SANTA FE, N.M. — An officer who was once the lead case agent in the Carlos Fierro vehicular homicide case on Thursday gave testimony at the trial of Fierro’s passenger, Alfred Lovato, that provided new fodder for defense theories that the pedestrian killed by their car was jaywalking.
Veteran Santa Fe police officer Charles Otero testified that he was reassigned because his conclusion on a key part of the investigation differed from that of an accident reconstructionist.
Otero said his opinion was that William Tenorio was outside the crosswalk at a downtown Santa Fe intersection when a car driven by Fierro struck him on Nov. 26, 2008.
That conclusion apparently differs from that of Santa Fe police accident reconstructionist John Gonzales, who has yet to testify at Lovato’s trial.
“Do you think the reason you were reassigned was that you had come to the conclusion that (Tenorio) was outside the crosswalk and John Gonzales did not?” asked Lovato’s attorney, Sam Bregman.
“That was my opinion,” said Otero.
Lovato, 41, and Fierro had been drinking before the crash that caused Tenorio’s death. Tenorio, 46, of San Felipe Pueblo, was struck by Fierro’s black BMW near the intersection of Montezuma and Guadalupe streets.
Lovato – who was a State Police officer and member of then-Gov. Bill Richardson’s security detail at the time – is on trial for charges of vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident, under the state’s theory of “accessory” or “accomplice liability.”
Prosecutors argue that Lovato is as criminally liable as Fierro, saying he encouraged his friend to drink and drive. Fierro is in prison after being convicted of vehicular homicide and leaving the accident scene following his 2009 trial.
Fierro’s defense acknowledged Fierro was drunk behind the wheel but essentially blamed Tenorio for the crash by claiming that he carelessly walked into the street, in dark clothing on a dark night.
In Lovato’s trial, the prosecution must convince the jury that Fierro was guilty of vehicular homicide before reaching the question of whether Lovato played an active part in commission of the crime.
Otero’s testimony highlighted day three of Lovato’s trial. A state’s witness, Otero appeared to be nervous and struggled through his testimony. He recalled initially being assigned as the case agent, but was reassigned to assist in the area of crash reconstruction after Santa Fe police Det. Tony Trujillo took over as lead agent.
Trujillo is a veteran detective in the area of violent crimes, but had never been a case agent in a vehicular homicide case before the Fierro accident.
On Thursday, Otero struggled to answer questions about vehicle skid marks and admitted that he did not keep a crime scene log that tracks the comings and goings of people at the scene.
In addition to testifying that Tenorio was outside the crosswalk, Otero said that Tenorio was wearing dark clothing. Toxicology results show that Tenorio also was intoxicated – all factors in whether his own actions contributed to his death.
Jurors face conflicting witness accounts of how Tenorio was crossing the street that night. On Tuesday, former Santa Fe police officer Carl Vigil testified that a witness told him that Tenorio was walking backward. And, on Wednesday, WilLee’s patron Lionel Candelaria, who is Tenorio’s distant cousin, testified that Tenorio was outside the crosswalk.
However, Candelaria acknowledged he had several drinks that night.
Santa Fe police Det. Anthony Tapia testified earlier that his investigation showed Tenorio was “very close,” if not directly in the crosswalk. While noting that some witnesses have said Tenorio may have been walking backward, Tapia said “physics” proves otherwise.
And Oceanna Holton, also a patron at WilLee’s, testified Tuesday that although Tenorio initially turned toward her friend to wave, he did not walk backward in the crosswalk.
Among other witnesses who testified Thursday was Marie Leyba, the mother of Lovato’s son. She confirmed that Lovato called her from inside a police car after the accident. In-car video of that conversation shows that Lovato told Leyba he had been riding with Fierro that night and that Fierro hit someone and, “We killed the (expletive).”
Testimony is scheduled to resume Monday, with Fierro expected to testify against Lovato.