Travis Rowley, locked up for a year for a double murder he didn’t commit, won’t go to trial this month as scheduled in the civil rights case he filed against Albuquerque Police Department officers and prosecutors.
Despite the city’s objections, he will get more time for his lawyers to investigate details of his claim — that he and a fellow magazine salesman were coerced into confessing to the murders of Tak and Pung Yi, ages 79 and 69, at the couple’s Northeast Heights home in 2007.
U.S. District Judge William “Chip” Johnson last month filed an order agreeing to the postponement of a Jan. 13 trial and taking the city attorney’s office to the proverbial woodshed.
Johnson said he viewed the city’s refusal to agree to the trial delay as “somewhat brazen, given the frequency with which the city of Albuquerque has failed to respond to motions or missed a deadline for filing an answer.” Johnson cited two cases in which he was the presiding judge and city lawyers failed to file timely pleadings. In a footnote, the judge said he was “very confident that if I searched the trial dockets of other judges … there would be numerous other examples of missed deadlines.”
He also said the city’s objection to Rowley’s DNA expert — ostensibly because the city didn’t get a report — is unimaginable since the expert in question “was a former prosecution expert on DNA.”
Rowley’s onetime co-defendant Michael Lee, who was represented by a different lawyer in his civil case, already has settled with the city for $950,000, and prosecutors have been dismissed from the case.
Rowley and Lee had been selling magazines and books door to door in the far Northeast Heights when the bodies of the Yis were discovered.
They were arrested and charged with capital murder, subjected to repeated interrogations and jailed for 15 months, until a suspect in another case, Clifton Bloomfield, was linked to the Yi murders by his confession during the summer of 2008 and by DNA evidence found under the fingernails of Tak Yi.
Even after the salesmen’s release, law enforcement officials remained certain they had something to do with the crimes, and said so publicly when the two were freed.
Besides the settlement in Lee’s lawsuit, the city paid $439,000 to settle a complaint filed by Katherine Pierce. Her husband Scott, whom she had married a short time before, became one of Bloomfield’s victims by accident when the newlyweds moved into a home the killer thought was occupied by someone else.
Rowley’s complaint alleges the city withheld results of DNA analysis while trying to get Bloomfield to say the salesmen helped commit the murders — allegedly promising to drop the death penalty and make other concessions for his help in the civil lawsuit Rowley had filed.
“The allegations in this case,” Johnson’s order said, “are sufficiently egregious to require that both parties be allowed a full opportunity to develop discovery.”
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal