ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The leftover enchiladas were not yet cold when Larry Francia arrived back at his apartment from dinner and a tenant told him about some broken glass on the sidewalk.
Francia, on-site manager for the Kentucky Manor apartments, handed the plate of enchiladas to a friend, grabbed a broom and started sweeping.
It was his last normal moment for weeks.
What came next is a reminder that the past is not easily outrun and that the justice system does not always travel a straight line and can roll over a person caught in its wobbly path.
Francia, 41, is that person.
“It’s been like a nightmarish ordeal,” said Francia, an affable, articulate man who admits freely that his own life has had a few wobbles until, as he puts it, he pulled his head out of his butt and chose to live a more responsible, respectable life.
“I was a low-life, man,” he said. “I went from being a loser running around the streets acting a fool and being bad to being the Neighborhood Watch captain in my community.”
He’s been clean and sober for 1,027 days and has tried to stay out of trouble.
But trouble found him anyway.
It happened May 28, the last gasp of a long Memorial Day weekend, though exactly what happened depends on whom you ask.
A criminal complaint details four wildly varying versions, but suffice to say that each involves the driver of a Chevrolet sedan who may or may not have picked up a woman with a rose in her blond hair who was leaving the Downs Racetrack and Casino in Southeast Albuquerque.
Both ended up at the Kentucky Manor, four blocks south of the casino at Kentucky and Anderson SE, for reasons that include dropping off the woman to looking to score drugs or a prostitute or both.
The driver told police that while he was parked outside, a man described only as wearing dark clothing approached the sedan, pointed a gun, shattered the front passenger window, demanded the driver’s wallet and iPhone and threatened to tell the driver’s wife that he was picking up hookers if he called police.
The complaint notes that neither the woman with the rose in her hair nor an apartment tenant identified as Roy saw the altercation.
And neither had Francia.
“I got home from having dinner with friends in Los Lunas, and I hadn’t even gotten to my apartment yet when Roy approaches me and tells me about broken glass on the sidewalk,” he says. “So I handed my plate of enchiladas to this girl I was seeing, got a broom and started sweeping.”
The driver, brought back to the scene by police, identified Francia, dressed in dark clothing, as the man who robbed him.
Francia was booked into the Metropolitan Detention Center on a charge of armed robbery. Prosecutors successfully argued that he be held without bond because of the violent nature of the allegation, the weight of evidence against him, the danger he posed to society and his criminal history from back in his “low-life” days.
It didn’t help that just a month before, Francia was charged with misdemeanor harassment involving a problem tenant – a questionable allegation, said John Bloomfield, executive director of New Life Homes, which owns Kentucky Manor. The tenant has since been evicted, he said.
For two weeks, Francia sat in jail, unable to communicate with the outside world, including with Bloomfield.
“This just wasn’t like him,” Bloomfield said.
Still, Bloomfield said he had to terminate Francia’s position and shut down his apartment when his relatives tried to move in.
Francia’s case went before a grand jury June 13. In an incredibly rare move, it declined to return an indictment.
Francia was a free man, unemployed and out of an apartment.
“It just shows you that sometimes even when you do the right thing, bad things happen,” he said.
But Francia wasn’t down for long. He’s living now with a cousin and working odd jobs. It’s another turning point, he said, in a lifetime full of them.
“I guess in the end what is good is that even though the cops don’t like me, those who know me do,” he said.
Last week at a Metro Court hearing for the harassment charge, former boss Bloomfield and about eight tenants from Kentucky Manor showed up on behalf of the man they call “Legendary Larry.”
“He has a lot of support here,” Bloomfield said. “It seems that he has been unfairly targeted.”
When things settle down, he said, there may be other job opportunities for Francia at other properties, if not Kentucky Manor.
That’s fine with Francia.
Until then, let’s hope he gets to enjoy his enchiladas in peace.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg.