Convicted man will have new trial in May

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A new trial will be held for Ramon Lopez, currently serving a life sentence for the rape and murder of 24-year-old Socorro resident Crystal Houston Calderella, in May.

Lopez appealed his 2006 conviction to the State Supreme Court. Last August, the court ruled that one witness called in the original proceedings should not have been allowed to testify, and remanded Lopez’s case to the 7th Judicial District Court to be heard again.

At a pre-trial conference on Thursday, Feb. 2, Lopez’s newly appointed public defender, John McCall, raised the issue of changing the trial venue to Truth or Consequences, citing negative publicity and the defendant’s prior relationship with local law enforcement.

Judge Matthew Reynolds said he had not seen any more press on this case than on any other cases preparing for trial in Socorro, and said Lopez’s relationship with law enforcement wouldn’t be a change of venue matter, but both issues could be addressed during jury selection. He left the door open for the trial to be moved, however.

“If there’s a motion you want to file, then file it,” Reynolds said.

The new trial is expected to take nine days. State prosecutors plan to call 15 to 20 witnesses,

“Are all your witnesses anticipated on showing up?” Reynolds asked.

Special Prosecutor Michelle Dowler said it would depend on how soon she could get a complete witness list and start issuing subpoenas.

In the first proceed, one witness who had testified during a preliminary hearing could not be found when it was time for the trial to begin, although an audiotape of his preliminary hearing testimony was allowed into evidence.

Reynolds asked McCall if the defense had formally raised the issue of an alibi, and said the prosecution would need to be informed.

“The safe thing is to list (any alibi witnesses) now, so there are no unfair surprises,” Reynolds said.

Later Reynolds reiterated his remarks about surprise additions to the witness list.

“The ones mentioned at the last trial, you can put them on the list. Any new ones, we need to know about as soon as possible,” he said. “If they’re brought forward at the last minute, I’ll deny them, like I did last time.”

Reynolds also asked if there were plans on either side to introduce motions. Dowler said she wasn’t anticipating any new motions on her part.

McCall said he would file a motion for Lopez to be housed in Albuquerque instead of Gallup, where he is now incarcerated, to cut down the travel time between client and attorney. He indicated that he expected to need to consult with Lopez frequently because there is a new defense theory they want to explore.

Reynolds’ last question was whether there are any negotiations in the works for a plea agreement. Dowler said a plea agreement was not completely off the table.

“If you have a plea agreement, it has to be accepted two weeks before the trial or I won’t allow it,” Reynolds said, citing expense to the court and inconvenience to potential jurors.

Reynolds said at least 100 people will be called out for the jury pool.

 


-- Email the author at sbarteau@dchieftain.com.