DA seeks death penalty in case of Portales couple

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

The 9th Judicial District Attorney’s office will seek the death penalty against two men accused of killing an elderly Portales couple earlier this year.

Jerry Fuller and Stanley Bedford are accused of kidnapping and killing Odis, 70, and Doris Newman, 69, earlier this year in Portales. The bodies of the Newmans were discovered in the trunk of a burned vehicle in the early morning hours of March 2.

Fuller, 32, and Bedford, 41, were living in Portales at the time of the incident.

District Attorney Matthew Chandler said prosecutors did not make the decision lightly.

“This is a decision that I’ve had to put a lot of thought and concern into,” Chandler said. “The decision was made after a careful consideration of the evidence, discussions with law enforcement and the victims’ immediate family.”

Ultimately, the jury in the murder trial would determine if the two men are guilty of the crimes and if they are sentenced to death, Chandler said.

Death penalty cases, besides heightening the emotional ante, also introduce a number of difficulties for prosecutors. In order to seek the death penalty in New Mexico, one or more aggravated circumstances must exist.

“There is an extremely low margin of error that can be afforded by the prosecution,” Chandler said. “We are going to (have to) pull off a perfect presentation for a case like this to be upheld.”

The last death penalty case tried in the 9th Judicial District happened about six years ago, when then-district attorney Randall Harris successfully prosecuted Michael Treadway for the death of Texico resident Everett Clint “Red” Prather. The jury found that aggravated circumstances existed in that case and sentenced Treadway to death. However, the New Mexico Supreme Court later overturned that decision.
“As a prosecutor it is absolutely the most important and most difficult decision that you will ever make,” Harris said Tuesday.

Chandler said he took an oath to uphold New Mexico law, and he believes death is the appropriate penalty for the homicides. The district attorney said he will argue that two aggravated circumstances existed during the Newman homicides, that the slayings occurred during the commission of a kidnapping and to prevent a victim from reporting a crime. Either aggravated circumstance would suffice to qualify the case for the death penalty, he said.

Currently, New Mexico has two people on death row. The last man executed in New Mexico was Terry Clark on Nov. 6, 2001, according to state records.

“Logistically there is a lot more work to a death penalty case than just a first-degree capital case,” Harris said, adding that the cost of putting on a death penalty case is significantly higher than a regular trial. Prosecutors must negotiate approximately 100 motions in a case like this, and then the decision is subject to intense scrutiny at the supreme court level.

Beyond that, the state has a specially trained defense team just for death penalty cases, which travels around to defend those accused of capital crimes, Harris said.

Chandler said he intends to put three prosecutors on the case, which could last up to six weeks. He said trying Fuller and Benton will probably take two weeks each, and then about one week each for the sentencing phases if they’re found guilty.

A pretrial review will also be necessary, where prosecutors will present evidence to show probable cause that one or more aggravated circumstances exists to qualify the death penalty, a press release from the district attorney’s office said. Chandler said three different agencies are processing evidence, and that pretrial review may not happen until early 2006.

Fuller was shot several times by police during his arrest in March.

He is facing two charges of first-degree murder, two of kidnapping, three of assault upon a peace officer and one of tampering with evidence. Bedford faces two counts of first-degree murder, two of kidnapping, two of tampering with evidence and one for receiving stolen property.

Both men are being held at the Roosevelt County Jail without bail.

According to an arrest warrant affidavit, the Newmans were alive when they were placed in their car’s trunk and the car was set on fire.

Lawyers for Bedford and Fuller could not be reached for comment.