It could be weeks or even months — if at all — before medical investigators determine how 24-year-old Miranda Tenorio died at a Motel 6 in Santa Fe.
Tenorio’s boyfriend, Jose Calabaza, 34, of Santa Fe, whom police initially had suspected of beating her to death late last week at the Cerrillos Road motel, was ordered released from jail Tuesday after prosecutors dismissed a murder charge against him.
The Santa Fe Police Department and First Judicial District Attorney’s Office had announced in dueling statements a day earlier that the charge would be dropped, with each agency implying the other had made the decision.
On Tuesday, police Capt. Paul Joye, who heads the department’s Criminal Investigations Division, said detectives had sufficient cause to arrest Calabaza, but police and prosecutors later agreed that preliminary autopsy results for Tenorio were inconclusive.
A medical examiner with the state Office of the Medical Investigator could not determine that any of Tenorio’s injuries were “a direct cause of death,” Joye said.
Further tests on Tenorio’s body, including toxicology tests, have to be completed, he said.
Officers responding to a 911 call Saturday morning from Calabaza found Tenorio dead on a bed in one of the second-floor rooms at the motel at 3007 Cerrillos Road, according to a statement of probable cause filed Monday in Santa Fe County Magistrate Court. There were signs of trauma on her face, the statement said, clumps of her hair lying on her body and on the bed, and blood on the bedding near her face.
Paramedics thought she might have had a broken nose. Based on the smell of decomposition in the room, the statement said, an investigator thought she had died the previous night.
Calabaza told police he had returned from work and found Tenorio in the room alive, with the room smelling of urine and vomit; when he went to check on her later, he said, he saw a large amount of blood on her and called police, according to the statement.
Calabaza initially denied attacking her. But he admitted to officers later in the day that the couple had a physical fight, the statement said. During the fight, Calabaza said, they both fell to the ground and Tenorio hit her face on a heater in the room.
Two witnesses, however, told police they had seen Calabaza hit Tenorio repeatedly the night before her body was found, the statement said.
According to the document, the witnesses had been drinking alcohol with Calabaza and Tenorio in the room.
Despite the evidence and investigators’ belief that Tenorio had been severely beaten, the District Attorney’s Office said in its statement announcing the dismissal of Calabaza’s murder charge that a police detective present during an autopsy of Tenorio’s body expressed concern about a “lack of corroborating medical evidence” to justify a murder charge.
The appearance of certain external injuries can worsen with the passage of time after death, Joye said Tuesday, or by extreme intoxication.
“It’s entirely possible that the fight occurred … but she could have died from something else,” Joye said. “I think [dismissal] was the right decision to make.”
Charges in the case can be refiled if new evidence is sufficient to show a cause of death, he added.
Calabaza, Tenorio and the two witnesses in the case had frequented a nearby homeless shelter, the Interfaith Community Shelter at Pete’s Place, in recent days, according to the statement of probable cause.
“We knew Miranda and Jose,” said Joe Jordan-Berenis, executive director of the shelter. “They had not been here a long time. I feel like the shelter was always a safe haven for her.”
In recent weeks, he said, Tenorio would come to the shelter, often heavily intoxicated, saying, “I don’t feel safe.” She would show staff bruises on her body and say she had fallen. The shelter referred her to a crisis response team and an on-site therapist, Jordan-Berenis said, but she seemed resistant to prevention services.
Tenorio had given no indication that Calabaza had been a problem for her, he said, adding, “I think that if she had been here [at the shelter], she would be alive today.”