By Carlos Padilla
Willie Garcia Jr., accused of committing murder and setting a building on fire to cover up the alleged crime, is set to appear in Seventh Judicial District Court in Truth or Consequences at 9 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 15. Mr. Garcia is scheduled for a plea hearing before Chief Judge Kevin Sweazea.
Garcia was arrested in May 2012 and charged with the homicide of 27-year-old Mical Culpepper – a friend of Garcia’s. Garcia was also charged in the subsequent arson fire at an abandoned residence near Las Palomas.
Garcia, of Truth or Consequences, was arrested on Thursday evening, May 17, according to Herald archives, and was charged with four felony counts, including first-degree murder, second-degree arson, third-degree tampering with evidence, and third-degree burglary.
Prior to Garcia’s arrest, officials with the Seventh Judicial District Attorney’s Office and the Truth or Consequences Police Department had been investigating the disappearance of Mical Lee Culpepper, who was last seen on the evening of Friday, May 4, 2012.
Firefighter’s responded to the structure fire early Saturday morning, Sept. 5, and found the building – located at 15474 State Highway 187 – to be fully engulfed in flames. Firefighters from a handful of nearby fire districts battled the blaze for several hours – 11 hours in total. The scene was smoldering well into Sunday, May 6.
With the flames extinguished, Las Palomas Fire Chief Larry Brownlee contacted the New Mexico State Fire Marshal’s Office to request assistance in determining the cause and origin of the fire.
Arson Investigator Mikel Ward and officials with the Sierra County Sheriff’s Department located several items of evidence at the scene. This evidence reportedly led investigators to surmise that the blaze was intentionally set.
Seventh Judicial District Attorney’s Office Senior Investigator R.D. Hays stated at the time that there was “ample evidence” showing that all of the outbuildings and vehicles on the property had been broken into and burglarized.
Then-TCPD Detective Michael Lanford interviewed neighbors who reported hearing an argument in the area between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m., and then reported seeing flames at the scene at 4:30 a.m.
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