LOCAL NEWS

Plea Deal Accepted in Murder/Arson Case

Willie Garcia Jr. Facing Maximum of 5.5 Years in Prison

 

By Carlos Padilla

HERALD Editor

A plea deal was struck between the State of New Mexico and accused murderer and arsonist Willie Garcia Jr., on Wednesday morning, Nov. 12, in the Seventh Judicial District Courthouse in Truth or Consequences. Mr. Garcia has been incarcerated since shortly after the death of 27-year-old Mical Lee Culpepper, who died in May 2012.

Sentencing will take place in approximately 45 days.

If sentenced to the maximum term in prison allowed by law due to this plea agreement – 5-1/2 years – Willie Garcia Jr., may be out of prison before this year’s sophomores at Hot Springs High School receive their diplomas for graduation.

QUESTION OF COMPETENCY

On Wednesday morning, Seventh Judicial District Court Chief Judge Kevin Sweazea opened the proceedings for the plea hearing, where Seventh Judicial District Attorney Clint Wellborn went on record as the prosecutor in the case and Steve Aarons went on record as the defense attorney representing Mr. Garcia.

Judge Sweazea acknowledged that the agenda to last week’s hearing indicated that the court was set to hear the plea and disposition, and that the court had been awaiting a competency report.

“Has that been prepared?” Judge Sweazea asked.

“It has, Your Honor,” Mr. Aarons offered, addressing the court, adding that he was filing in open court a notice of withdrawal of the competency issue.

Mr. Aarons went on to state that he had received a report Monday evening, Nov. 10, that in the opinion of the individual who had prepared the report after interviewing Mr. Garcia, that although Mr. Garcia does “have a history of multiple head injuries, the neuropsychological screening” indicates that “his memory, attention and language skills are sufficient for him to be able to work with his attorney in a rational and factual manner in his defense.”

Mr. Aarons had in fact been the individual to breech the issue of Mr. Garcia’s competency in the first place.

In question to the legal matters at hand, Garcia was found to possess “more than an adequate grasp of the fundamentals,” Mr. Aarons stated, reading from the report. “He does have a significant substance abuse history for which he could benefit from treatment. He is to remain on appropriate psychotropic medications to maintain competency.”

Aarons addressed the court, stating that he was now satisfied, as Garcia’s attorney, that his client’s competency was determined to be intact by the forensic psychologist, who he stated has a distinguished reputation in the state of New Mexico in her field.

With that said, Mr. Aarons requested that the issue of competency be withdrawn from the court.

Judge Sweazea, who was given the original report by defense attorney Aarons, ordered that the attorney needed to file the report with the court clerk’s office, as the issue of competency had been raised with the court regarding Mr. Garcia.

PLEA AGREEMENT

With that issue being put to bed, so to speak, Judge Sweazea asked the attorneys present in court if they wished to proceed with the plea agreement. Both attorneys stated that they were in fact prepared to proceed.

District Attorney Wellborn addressed the court, asking to specifically address the matter of Garcia being considered for a habitual offender enhancement.

Defense attorney Aarons spoke to the habitual offender enhancement, confirming that Mr. Garcia’s prior criminal offense was more than 10 years old, however, because Garcia was not released from probation until 2007, which was within 10 years, that placed Garcia “within the zero to 5-1/2 years.”

Asking for clarification, Judge Sweazea was told by Mr. Aarons that the figure of 5-1/2 years included the potential prison sentences combined.

In the portion of the plea agreement that discusses sentencing, Judge Sweazea stated, it references a statute that the offenses are nonviolent offenses. “Does that mean that they are not serious offenses?” he asked District Attorney Wellborn, who stated that the statute does state that the offense included in the plea agreement were considered nonviolent.

Willie Garcia Jr., was then sworn in by Chief Judge Sweazea.

To read the rest of this article, contact us at 575/894-2143 or at herald@torcherald.com for an e-subscription.

 

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