Duran found not guilty
A Soccoro County jury found a former Valencia County sheriff’s deputy not guilty Friday of coercing a woman into a sexual favor to get out a traffic ticket two years ago.
Duran, who was terminated from the Valencia County Sheriff’s Office following the alleged incident in 2010, has been cleared of two charges: extortion and false imprisonment.
The jury announced its verdict about atwo hours after beginning its deliberations.
Several factors had the most impact on the case: the color of the offender’s vehicle, the description of the offender himself and how New Mexico State Police conducted its investigation.
Dr. Roy Malpass, an expert witness who has more than four decades of experience with the study of memory and the accuracy of eyewitness accounts, testified the way state police conducted the investigation might have contaminated the witnesses’ memories of the event.
In terms of memory contamination though, Malpass could only speak in terms of groups, not individuals. He said on the stand on Thursday that there’s a chance the victim’s memory of the event was unintentionally influenced by officer suggestion during the investigation. There are too many variables that go into a person’s memory to determine if any one thing affected it, such as lighting, distance and stress, he said.
Stress can focus a person’s memory causing that person to concentrate on the important parts, while peripheral information is lost, Malpass testified.
During the trial, it became obvious that Samantha Patterson, the alleged victim, was distressed during the incident, crying because of the fight with her boyfriend and because of the incident itself.
Robert Case, the senior prosecuting attorney for the District Attorney’s Office, asked if Malpass could say with absolute confidence that Patterson’s memory was affected by the practices of state police that night.
“No,” Malpass said on the stand, “I can’t be that positive about that.”
What the defense was positive about, however, was the inconsistent reports of the color of the offender’s car. During an interview with state police on Sept. 11, 2010, the night of the alleged incident, which was shown on a video to the jury, the victim said the car looked like state police cars, not Valencia County Sheriff’s Department vehicles, and had a black back. She didn’t see a star on the door, but she said her boyfriend at the time, Gabriel Montano, had.
On the stand on Tuesday, Montano testified that the first time he thought the car might be a Valencia County Sheriff’s Department was when dispatch informed him their cars are black too.
During a pre-trial conference with the defense about a month ago, Montano had said the car had a color scheme of a black front and back with a white midsection.
In a video from the dash cam of New Mexico State Police Officer Marvin Goke, who first responded to the call, Patterson and Montano related their stories. Patterson is heard saying she just knows the back of the car is black.
Goke can be heard on the tape saying that state police cars have a lot of reflective tape on the back and Patterson would have noticed that tape if the car had been state police. On that same tape, Montano can be heard saying the car is all black.
In terms of the description of the officer, a sticking point was whether Patterson got a good look at him in the dark early morning hours of Sept. 11, 2010. In an earlier pre-trial conference, Patterson said she couldn’t give Officer Goke a description of the offender because she was crying the night of the incident.
She testified Tuesday that she was staring at the ground. She also said she looked back at the officer once and focused on his lips and cheek.
Montano, who also testified Tuesday, said he never saw the officer, so he couldn’t identify him.
“I never saw his face so I can’t really tell you,” Montano said.
During that interview on Sept. 11, 2010, with state police, Montano had said the offender was “stockier” but not fat; he also had said the officer had a tan shirt and Montano didn’t know about a badge.
Patterson testified that during an interview with state police, the offender wasn’t white, wasn’t black, but was possibly Hispanic. During that interview, she said the offender was chubbier and had no facial hair.
Standing at 5 feet 2 inches tall, Patterson said her head rested on the officer’s chest when the offender hugged her the night of the incident. She estimated, consistently, the officer was about 5 feet 7 inches.
Shawn Baca, a former Socorro County sheriff’s deputy who was convicted earlier this year for a similar crime, by comparison, is closer to 6 feet tall, said his victims.
Patterson also testified and during the Sept. 11, 2010, interview the offender was wearing a tan shirt, like the kind worn by the Valencia and Socorro County Sheriff’s Departments. State police uniforms are black.
Patterson told the jury Tuesday she remembered the officer had a star badge, having noticed it when her head was pressed against his chest. During the interview with state police, she reported not seeing a badge.
On the tape from Goke’s dash cam, he can be heard saying that there’s “no way” a state police officer would do such a thing because they film all traffic stops and approach from the passenger’s side, not the driver’s side.
Montano testified had gotten on his phone and called 911 as they drove to his parents’ house after the incident, reporting that a state police officer had just forced his girlfriend to take off her pants. Montano told the jury he assumed it was state police because they were in Socorro County and didn’t think the Valencia County Sheriff’s Department would be patrolling there.
During a recording of this call played for the jury, Patterson can be heard saying, “Honestly, I don’t know anything,” implying she could not identify the offender.
Goke conducted an interview with the two witnesses together at Montano’s parents’ house because, as Goke said testified Wednesday, the two had experienced the incident together.
Malpass testified that he had concerns about this because cross-discussion of an event with another person can influence each person’s memory of the event.
Also, Patterson said the trunk was black and was “long,” like a Crown Victoria and not a Charger. Goke said he had not told Patterson the car of the offender could not be a state police vehicle; also, Patterson had described the car to him as all black with a gold star.
On that 911 call, Patterson is heard saying the car is black. On that recording of the 911 call, Montano insists the car was that of state police, but the woman on dispatch says Valencia County Sheriff’s Department units are also black.
On the night of the incident, Goke showed Patterson a picture of Duran on a screen embedded in the dash of his squad car. She said the offender was heavier than the man in the picture. On the video from Goke’s dash cam, Patterson says the offender has a “chubby” face.
Patterson testified Goke had told her during the interview that Duran had lost weight.
No recording of this exchange exists. Goke told the jury that he doesn’t recall making the weight-loss comment and doesn’t believe he would make such a statement.
Patterson said during the state police that the cheeks of the man in the picture looked like the cheeks of the offender.
“I could tell this guy was him,” Patterson said during the interview. “I just could tell.”
On the stand, she said during that show-up at Duran’s house, she recalled thinking “that was the guy that had done it to me.” She said she had some doubt, but was still sure.
She said it was very important for her to identify the right man and not falsely accuse the wrong person because she doesn’t “think someone should do that to someone.”
Malpass said an important step that state police didn’t take in showing the picture of Duran is the instruction that the offender may or may not be the man in the photo.
Duran’s alibi, that he was asleep at his then-girlfriend’s house on the morning in question, was backed up by testimony from his girlfriend (now his wife), Inez Duran. She testified Wednesday that Duran escorted her home after a night of drinking with friends at a Chili’s.
This was around midnight Sept. 11, 2010, she said. She testified they arrived at her single-wide mobile home in Los Chavez around 12:20 a.m. They were in the middle of a fight, so they slept in separate bedrooms, she said.
Initially, Inez Duran told investigators they slept in the same room because she was embarrassed and didn’t want people to know they were fighting.
However, in the early morning hours of Sept. 11, 2010, she fell asleep about 15 minutes after arriving at home, she said. When Inez Duran went to go ask him to return to her bed around 3 a.m., , she found him asleep on the bed in the spare bedroom.
She testified that she was confident she would have heard him leave.
Inez Duran told the jury that his car was parked outside her master bedroom window and the floor would have creaked if he moved in the mobile home.
“I don’t know that he wasn’t in the house, but I don’t believe he left,” she testified.
The state police didn’t investigate the possibility of the offender being Shawn Baca because the information provided to them did not point to him. New Mexico State Police Detective Jeff Smith said the department did not want to waste resources on leads that were not relevant to the case.
El Defensor Chieftain Intern Griffin Swartzell contributed to this report.