DA failed in my Aunt Elvira’s death

I read the unfortunate news about the murder case against Robert Mondrian-Powell being dismissed recently, because of a violation of his constitutional right to a speedy trial (“Delays lead judge to toss Nambé murder case,” June 23). It was not clear to me exactly why his trial was delayed. Was it because the case was too complex? Was it a result of personnel changes in the District Attorney’s Office? Was it a toxic relationship between the prosecution and the defense?

I have been following this case from afar, in San Jose, Calif. I feel I should disclose my biases. First of all, the victim, Elvira Segura, is my aunt and a loving human being who left behind two talented, grieving sons. Second, I am a criminal defense attorney, having worked more than 20 years representing indigent defendants in Santa Clara County, Calif. In other words, I am somewhat conflicted.

In my mind, I cannot help but congratulate the public defender in this matter, who, from what little I have seen from afar, mounted a spirited and aggressive defense on behalf of her client, Mondrian-Powell, which resulted in his release.

I cannot congratulate the First Judicial District Attorney.

Let me back up. For years, I have worked with prosecutors in California. Over the years, I have seen many prosecutors push ethical boundaries to the limit. But it was always out of ruthless zeal for community safety and in support of crime victims. I have seen them advocate forcefully for victims who had nobody to speak for them, such as the homeless, the mentally ill and the disadvantaged. One thing I rarely see from our prosecutors is incompetence, especially in a murder case.

Based on this grudging respect I have for so many of the prosecutors here in my jurisdiction, I was very relieved over a year ago when I learned that a suspect, Mondrian-Powell, had been arrested and had confessed to the murder. I knew that the public defender would file multiple motions to dismiss, expecting that they would be denied. Then, I had every expectation that the case would either go to trial quickly or would resolve for second-degree murder or manslaughter. After all, the prosecution had a confession, right?

Why wasn’t this case tried within a reasonable time frame? Mondrian-Powell confessed to smashing Segura’s head into the ground, causing her to bleed, and then shooting her in the neck. Mr. Prosecutor, you have a dead body, and you have a confession. You first call as a witness the police officer who first entered the house and found a dead, decomposed body. Then you call as a witness the officer who took Mondrian-Powell’s confession, and you play the tape. Bingo, you’re done. Am I missing something? Is there some subtle nuance of New Mexico law that precludes this simple strategy?

I am a believer in rehabilitation. I did not want Mondrian-Powell to spend the rest of his life in prison, even though that would have been a likely outcome in my jurisdiction. I thought that he would spend some time in prison, perhaps double digits, with some small window of hope for being granted parole after he had aged to the point where he would be little or no threat to anyone. Even though my aunt was a loving and generous human being who did not deserve to die, I did not want Mondrian-Powell to be without hope or redemption. But I certainly did not want the man who murdered my aunt to get off scot-free.

Patrick Hoopes is an attorney with the Office of the Alternate Defender of Santa Clara County in San Jose, Calif. He is also the nephew of the late Elvira Segura, a former Santa Fe librarian.

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