Lehman said jurors had decided to assess Allsup's Enterprises $21.2 million in compensatory damages and $30 million in punitive damages.

But when they told the bailiff they were ready to deliver a verdict about 4:30 p.m., she said, the bailiff told them they were to return to court, where state District Judge Raymond Ortiz informed them the case had been settled.

Allegra Carpenter, one of three Albuquerque lawyers representing the three minor children of Elizabeth Garcia, 26 — who was abducted from an Allsup's in Hobbs, raped and stabbed to death Jan. 16, 2002, on just her fourth day on the job — said she could not reveal the amount of the monetary settlement. During closing arguments Monday, plaintiffs' lawyers suggested jurors award the estate $60 million.

Carpenter said the settlement includes a promise from Allsup's that it will never again challenge state regulations requiring convenience stores open between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. to put at least two clerks on duty, station a guard with one clerk or put clerks in bulletproof enclosures.

Garcia's death spurred efforts to boost security at convenience stores, and Carpenter said Allsup's lobbyists or the Petroleum Marketers Association, to which Allsup's belongs, have challenged the rules every year since they were passed. A jury verdict could not have included such an assurance, and the settlement would not have been possible if not for the pressure of the lawsuit, she said.

"There was a little bit of talk (with lawyers for Allsup's) back and forth, but none of it was very serious until today," Carpenter said.

Lehman, a real-estate agent, said jurors were heavily influenced toward the plaintiff when they learned Allsup's successfully sued its previous insurance company over how to make its stores safer, yet never implemented any of the suggestions. "That was a huge inconsistency," she said.

Lehman said jurors also were curious why so little information was provided about Paul Lovett, the man convicted of abducting, raping and killing Garcia. Last year, Lovett was sentenced to life in prison for murdering Garcia and another woman. Although defense attorneys called Lovett's ex-wife and her father, they did not call Lovett or present a deposition from him during the two-week trial.

Lehman and another juror, Elaine Lucero, said it seemed Allsup's provided little information on past crimes at its stores. Attorneys for Garcia's estate said they had to do much of their own research to prove, for example, that 12 Allsup's clerks have been murdered in 30 years, making the near-minimum-wage jobs the most dangerous in the state.

Peso Chavez, a former Santa Fe city councilor who runs a security firm, helped investigate the matter for the plaintiff. The defense hired a group of "ghost jurors," who sat in court every day and gave the defense attorneys advice on their arguments and evidence.

Barbara Allsup, who with her husband, Lonnie, founded the convenience store chain in their hometown of Clovis 30 years ago and saw it grow to more than 300 stores in New Mexico and West Texas, issued a statement following the settlement.

"As a mother and grandmother, I so hope that (Garcia's children) Xavier, Jerome and Cene (Mendoza), their wonderful grandmother (Victorina Garcia of Roswell), and the rest of this fine family will be able to live in peace with the memories of Elizabeth Garcia. We trust that the fund created by Allsup's Convenience Stores will help them in the future."

Barbara Allsup also said she gave Garcia's lawyers $7,700 to cover the slain clerk's funeral expenses.

Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or tsharpe@sfnewmexican.com.

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