Evidence mishandling leads to dismissal in trapping case

Roxy, an 8-year-old heeler mix owned by Dave Clark of Española, died in 2018 after being strangled by a trap at Santa Cruz Lake. Marty Cordova of Chimayó was acquitted Wednesday of all charges related to the dog’s death.

A Chimayó man accused of setting a snare trap that caused the death of a dog named Roxy, which sparked a law outlawing trapping on public lands, has been found not guilty on all charges related to the 2018 incident.

“It’s a sense of relief, obviously,” Marty Cordova said in a phone interview Thursday. “It’s been about three years I’ve had this burden on my shoulders. It feels really good to get this behind me.”

A jury in District Court in Santa Fe deliberated for about six hours over two days before finding Cordova not guilty Wednesday on all counts, defense attorney Yvonne Quintana said in a phone interview Thursday.

Cordova was charged with multiple counts of violating state laws regarding trapping fur-bearing animals, including trapping within 25 yards of a public road, failing to have identifying information on his traps and failing to check his traps daily.

Cordova, 44, found himself in the middle of a heated controversy over wildlife management and originally faced more than 30 criminal counts after Roxy — an 8-year-old heeler mix owned by Dave Clark of Española — was caught in a snare trap near Santa Cruz Lake.

The case subsequently spurred the passage of a new law — the Wildlife Conservation and Public Safety Act, also called Roxy’s Law, which takes effect in April. It outlaws trapping on public lands.

Clark declined to comment Thursday.

But he told The New Mexican in 2019 he’d been hiking with Roxy near the lake, a reservoir about 15 miles east of Española, when the dog was caught in the trap.

“She was behind me and running to catch up,” Clark said. “I heard this sound and I turned around. She’d been caught in a snare trap. I couldn’t figure how to get it off. She was strangled while I was trying to remove it.”

As he was carrying his dog back to his truck, he said he heard another noise and found a bobcat caught in another trap. A game warden later euthanized the bobcat, he said.

According to an affidavit for a search warrant, a state Game and Fish Officer said that after removing the trap, he noticed there was no identification on the device, as required by state law. Surveillance cameras eventually captured images of Cordova checking and removing traps in the area.

After identifying him from surveillance camera images, Game and Fish officers served a search warrant on Cordova’s residence, resulting in the seizure of multiple snares and foothold traps that were not properly marked, according to the affidavit.

Quintana said she got the case dismissed at the Magistrate Court level based on challenges to the evidence, but the First Judicial District Attorney’s office filed the case in District Court as an appeal.

Cordova had faced 34 misdemeanor counts of violating laws regarding the trapping of fur-bearers in the Magistrate Court case, court records show.

The number was reduced to 23 counts when it was refiled in District Court, and it had been reduced to 10 counts by the time Cordova’s trial started Monday after more than a dozen counts were dismissed based on problems with evidence.

“It’s unfortunate the Game Department keeps doing this to individuals,” Cordova said. “I was fortunate I had the means to be able to defend myself, but that’s not common with many individuals that get accused of such things, and they have to take a lesser plea or plead guilty.”

“I think it is the right outcome,” Quintana said. “The case was overcharged, and the state and [Game and Fish Department] officers really did a disservice in regards to losing evidence.”



Game and Fish deleted thousands of photographs related to the case, Quintana said, adding other pieces of evidence — such as parts of the trap that snared Roxy — were lost.

While many of the counts against Cordova accused him of not putting identifying information on his traps, Quintana said the state didn’t collect a single trap from the field as evidence and only had traps they’d taken from Cordova’s home.

Quintana also said the dog was not on a leash as required in the Santa Cruz recreation area.

“So while the traps may have been at fault for the loss of the dog, there was also that issue that if the dog had been controlled with a leash, the tragic loss of the domestic pet may never have occurred,” she said.

District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies disputed Quintana’s contention that the case was overcharged and said some of the evidence had been lost by the Bureau of Land Management during that agency’s investigation.

Carmack-Altwies wrote some of the unmarked traps allegedly belonging to Cordova “were left in the field where Game Cameras were set by BLM and Game and Fish for them to observe and try to identify who was setting these traps.

“However, all traps collected at the Defendant’s home … were presented,” she wrote. “There were 7 foothold traps and 3 snares collected … and none of them had tags at the time. One snare that could have been collected was destroyed because they had to cut it off of Roxy (the dead dog) to remove her body from the scene.”

The District Attorney wrote she felt she had the evidence to prove the charges when the case went to trial, but state District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer’s rulings “immediately before and during trial” limited what the jury was able to hear and see.

“The State fought hard for accountability and what the jury did see and hear was heartbreaking testimony and evidence about how Roxy and her owner suffered,” Carmack-Altwies wrote.

