Death penalty case decision expected today

Freedom New Mexico: Argen Duncan Defense attorney Gary Mitchell addresses the court during Monday’s death penalty hearing in Portales. Mitchell is representing William “Billy Joe” Watson, seated, who is charged in connection with the 2005 death of Jimmy Bo Chunn.

By Argen Duncan: Freedom New Mexico

PORTALES — A district court judge plans to review more evidence and listen to closing arguments before making a decision on whether there is sufficient evidence for prosecutors to seek the death penalty against a Roosevelt County farmer.

In a district court hearing Monday, Judge Drew Tatum listened to arguments from District Attorney Matt Chandler and defense attorney Gary Mitchell about accusations that William “Billy Joe” Watson, 44, hired a prospective member of the Aryan Brotherhood to kill Causey farmer Jimmy Bo Chunn in 2005. The hearing, originally set for Wednesday and Thursday, aimed to determine whether an aggravating factor allowing eligibility for the death penalty existed in the case.

FBI special agent Theodore Griego, who has investigated the Aryan Brotherhood in New Mexico and Texas as well as Chunn’s death, was the sole witness in the hearing.

Watson entered the courtroom wearing a bulletproof vest.

Chunn, 71, was shot in the head in his home July 4, 2005, according to authorities.

Roosevelt County resident Donald Taylor is charged with pulling the trigger in exchange for anhydrous ammonia, used as agricultural fertilizer and in methamphetamine manufacturing. Taylor is also accused of returning to Chunn’s house July 7, 2005, to steal money and guns.

Chunn’s body wasn’t discovered until July 8.

Chandler said Taylor was trying to become a full, or “made,” member of the Aryan Brotherhood, which requires a significant act of violence. He had become involved with the organization while in prison for a failed armed robbery.

Also, a superior in the Aryan Brotherhood had asked Taylor to obtain anhydrous ammonia to manufacture meth, Chandler continued.

Chandler said Watson wanted Chunn killed because he was aggravating, nosy and always asking Watson for things. Watson and Taylor agreed to the exchange of anhydrous ammonia for Chunn’s death, he said.

“Your honor, this is a classic case of contract, murder for hire,” Chandler said in opening arguments.

Murder for hire was a qualifying factor for the death penalty. Despite the recent repeal of capital punishment in New Mexico, Watson could face execution because of a grandfather clause that allows it for crimes committed before July 1.

Defense attorney Gary Mitchell said Watson never had a contract or desire to harm Chunn. He added that locals knew Watson to be the only person who got along with Chunn, and Taylor had “no respect” for Chunn because of Chunn’s treatment of his parents.

Mitchell said the government’s case was based on a prison conversation between Taylor and a confidential source, later revealed to be an Aryan Brotherhood member working with the FBI.

“Mr. Taylor was the only one who said anything about Mr. Watson, or a conversation with Mr. Watson,” Mitchell said in opening arguments.

As part of the investigation, Griego had an FBI informant who is a member of the Aryan Brotherhood placed in the cell next to Taylor’s following his probation violation arrest. Griego said the informant had a recording device that captured a conversation in which Taylor described a deal with Watson.

“I kind of struck a deal with a friend of mine, Mr. Watson, which was kind of handy with some anny (anhydrous ammonia),” Griego said, reading a conversation transcript.

In the conversation, Griego said, Taylor said Watson wanted Chunn to go missing in return for the anhydrous ammonia and Watson said Chunn “didn’t need to be around in this world any more.”

In the investigation, Griego said, the informant and an ATF agent also posing as an Aryan Brotherhood member approached Watson with a letter from Taylor. The letter, Griego said, was a request for the anhydrous ammonia.

“Mr. Watson readily acknowledged he had a debt and readily agreed to fulfill that debt,” Griego said.

Griego said the agent and informant never threatened Watson, who provided the anhydrous ammonia.

Mitchell said Watson did so because he feared for his saftey and that of his family. Watson discussed the matter with several people, including a friend who was a former member of the Aryan Brotherhood and was later killed, Mitchell said.

Mitchell also said the conduct of authorities in questioning Watson was questionable if not reprehensible. He said Watson was confused by the questions at first, and gave many different answers as a result.

