Drugs, money likely motive

By Mike Linn: CNJ news editor

A Clovis man charged with killing his mother told police another man actually committed the homicide in an effort to collect on a drug debt.

Dwight Wagner, 49, told police that Larry “Jake” Lucero, 38, killed Wagner’s mother, 75-year-old Essie Thomas, after the woman refused to hand over $300 for payment on a debt her son owed, court records show.

Both men are in custody and face murder charges in connection with the death of Thomas, known to family as a church-going lady who loved to help people in time of need.

District Attorney Matthew Chandler said evidence gathered by police show Wagner and Lucero were involved the slaying of Thomas, who died as a result of blunt trauma.

Lucero initially came to Wagner’s apartment on Dec. 26 seeking repayment of the $300 debt; Wagner went next door and asked his mother for the money, according to an affidavit for arrest warrant compiled from police interviews with Wagner on Friday.

When Thomas refused to pay, Lucero threatened to kill her son, the affidavit shows. At that point Thomas said she was going to call police, which led Lucero to drag her into the bathroom, beat her to death with a brass lamp and likely take about $2,000 from Thomas’ pockets, the affidavit reads.

Wagner told police he was in the den of his mother’s home during the slaying, the affidavit reads.

Following the homicide, Wagner and Lucero spent the remainder of the evening in Thomas’ home and Wagner’s adjacent apartment smoking crack cocaine, the affidavit reads. The next day, on Dec. 27, Wagner took his mother’s car to purchase more crack, the affidavit reads. Thomas’ body was discovered on Dec. 28 after family members called police for a welfare check after not hearing from her for days.

When Wagner was arrested later that night on charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and tampering with evidence, police noticed blood on his clothes and blood stains on his hands, court records show. He was charged with murder on Thursday.

After Wagner’s interview with police Friday, police conducted a search warrant on Lucero’s home at 509 Merriwether St. and found evidence that led them to believe Lucero was also involved in the homicide, Chandler said. Chandler said Lucero was initially arrested Friday on charges of possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. He was charged with murder on Monday, Chandler said.

For the Thomas family, the incident is especially difficult. Today, at Thomas’ funeral, they will pay their respects to a woman who served in her church as a Sunday school superintendent and spent nearly two decades running Essie’s Beauty Shop in Clovis.

The news that Thomas’ son was involved in her slaying is shocking, but Wagner had a history of mental and drug problems, said Estine Garrett, Thomas’ sister.

“There was always something wrong in his head,” Garrett said. “He’d have spells where he didn’t know what he was doing. He had drug problems.”

Garrett said Wagner had been admitted to a mental hospital more than 10 times. Even so, at times she said he could be a gentleman.

“When he was around me he was always calm and well-behaved,” she said. “I wouldn’t believe he would kill her, but it looks like he did — there was blood all over his clothes.”

Wagner is charged with an open count of murder, resisting arrest and tampering with evidence. He is incarcerated at the Curry County Adult Detention Center on $500,000 cash-only bond.

Lucero is charged with first-degree murder, robbery and kidknapping. He is being held without bond and as of Tuesday had not been arraigned.

Both men are expected to face a Curry County grand jury on Friday.