Quintana said the case was one of the toughest she’s tried when it came to choosing a jury because of the strong opinions many potential jurors held regarding trapping and animal rights.

Three jury panels had to be vetted before the parties were able to agree on 14 jurors — 12, plus two alternates — to hear the case, she said.

“It was very inflammatory because the dog got killed,” she said, adding potential jurors seemed more “stirred up” about the case than they were about a murder trial for which a jury also was being chosen.

While she’s no fan of trapping, Quintana said the law passed as a result of Roxy’s death “changes a way of life in New Mexico that is traditional, historic and has been practiced for hundreds of years.”

Cordova — a utility manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he’s worked for the past 21 years — said he has a small farm in Chimayó where coyotes and other predators sometimes kill his chickens, and he traps them as a form of population control.

He said activists who pushed for the passage of Roxy’s Law used him to accomplish something that had been on their agenda for some time.

“They used me as a scapegoat to say, ‘Look at how bad sportsmen are, and look at the results of trapping,’ ” he said. “They used my name to pass a law they’d been trying to pass for year and years and they continue to slander my name.

“They were able to convince legislators trapping is bad,” Cordova said. “Trapping is not bad; it’s a means of conservation, just like hunting deer or fishing. But you mention the word trapping or anything, and they hate that. But when Fido or your cat gets stolen from your back yard by a coyote, then they want all the coyotes killed. Sportsmen keep that population in check, but most people don’t understand that and just view us as killers and inhumane, and that is not the case. That’s not who we are.”

(20) comments

Judith Pecho

What can you expect from one of the last hold out states where it is legal to rape any animal. Our city does not even investigate animal rape. NM needs more protection of our other living creatures'. I am saddened at the loss of the companionship of this beautiful dog by the owner, and the beautiful wild creature this man feels he as the right to take the last breath from with outrageous indignity. Seems you could still sue him for the loss of companionship. I know how much our pets mean to us, often closer than our family members. What had a child stumbled into that trap. He broke a law, and slipped out cause he did not tag it as his. How convenient. Very tragic that a jury could rule for the one who lacks respect for all but himself. These traps are cruel enough and often take a long time to kill the animal while it chews off its extremity. No trapping should be allowed. A sportsman hunts no traps and looks later for an animal he cannot eat? Calls himself a sportsman is enough to convict him laying a trap he cannot immediately release when needed.

Like laying poison. Killing only for eating when necessary. Would not want to be his neighbor. I live in Corrales where Coyotes have more rights than dogs. Dogs missing are not even reported as picked up nor if so where they are taken. It worries me what happens to them. Animals are sentient beings and the Bible says we are their stewards, and I believe it to be so. Our pets often are closer to us than our own family members. What an outrage when evidence missing. Sounds like he knew someone, and juries often hand picked for reasons we know not. Seen it happen. Take his traps away, prohibit he remove them. The animals belong to us all, not to just him. Build a secure chicken enclosure. He is reckless and should not be allowed to use anymore. Cruelty, I would be so broken hearted.

Judith Pecho

So saddened by the killing of this beautiful friend of man, as he was only in the woods which belong to us all. What kind of so called human thinks he has the right to take the last breath from any other living thing, and indiscriminately. Heck a child could have tripped on it. He is not innocent. But then what can one expect from a backward state where it is accepted practice to rape dogs. Corrales does not porsecute nor even investigate rape reported of dogs. I pity those of us who have dogs who have been let out or strayed and no chance to recover them. Our last Animal Control Officer, Frosty, a former Albq cop, was found to have raped a female dog that got loose afterward and he was never prosecuted. Why do Juries make the decisions they do we will never know but there are all kinds of tricks to get the outcome one wants. Such a sad outcome two beautiful creatures killed because one man thinks he has authority to kill when he feels like it. Would not want to be his neighbor.

Laddie Mills

Nothing new here! The Game Commission and NMG&F are dominated by politics and “wildlife for profit” and they are centered on game, license holders and ranchers. Shouldn’t their abuse of non-game wildlife, the public wildlife trust, science, and modern wildlife conservation ethics disqualify them from managing any “wildlife conservation” funding the state receives? A comprehensive reform is imperative!

Karen Weber

I hardly think that it is sportsmanship to set deadly snares and walk away, not having the integrity to tag the snare. Nor is it Mr. Cordova, or any trapper's, responsibility to control predators. The argument that trapping is a New Mexico tradition even at the risk of harming others, including pets, never mind the cruelty of it, is like saying that binding the feet of women is a Chinese tradition and must be kept. That Mr. Cordova gets off is diminished by the passing of Roxy's Law and the growing awareness and movement to end trapping. And though the loss of evidence in this case is disturbing, and makes me wonder about the enforcement of Roxy's Law when it takes effect, this practice will come to an end.

