Convicted killer Casillas given consecutive life sentences

CNJ staff photo: Kevin Wilson Anthony Casillas addresses members of Gary Payne’s family during his sentencing hearing Friday afternoon at the Curry County Courthouse. Casillas was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the 2008 shooting deaths of Payne and Melissa Ward.

Kevin Wilson

A Curry County judge sentenced Anthony Casillas to a pair of consecutive life sentences plus five-and-a-half years in an emotional sentencing hearing Friday afternoon.

Casillas, 24, was convicted in August of two counts of murder, a felony firearm possession charge and tampering with evidence with habitual offender enhancements in connection to the 2008 shootings of Gary Payne, 52, of Melrose, and Melissa Ward, 36, of Lubbock.

A life sentence in New Mexico is designated as 30 years before the possibility of parole. Because Judge Robert Orlik ordered the sentences to serve consecutively, Casillas must serve 30 years, then repeat the process for his second term if the parole board allows it, then serve another 30 years before he is eligible for parole.

Defense attorney Jesse Cosby said he plans to file an appeal, and Casillas and family members said a corrupt system locked up an innocent man.

District Attorney Matt Chandler requested sentences be served consecutively, noting that Casillas was first arrested when he was 12, and had numerous chances over the next decade to change his behavior before he shot Payne and Ward while traveling in a van on Martin Luther King Boulevard.

Chandler escorted members of Payne’s family to speak to Orlik but Cosby did not.

They spoke of the need to keep Casillas away from the public for the rest of his life.

“I have thought twice of committing suicide,” said Payne’s widow, Carol Payne. “The night of Sept. 25, 2008, will always stay in my mind.”

“I cannot bear to see what it would look like if he got out and got the urge to kill again.”

Payne’s daughter, Paula Williams, was unable to read her letter, but a victim’s advocate read that Casillas “took the chance to have my father walk me down the aisle at my wedding, and he took away the grandfather for my son and unborn daughter.”

Chandler said the shooting was the final act in a series of arguments that started when Payne, who worked with Casillas, wouldn’t pay on a playful wager at work.

“You look at him, and you find a person who has yet to feel any sorrow or remorse,” Chandler said. “The only place for him is the Department of Corrections.”

Cosby said imprisoning Casillas and others has two purposes — to punish and offer a chance at success upon release. Cosby said concurrent sentencing was still an appropriate punishment, because he wouldn’t be able to see his daughter outside the Department of Corrections until she was in her 30s, and the state parole board can always deny parole.

“They will have had 30 years of behavior (for evaluation purposes),” Cosby said.

He warned Orlik if the terms were to run consecutively, it would be more than 60 years before he could possibly be released. He felt it was a backdoor sentence of life without parole, which is now the standard for capital murder cases since the death penalty was abolished in New Mexico.

“This is not that case,” Cosby said, “but that’s what the state is arguing for.”

Casillas has maintained his innocence throughout. He told Payne’s family members he did not kill Gary Payne, and said he felt sorry that Chandler had led them down a path of deception.

As he spoke directly to Chandler, Casillas said he is just one of several who has been railroaded in Chandler’s quest to be elected attorney general.

“You ain’t got no intellectual honesty,” Casillas told Chandler. “You’re politically motivated, you’re looking for a spot in history.”

He said media, including the newspapers and “Matt Chandler’s radio stations” joined along in mischaracterizing him.

“I feel like I didn’t receive justice in the trial,” Casillas said. “I felt like the jury was more lenient to the prosecution.

“I’m not really who everybody’s portrayed me to be. I’m kind-hearted, I’m smart. I’ve had a pretty hard life, but everybody’s had a pretty hard life.”

Following Orlik’s sentencing, Casillas’ family and friends said they were denied justice.

Casillas’ brother, Andy Ramirez, approached the microphone after the hearing was concluded, but was handcuffed and led out by officers.

“All I wanted to do was make a statement for my family’s loss,” Andy Ramirez said outside of the courthouse, as he showed handcuff marks. “I lost my brother.”

Rhonda Ramirez, Casillas’ mother, said the family was upset they did not receive similar chances to speak during the hearing.

Rhonda Ramirez said the morals of Payne and Ward were minimized, and her son was portrayed as something he isn’t.

“He’s not a monster,” she said. “He’s a loving son, he’s a loving father. He’ll never get that chance.”

Chandler said nobody came to speak for Ward, and it was the court’s job to stand up for her.

Casillas’ cousin, Israel Ramirez, said Clovis and Curry County are corrupt, and didn’t give his cousin any chance at rehabilitation. He said he’s been in jail before, and he’s a better person because he turned his life around.

“They judge people by their appearance,” Israel Ramirez said, gesturing to his tattoos. “If they put me next to a white kid, what would they say?”

The family said they loved Casillas and would do whatever they could to help in his appeal.