The First Judicial District Attorney’s Office has dismissed charges against an Española man accused of fatally shooting one person and wounding three others in an incident in Chamita witnesses have described as a drug deal gone horribly wrong.
Prosecutors apparently have been unable to produce enough evidence to justify charging 31-year-old Mario Valdez with murder and other felony counts.
Mario Valdez and his father, 50-year-old Andrew Valdez, both had faced several charges in connection with the March 11 shooting that killed 35-year-old Fernando Martinez of Española.
Mario Valdez had been charged with first-degree murder as well as a variety of other charges, including three counts of shooting at a motor vehicle resulting in great bodily harm and three counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.
Andrew Valdez has been charged with two counts of aggravated assault.
Prosecutors have put surviving shooting victims and other witnesses on the stand during several pretrial detention hearings and preliminary hearings since the two men were arrested last month. Still, the state has been unable to gather enough evidence to move ahead with charges against Mario Valdez.
“The state will be dismissing with potential for refiling if more evidence comes up later,” Deputy District Attorney Kent Wahlquist said in a hearing Tuesday.
Prosecutors sent New Mexico State Police officers and an ambulance to the home of one witness who had been scheduled to testify that day but appeared by video apparently incoherent and incapable of providing testimony.
District Judge Jason Lidyard later granted a request from Wahlquist to delay a preliminary hearing on charges against Andrew Valdez. The same witness, Ivory Martinez, was supposed to have testified against him.
According to an arrest warrant affidavit filed by state police, Ivory Martinez was a passenger in an SUV with five other people on the night of the shooting. The affidavit said she asked the group to stop at Andrew Valdez’s home in Chamita so she could purchase methamphetamine.
She went into the home alone, according to the affidavit, but later called one of the men waiting in the car and asked him to come inside.
An altercation ensued, during which Andrew Valdez attacked the pair with a knife and chair, the affidavit said.
The pair left the mobile home and got back in the Chevrolet Tahoe the group had been traveling in, according to affidavit, but Andrew Valdez followed them outside and began throwing things at the SUV.
Joe Archuleta, one of the six occupants of the Tahoe, testified Tuesday he saw a bald, heavyset man he thought was Andrew Valdez throwing objects off the porch of his home.
He didn’t see who began firing at the group, Archuleta told the court, because he dove for cover after hearing the first of what he said were 15 to 20 shots that sounded like they were being fired by a shotgun.
The group tried to drive away, Archuleta said, but the Tahoe was smoking and seemed to be overheating — perhaps due to gunfire damage — so most of them got out and started to run.
Fernando Martinez was not among them. He had been struck in the head by a bullet and died in the vehicle.
State police encountered the survivors on the road. Three of them had gunshot wounds.
Ivory Martinez might be the only witness who can positively place the Valdezes at the scene of the shooting.
When she dialed in for Tuesday’s hearing, however, she didn’t seem fully alert, prompting prosecutors to send a state police officer and ambulance to check on her.
Ivory Martinez refused to be taken to a hospital, District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said, and failed to appear for an afternoon session of the hearing.
Wahlquist attempted to put state police Agent Jessie Whittaker on the stand Tuesday to testify about statements Archuleta made in a follow-up interview about a week after the incident.
But Lidyard refused to allow the officer to testify after Mario Valdez’s attorney, Ashley Reymore-Cloud, objected.
Reymore-Cloud said the state was trying to introduce hearsay as evidence because it wasn’t happy with what Archuleta said on the stand.
“It’s difficult when the witness accounts that we gather do not match those given to police,” Carmack-Altwies said in an email following the hearing. “When something like that happens, it is nearly impossible show probable cause.
“Further, substance use disorders have multiple victims and long-reaching impacts, including impacting witness testimony and our ability to prosecute,” she added.
Mario Valdez, who has a lengthy criminal history, was not released from jail pending the dismissal of the charges Tuesday because he is being held in an unrelated case, one in which he’s accused of being a fugitive from justice on drug and weapons charges originating in Colorado.
In another twist, a Rio Arriba County magistrate issued a new warrant Tuesday for Mario Valdez’s arrest, charging him with being a felon in possession of a firearm; five counts of drug trafficking; and resisting, evading or obstructing an arrest.
The charges are tied to crimes he is accused of committing in early April.
Court records containing the details of the case were not publicly available Tuesday.
Reymore-Cloud said she wasn’t aware of the new charges.
Carmack-Altwies said there was no connection between the new charges and the dismissal of the felony counts against Mario Valdez in the March 11 incident. She and Walqhuist were both unaware of the new charges until Tuesday afternoon, she said.
Andrew Valdez’s attorney, Julita Leavell, said she plans to call a witness at the next hearing, scheduled for May 19, who will testify he was not at home when the incident occurred.