Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
Editor’s note: The FBI and federal prosecutors relied on “cooperators” to take down more than 120 members and associates of the notorious Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico prison gang. More than a dozen were convicted at trial or pleaded guilty to murder in aid of furthering the gang’s racketeering activities. Some “cooperators” had criminal histories as violent as the men they testified against. Roy Paul “Shadow” Martinez is a case in point. This story is the second in a two-day series, and contains graphic content that describes violence some may find offensive.
Roy Paul Martinez credits Matthew Cavalier with saving his life in prison in 1995.
“He told me, ‘Man, I like you, youngster. You’re a good dude and they ordered me to hit you by Sunday and I can’t do it, man.’ ”
That good deed haunted Martinez when the Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico prison gang ordered him to kill Cavalier five years later.
“I could talk to him, and, also, he was a good dude,” Martinez testified earlier this year in U.S. District Court.
Martinez told federal court jurors he and Cavalier became friends while in neighboring prison cells. When the time came for him to kill Cavalier in 2000, he testified, “I kind of wanted to tell him (about the SNM hit), the way he did to me. He spared my life; he tried to warn me. But my loyalty was to the SNM, and I had feared the consequences of not taking care of that. So I made a ligature.”
Even as he braided torn jail sheets into the ligature used to strangle Cavalier, Martinez testified, “I’m thinking about attempting to go tell him.”
Martinez, who rose to be a high-ranking SNM leader, testified as a government cooperator in a massive federal prosecution aimed at dismantling the 38-year-old violent prison gang. It marked the first time Martinez, now 45, publicly detailed his role in two Albuquerque murders that made headlines from 1998 to 2001.
Back in 1995, Martinez was 21 when he arrived at the state Penitentiary in Santa Fe on an aggravated assault conviction. He wasn’t an SNM gang member yet, but found himself in a dispute with an inmate from another prison gang that was negotiating a “peace treaty” with the SNM.
To settle the matter, SNM agreed to kill Martinez.
But Martinez testified that SNM member Cavalier, also known as Moscow, “campaigned” to spare his life.
By August 2000, Cavalier had been released from prison but was back in jail in Albuquerque on a parole violation.
Some years earlier, SNM leaders branded Cavalier a snitch for cooperating with law enforcement in a prior prison slaying, and he was “greenlighted” by the gang, or marked for death.
So Martinez, awaiting trial on a 1998 murder charge at the time, joined two other SNM members at the then-Bernalillo County Detention Center to carry out the hit. “We (decided) we couldn’t let him leave alive.”
It all went according to plan, he testified. They entered Cavalier’s cell to smoke a cigarette together. When Martinez, also known as Shadow, tossed the cigarette into the toilet, that was the signal for the others to jump up and grab Cavalier.
“My back was turned (at the toilet) but I knew what was happening. I could hear it – the scuffle … and I heard Rabs (Samuel Silva) put that grip on. I call it a death grip.”
With one inmate holding Cavalier’s legs and Silva his upper body, Martinez pulled the homemade ligature off his waist to wrap around Cavalier’s neck.
“And he’s staring at me all the time. I tried not to look at him. I tried to avoid him, and he says, ‘Don’t do it, Roy.’
“Those were his last words. That I’ll never forget. But I tuned it out.”
Cavalier, trying to keep his chin down, was struggling and fighting. With one hand, Martinez pulled back Cavalier’s head.
“I put my knee on the back of his head and held it there because I was losing strength,” Martinez testified. “I was wearing down. Then it was slow motion. I heard his neck pop. … So he kind of went limp, and, then, I don’t know, seconds later he died.”
It was 14 hours before jail guards discovered Cavalier’s body.
Martinez’s hands were swollen with ligature marks. He and three other SNM members, including Gerald “Styx” Archuleta, were initially charged in Cavalier’s murder. All but Silva pleaded guilty.
Martinez took the rap, he said, so charges would be dismissed against his SNM brother Silva.
“We call it ‘carnalismo,'” Martinez testified.
