SANTA FE – A Santa Fe jury of eight women and four men began deliberations Friday night after hearing closing arguments in the murder trial of Christopher Owens, who is accused of killing Timothy Baca with a gunshot to the chest after a night of partying nearly two years ago.
The incident took place in the early morning hours of June 17, 2017, after a group of friends and relatives were out celebrating Baca’s wife’s birthday. Some of the people crammed into the Camaro the group was riding in said Owens became enraged after Baca joked that Owens and the man driving the car had together practiced singing a song that was playing on the car stereo.
When the driver pulled into a residential neighborhood near the Santa Fe National Cemetery, most of the occupants of the Camaro got out of the car and witnesses allege Owens shot Baca and ran away.
Prosecutors argued there was ample evidence to convict Owens of the charges brought against him: first-degree murder, tampering with evidence and trafficking a controlled substance. They said Owens fleeing the scene was good indication of consciousness of guilt.
“Nobody else left. They all stayed put … The only person that ran was that guy,” prosecuting attorney Todd Bullion said, pointing to Owens.
Bullion also argued that Owens allegedly threatening to shoot everyone in the head during the argument in the car, as witnesses testified, suggested Owens didn’t act spontaneously when he fired the shot.
“That’s pretty good evidence of a deliberate killing,” he said.
Prosecutors used police officer lapel camera video and audio tapes of 911 calls, in part, to refute defense arguments that other members of the group conspired to pin blame for the killing on Owens, who most of them had just met that night.
Defense attorney Lisa Torraco told the jury that playing the 911 calls was the prosecution’s attempt to manipulate the jury by pulling on their heartstrings. But she spent much of her 90-minute closing argument discrediting witnesses and criticizing the police investigation and its handling of evidence, which she said left reasonable doubt about Owens’ guilt.
She said police had made up their minds Owens was guilty shortly after they arrived at the scene. Police arrested Owens at his home later that day without conducting an investigation, she said.
“They arrested Chris right away and decided right away he was guilty,” she said.
Torraco said Owens ran from the scene because a second shot was fired by someone and he got scared, not because he was guilty. She didn’t say who might have killed Baca, but said it wasn’t Owens.
Before closing arguments and outside the presence of the jury, state District Judge T. Glenn Ellington sided with prosecutors in their argument that self-defense could not be considered by the jury because it wasn’t supported by the evidence presented during the nine-day trial.