By Carlos Padilla
The latest in a series of delays in the court proceedings for Willie Garcia Jr., took place Wednesday, Oct. 15, at the Seventh Judicial District Courthouse in Truth or Consequences. Despite Wednesday’s plea hearing in the nearly 2-1/2-year-old murder and arson case being set weeks ago, it became all too apparent as the hours ticked by that this most recent plea hearing would have to be rescheduled.
As the docket dwindled down to the last couple of cases, Chief Judge Kevin Sweazea regularly questioned District Attorney Clint Wellborn, court staff and Garcia’s family if they had heard from defense attorney Steve Aarons, between every few cases.
The reasons given for Aarons’ absence varied, however, Mr. Aarons was eventually able to join the proceedings telephonically, and explained that he had attempted to contact the District Court Clerk’s Office near the time that office closed on Tuesday evening, Oct. 14 – to request another continuance in this case, or to request a telephonic appearance.
This being the latest in a string of eleventh-hour motions made by Mr. Aarons or delays attributed to the defense – requesting continuances, mostly – prompted Judge Sweazea to once again issue a stern warning to the Albuquerque-based attorney regarding his lack of providing adequate notice to the court and “wasting the time of the court” in preparing for hearings, court personnel traveling the expansive Seventh Judicial District – not to mention a courtroom full of people personally involved in this case or following the developments made to wait unnecessarily.
Mr. Aarons countered that Wednesday’s delay was due to the report from the mental competency evaluation performed on Mr. Garcia some two months ago not being complete as of the Oct. 15 pre-scheduled plea hearing. Aarons stated that the facility where Mr. Garcia is being housed accommodates several convicted felons “on death row,” adding that “it took a long time to get clearance” for the outside psychologist to even enter the facility.
Judge Sweazea asked why the state facility’s psychologist was not utilized – as is customary – to which Mr. Aarons replied that he believed that using an outside psychologist would be more expedient. Mr. Aarons assured the court that all that is needed is the report from that mental competency evaluation.
On his way out of the courtroom, Mr. Garcia – noting that with the initially-rescheduled plea hearing date of Wednesday, Nov. 5 (that date has since been changed) being three weeks away – requested to be allowed to remain at the Sierra County Detention Center.
Judge Sweazea stated that decision would be left up to the administration of the local detention center.
Herald readers may recall that Garcia was part of a group of inmates who were reportedly “running the jail” during a previous administrator’s tenure, and may recall the public backlash when it was reported that Garcia – charged with arson and murder – was given trustee status. Among his privileges as a jail trustee was being allowed outside of the facility regularly, washing county vehicles among other chores.
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