Not his first murder
Cavalier wasn’t Martinez’s first murder victim. In 1998, Martinez fatally shot his girlfriend of two months, Albuquerque Police Department Sgt. Cheryl Tiller.
Martinez, then 25, had just been released from prison when he met Tiller through her niece, who worked near an Albuquerque truck stop where Martinez sold drugs.
Tiller was aware of his criminal activity, he testified, “and said she would help connect me with people she knew could help me grow bigger and do more things (as a drug trafficker).”
Martinez was on the run after breaking parole by cutting off his ankle bracelet. But one night, Tiller was off duty and wanted to go for a drive. He thought it strange when she told him to leave his ID at home.
“We went through a couple of (law enforcement) checkpoints, and she flashed her badge at them, and we went right through,” he testified.
Tiller parked her truck near the Petroglyphs National Monument, and Martinez noticed a car parked 100 yards away. The car had its headlights off and was facing them.
“That’s where people go to hide away their little sins,” he testified. “I had a bad vibe.”
His fears mounted. So he hugged and kissed Tiller to get close enough to grab her APD service revolver from her waistband. He told her to confess that she had set him up to be killed, but she resisted. He shot her three times.
“There were no headlights. The only thing was the moonlight. And I just seen the shadow disappear.”
Though news reports of his murder trial in Tiller’s death make no mention of a set-up, Martinez told a federal court jury earlier this year that he found out later that she was in debt to Mexican drug dealers for $70,000.
“The people I met with her were these hard-core Mexicans that were big-time in Albuquerque, and they were some scary people. Those people don’t care. They’ll bury you.”
Tired of gang life
Martinez is serving a life sentence in state prison in Tiller’s death. His 15-year prison sentence in Cavalier’s murder is running concurrently.
As a prosecution witness in the Syndicato racketeering case, Martinez testified that he no longer uses heroin.
“After the murder of Moscow (Cavalier), I just stopped doing everything. I stopped everything.”
He said he was also tired of the gang life.
“I had already wrote letters (to Corrections officials) trying to ask a way out. I wanted a way out. But people like me, I was a leader, I guess they really didn’t give a way out.”
Why cooperate? one defense attorney asked Martinez.
“My daughter, already in her 20s, pleaded with me, crying. She asked me when I am going to change my life?”
After being indicted in the SNM racketeering case in 2015, Martinez pleaded guilty a year later to conspiring with other top ranked SNM members to kill then-state Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel and another top prison official.
“I wanted him dead,” Martinez said of Marcantel, who placed gang members on lockdown after the 2014 murder of an SNM member at Southern Correctional Facility in Las Cruces.
“He told us that he decided to lock us down and keep us on restriction until we decide we’re not going to kill each other anymore,” Martinez testified.
SNM leaders in turn began discussing a hit on Corrections officials. And Martinez wrote letters, beginning in early 2015, to recruit SNM hitmen in Albuquerque. Those letters ended up in the hands of Corrections and, ultimately, the FBI.
Martinez could face up to 20 years in federal prison for his role in the conspiracy but hasn’t yet been sentenced.
While waiting to testify in the racketeering case, Martinez and other former SNM members-turned-informants attended a special “philosophy class” in state prison.
There, the instructor “wanted us to change our thinking because of who we once were. Because we were used to thinking the gangster life and taking aggression out on certain things instead of talking out and trying to approach things differently.”
And the classes helped, he testified, adding that he’d like to take more.
“Like dealing with the administration. When we don’t get what we want, we used to go off and burn and do some pretty bad things to make their lives miserable. Now I just … I wait, be patient. … I just got to talk to them.”
In late 2016, Martinez attended a prison pizza party Corrections officials threw for some SNM cooperators and their families.
FBI agents attended, and Corrections administrators gave speeches, he recalled.
“They said they were happy we chose a different life. That we’re not the ruthless gangsters that they were used to dealing with, being they were having real serious problems with us over the years.”
Some were “real surprised” the former SNM members had become cooperators, Martinez testified.
“They said they never thought they would shake some of our hands. They know we have done very harmful things. They know we put hits on their bosses, and they know our records.
“We are killers, you know.”