Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
The death sentence was more than 35 years in the making.
Convicted cop killer Joel Lee Compton died in a Los Lunas prison Thursday morning, decades after a New Mexico governor swapped his death penalty with life imprisonment for gunning down a veteran police officer outside an Albuquerque motel.
Compton’s life came to an end inside the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility at the age of 65, said 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office spokesman Michael Patrick. He did not know the cause of death.
Compton was serving a life sentence for shooting 35-year-old Albuquerque Police Department officer Gerald Cline with a high-caliber rifle outside a Central Avenue motel in 1983. Originally handed the death penalty, Compton’s sentence was commuted in 1986 by then-Gov. Toney Anaya.
Cline’s widow, Yolanda, said she got the call about Compton’s death around 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
“I was kind of surprised. At first it doesn’t seem possible, and then you go into a little bit of shock,” she said. “I didn’t ask details.”
Cline said the family had been hearing gossip that Compton was sick with cancer and had been moved to the Los Lunas prison for health reasons.
She said the family was preparing for an upcoming parole hearing in March, one of many such hearings that had come up and been denied over the past several years.
“I’m just to the point – I was tired of the hearings. He has stolen more hours from me than anybody,” Cline said. “I didn’t want to do it again.”
It was just before midnight on Feb. 24, 1983, when Gerald Cline responded to a suspicious person with a gun outside the Tewa Motor Lodge along Central, near San Mateo. The 11-year veteran pulled his cruiser into an alley behind the motel and was walking toward one of the rooms when 29-year-old Compton opened fire with a 30-30 rifle, killing the officer instantly with a shot through the heart. Compton was arrested across the street moments later. At the time, police believed the call went out after Compton began arguing with another man at the hotel about a young prostitute he had been offered.
Compton, originally from Texas, had already racked up various drug-related offenses in Albuquerque and a police sergeant described him as a “bona-fide nut.”
A funeral procession of motorcycle officers spanned blocks to the service for Cline. More than 1,500 mourners attended the funeral.
In the wake of his death, the North Valley police substation, near Second and Montaño, was named after the slain officer, as was the Jerry Cline Recreation and Tennis Center.
Throughout the trials and parole hearings that stretched over decades, Yolanda Cline said Compton continuously denied shooting Gerald and showed no remorse for her husband’s death, leaving her a widow with two young daughters and a 2-month-old son. Cline called her husband an “ordinary man,” but a good one who adored his children and was well liked within the community he served.
“Grief goes in stages. … There were times over the last 30 years, I could have easily dismembered him with a dull butter knife, because I was still that angry,” Cline said. “I’m not angry, and I’m not ready to forgive him. And that’s something I still have to do. I have a deep belief in God, and I believe God requires that of me.”