Jim Klukkert

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Jim Klukkert

Cordova's statement that “Trapping is not bad; it’s a means of conservation ... Sportsmen keep that [coyote] population in check" is so off-base and ignorant of the best in research-driven scientific thinking, that it would be laughable but for the tragic consequences of such over-the-top stupidity.

Defense attorney Quintana’s statement is equally moronic. Roxy’s Law does “change a way of life in New Mexico that is traditional, historic and has been practiced for hundreds of years.” Thank god! Acknowledging Women’s Right to Vote and Emancipating the Enslaved also changed ways that were traditional, historic and has been practiced for hundreds of years, and ALL FOR THE BETTER!

Trapping on private lands still needs to be addressed. Too many think that land ownerships gives folks the right to harass, torture and kill Wildlife, which should be held as the public’s trust.

We finally can, hopefully and only in terms of public lands, put this behind us due to the passage of Roxy’s Law, assuming of course proper enforcement by NM Game and Fish and Federal officers from BLM and other agencies.

Though the fact that the chief NM public lands agency is named GAME and Fish hints that an antique mind-set still runs the show when it comes to Wild Life and the Environment.

James Lyons

Proper enforcement seems to be an oxymoron; especially in this case and in this state.

D. Stark

Well said, thank you - !!

Peter Romero

As with most crime in New Mexico, usually NOTHING HAPPENDS to the offenders. I am sad for the dog and the owner. I do know that there are ethical trappers and sportsman that follow the rules and laws. I thought I remembers reading that cameras caught the guy returning to his traps after this happened ? that's how they knew it was him. We need a better prosecutor! I'm surprised restorative justice wasn't offed to the offender. what a joke, the shiet show continues.

Lupe Molina

Law enforcement fails to preserve critical evidence again. The man was setting deadly traps on public land that people use for recreation. What if a kid had gotten snared? I'm so sick of this argument: "it's been a tradition for so long!" Misogyny and slavery were traditions in some cultures for long periods, does that mean their worth preserving? Justice slips through New Mexico's fingers once again.

Joseph Tafoya

Lupe, stay on topic. This has nothing to do with misogyny or slavery. Trapping is more than a tradition, it's predator control.

Jim Klukkert

Joseph Tafoya– You are so wrong in advancing trapping is predator control.

1. Trapping is non-targeted, so 'controls' it victims in a totally random manner, totally be chance.

2. The science regarding Coyotes, if that is the predator you want killed, is that by breaking up a pack's social order, more coyote breeding pairs form, and more coyotes are brought into being. So control by random killing, what you call trapping, is actually counter productive.

3. The days when some folks were allowed to pretend that they had the right to kill wildlife at will, are thankfully coming to a close. Wildlife belong to everyone, and so should be held in the public trust. No one individual has the right to decide the fate of any individual wild animal. Those decisions must be left to public agencies run for the larger good.

I will trust the agency now named NM Game and Fish, 1) when it is renamed NW Wildlife Department, and 2) when its mission is redefined to reflect that name.

Joseph Tafoya

First, according to the jury, Mr. Cordova was not breaking the law. Second, if anyone broke the law it was Mr. Clark and unfortunately, his dog paid the price. There is very little doubt that rural and urban standards are at odds. Many people who have lived in urban environments most of their lives have been moving to rural areas believing they will live in harmony with the wildlife, but methods used for centuries for animal wildlife control somehow offends these urbanites who have very little experience in farm and ranch life and how varmints who are left unchecked do damage to livestock. They then use pure emotion to express their displeasure with those methods. I have known many trappers and they follow the rules and regulations just like sporting hunters do.

Peter Romero

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Lisa Smith

Don’t know how you concluded “did nothing illegal” by the content of this article. Reading between the lines, the guy was guilty but the prosecutor did a poor job presenting the evidence and some evidence was lost. 6 hours deliberation does not indicate a cut and dry case.

LEE HAI

In my view it is not an issue of blame that is the concern, it is how to wake up and discontinue  the many stupidities that the culture at large has for generations

been held as right and true 'normal'..... The list of stupidities is long and varied,            though what comes to mind is the recent piece from this digital grapevine concerning the good old boy yahoo's in Nevada thumbing up continuing the 'sporting' contest of who could murder the most coyotes for prizes and bragging rights.... 

D. Stark

It’s unbelievable that these barbaric practices are still alive. What is wrong with us?

Angel Ortiz

Once again total failure in our court system. I'd be happy if Mr. Cordova would try one of his traps personally, just so he can understand how it must feel.

Cheryl Odom

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D. Stark

Here, here, Angel!!

And such cruelty continues. The poor animals that will suffer still and experience horrendous deaths. April is too far off! It’s the 21st Century- have we learned nothing???? Humanity is severely impaired…

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