Clovis man found guilty

Francesea Duran cries Thursday at the Curry County Courthouse after hearing the verdict, which found her uncle, Steven Duran, guilty of first-degree murder, as well as five other charges. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Andy Jackson and Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writers

The man Cindy Gallegos holds accountable for her brother’s death was found guilty of first-degree murder on Thursday afternoon. Minutes after the verdict was announced, Gallegos, triumphant, said justice prevailed.

“I feel somewhat relieved,” she said outside the courtroom, “but it doesn’t bring him back.”

A Curry County jury needed about two hours of deliberation to convict Steven Robert Duran of killing Ricardo Gallegos. Duran faces a maximum punishment of 45 years in prison, said 9th Judicial District Attorney and prosecutor Matt Chandler.

Gallegos, 47, was found by his girlfriend on Jan. 13, 2004, lying in a pool of blood on his kitchen floor. The victim was shot six times, twice in the head, three times in the upper torso and once in the leg; eight shell casings were found in the kitchen of his home, according to court records.

Duran, 35, was handcuffed and led by police out of the courtroom as his niece Francesea Duran sobbed.

“I love you,” she cried as her uncle was marched away.

“My brother is not guilty,” said Duran’s sister, Olivia Duran. “The only reason they charged him is because he is a Duran,” she said.

Duran’s attorney, Gary Mitchell, said he will appeal the case.

Ninth Judicial District Court Judge Joe Parker granted Mitchell’s request to have Duran’s car held by police so the blood found inside can be tested. Though the blood found on Duran’s jacket and shoes was tested and found to be Duran’s, the blood inside the car was never tested.

Mitchell said the prosecution implied the blood belonged to the victim.

“Now I have a client facing a life sentence based on this case. It’s not right. I guarantee if it was some rich kid they would have tested the evidence. Because it’s some poor kid, nobody cares,” Mitchell said.

According to Chandler, the blood collected from the car was sent from the New Mexico Crime Lab to a Tennessee lab where it was never tested due to contract disputes. However, he said, “it is not the state’s burden to prove whose blood was found half a mile away from the crime scene; it’s the state’s burden to prove who pulled the trigger.”

Chandler said the pivotal moment of the trial occurred when Duran testified.

“The swinging point for the defense happened when the defendant took the stand and got caught up in his own story and the heat of the moment. Without knowing it, in a Freudian slip, he confessed: He said ‘I shot him in the leg.’ He tried to cover his tracks by saying ‘Mexicans shot him in the leg,’ but the damage was done,” Chandler said.

The defense played back a tape of the statement during closing arguments on Thursday; Chandler said the defendant’s confession was “crystal clear.”

According to Mitchell, Duran said “The guys shot him in the leg.”

Chandler said Duran’s guilt was proven by “overwhelming” circumstantial evidence and four witnesses who placed him at the scene of the crime at the time of the gunshots.

“I’ll be present for the sentencing,” said Olivia Duran, her sister-in-law beside her, too upset to speak. “We believe in God. This is in God’s hands.”

In addition to murder, Duran was convicted of four other charges: Possession of methamphetamine, possession of heroin, use or possession of drug paraphernalia and felon in possession of a firearm.

He was acquitted of armed robbery.

Duran will be sentenced within the next 60 days, according to David Loera, senior special agent with the 9th Judicial District attorney’s office. During that time he must undergo a psychological and physical assessment by a doctor, Loera said.