The more than four-year-long legal saga surrounding the death of an 11-year-old Hobbs boy came to an “unusual but appropriate” end Monday, defense attorney Barry Crutchfield said.
Crutchfield represented 24-year-old Carlos “CJ” Maldonado as he pleaded no contest to a charge of involuntary manslaughter in Eddy County District Court on Monday.
Maldonado will serve just another five months or less in jail following his plea on the involuntary manslaughter charge and an unrelated drug possession charge from September, according to Assistant District Attorney Dianna Luce.
Maldonado is accused of shooting 11-year-old Lawrence Juarez in a spray of bullets on Dec. 2, 2006. Maldonado was also shot as at least one other unidentified person returned fire.
Maldonado went through two mistrials in Lea County in the manslaughter case and was scheduled for a third trial in Eddy County this week. Instead, Maldonado entered his plea and accepted a sentencing recommendation from the state that would give him credit for time served on both charges.
A guilty verdict reached in the first voluntary manslaughter trial was overturned by the New Mexico Court of Appeals due to incorrect jury instructions. A conviction on tampering with evidence, though, was upheld.
The second voluntary manslaughter trial was interrupted during jury deliberation when a juror alleged outside intimidation from an unknown individual. No charges were filed in the alleged intimidation.
The first two trials were heard by Lea County District Judge Don Maddox.
Eddy County District Judge Jane Shuler Gray presided over the new hearings after a change of venue request was granted.
“From what I’m hearing, ... the tragedy in this is that this has been an ongoing feud between two family factions that predated this event,” Gray said Monday. “The really horrid, horrid thing is that a child was killed in this situation.
“... I hope you don’t forget that child, whether it was accidental or not, it doesn’t matter, he’s dead,” she added.
Maldonado has essentially already served the 18-month sentence for involuntary manslaughter during the time he spent incarcerated while awaiting appeal and when he returned to custody after facing drug charges.
As part of an agreement with the state, Maldonado pleaded guilty to the charge of possession of a controlled substance, stemming from the September 2010 arrest. That charge also carries an 18-month jail sentence.
Luce said the state was also seeking a habitual offender enhancement that would add one year to the sentence, making the total jail time three and a half years — most of which Maldonado has already served.
Luce spoke at the hearing on behalf of the victim’s family.
“They did not want to be here today, the family wishes to put all of this behind them. They want to move forward,” she said. “No outcome of these charges could change the circumstances. ... They are satisfied with whatever the decision of the court is.”
Maldonado remained in custody of the Lea County Detention Center after Monday’s hearing.
Exactly how much jail time Maldonado will be credited is unclear, Luce said. Lea County Detention Center will provide the exact number of days he was behind bars at a later date.
Maldonado will serve the remaining balance of his sentence at the county facility. He will be placed on supervised probation for two and-a-half years following his release.
Crutchfield told Gray that Maldonado has not been involved in any other altercations involving the victim’s family.
Gray said she’s heard the extended family on both sides are still continuing the family feud.
“Probably if I had all your extended family here and was lecturing them, what they’d hear was me just saying, 'Blah, blah, blah,' ” Gray said to Maldonado. “I guess they’re going to do what they’re going to do, but I hope they don’t. I want to be certain you don’t because you’re the one I have jurisdiction over. I have no power over your cousins, family and friends at all. All they’re going to do with this getting even is cause more tragedy to more people. I hope that stops. ... I really hope it stops with you.”
Gray said she strongly urged Maldonado to transfer his probation to another county, leave the volatile situation in Hobbs and change his life.
“I hope this ends not only a chapter, but the entire story,” she said.