Griego said Watson provided information inconsistent with other witness statements when asked about if and when he met with Taylor before the murder and how he knew Chunn was shot in the head. Watson corrected statements when confronted with remarks from other witnesses, Griego said.

Tatum said he planned to make a decision Tuesday, after reviewing transcripts and videos of authorities interviewing Watson, and hearing closing arguments.

Prosecutor’s Timeline

As told by FBI Special Agent Theodore Griego, unless otherwise noted.

May 2005

• Roosevelt County native Donald Taylor is released from prison after serving several years for an attempted armed robbery of an area Wal-Mart. He returns to the county and begins working for farmer William “Billy Joe” Watson.

• Taylor travels to northern New Mexico and steals firearms and personal items from a residence. He hides the guns in an abandoned farmhouse on property Watson controls and hides the other items in his parents’ barn.

June 2005

• Taylor meets Michael Brown, a higher-ranking member of the Aryan Brotherhood, in San Jon. Brown asks Taylor to get anhydrous ammonia for methamphetamine manufacture. The substance is also an agricultural fertilizer.

• Taylor and Watson discuss anhydrous ammonia.

Sometime before July 2005:

• Taylor retrieves a disc of information from a woman who passed information among members of the Aryan Brotherhood, but fell out of favor. Taylor asks Brown if he should kill the woman, but Brown says no.

July 4, 2005

• Taylor shoots Roosevelt County resident Jimmie Bo Chunn in the head at Chunn’s home.

July 7, 2005

• Taylor returns to Chunn’s residence to steal guns and money. He hides the guns in the abandoned farmhouse.

July 8, 2005:

• Chunn’s body is discovered. The criminal investigation begins.

July 8 or 9, 2005

• Taylor comes to his probation officer, who finds alcohol and guns in Taylor’s vehicle. Taylor is jailed for parole violation.

July 9, 10 and 13, 2005

• Local law enforcement officers question Watson. (As per defense attorney Gary Mitchell.)

September 2005

• FBI informant and Aryan Brotherhood member Donald Wilson moves into the cell next to Taylor.

October 2005

• While in prison, Taylor gives Wilson a letter asking Watson to allow someone on his property to retrieve “tools,” a code word for weapons, and a map to the abandoned farmhouse where he hid firearms stolen from Chunn’s house and a Northern New Mexico residence.

• Authorities search the abandoned farmhouse by night and remove the firearms, one of which is later confirmed to be the rifle that killed Chunn.

• Undercover Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent Pete McCarthy and FBI informant and Aryan Brotherhood member John Fairres pose as Brotherhood members and approach Watson, who allows them on his property. They pretend to recover the “tools” from the farmhouse. No one refers directly to guns.

November 2005

• Taylor explains to Wilson a contract with Watson to kill Chunn in exchange for anhydrous ammonia. Wilson passes the information to Griego.

End of November or beginning of December 2005

• Taylor gives Wilson a letter to Watson asking for the promised anhydrous ammonia, thinking Wilson will pass it on to a member of the Brotherhood.

Dec. 6, 2005

• McCarthy and Fairres again meet with Watson and deliver Taylor’s letter. Watson said he would work on getting the anhydrous ammonia, but it would take time. Watson later calls McCarthy three to five times to discuss his progress.

Dec. 14, 2005

• Watson pays $990 for 850 gallons of anhydrous ammonia in Muleshoe.

Dec. 15, 2005

• McCarthy and Fairres try to retrieve the tank of anhydrous ammonia but can’t find it. Watson assists them, asks about future paid work for the Aryan Brotherhood and invites the men over for beer.

March 2006

• The New Mexico state crime lab determines the bullet found at Chunn’s house matches a rifle recovered from Taylor’s stash at the abandoned house.

• Authorities question Watson, who refuses to answer.

About August 2006

• Still in prison, Taylor writes a coded letter describing his activities for the Aryan Brotherhood since his May 2005 release from prison. The letter mentions a deal for anhydrous ammonia with “Mr. X.”

June 2007

• Watson is arrested and Taylor is indicted in connection with Chunn’s murder. (As per Portales News-Tribune reports)

June 2008

• Watson is indicted in connection with the murder of Chunn. (As per Portales News-Tribune reports)