Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Police believe an elderly Santa Fe man was beaten to death more than 13 years ago, and some officers are still pushing for charges against the man they believe did it.
Walter Donlon, 87, died in November 2005 from injuries suffered in his north-side home. His property manager, Marvin CdeBaca, called 911 from the house, and said Donlon fell and hit his head on a TV.
But doctors at a local hospital determined that Donlon’s injuries were inconsistent with a fall, and crime scene technicians later said that he was injured while he was sitting in a chair.
Santa Fe and State Police officers believed CdeBaca killed Donlon, but CdeBaca was never charged. A former Santa Fe district attorney said last week that the evidence was not strong enough to charge CdeBaca with murder.
CdeBaca has always maintained his innocence.
The case has garnered new attention after a recent KRQE news story. A spokesman for current Santa Fe DA Marco Serna says the case is being reviewed.
The Office of the Medical Investigator determined that Donlon died of blunt force trauma and noted that he had three wounds on his head that were inconsistent with a fall.
Donlon briefly regained consciousness in the hospital and said “they beat me” before losing consciousness again, according to a 2006 search warrant affidavit. He died 10 days after he was injured.
CdeBaca was considered a “person of interest” early in the investigation, according to Journal news stories from September 2006.
Although there was no physical evidence that CdeBaca harmed Donlon, police believe financial motives tied him to the case. CdeBaca had taken over Donlon’s finances and became his personal representative when Donlon died, the police affidavit said.
A collection of gold coins was also missing from Donlon’s study after his death.
Angela “Spence” Pacheco, who took over the DA’s office at the beginning of 2009 and served through 2015, said in an interview this week that her office took the Donlon case “very seriously.”
“We spent a lot time on it, working with the police,” Pacheco said. “They did a good job on the investigation.”
“But it was clearly a circumstantial case,” she added. “In the end, there wasn’t sufficient evidence to go forward.”
The Santa Fe Police Department’s case agent, SFPD Detective Tony Trujillo, could not be reached last week. He is among the officers involved in the effort to push for Serna to file charges in the case.
Donlon’s wife, Theresa Campora-Donlon, died of natural causes at 94 in June 2006. The couple did not have children.
Former Santa Fe DA Henry Valdez, who preceded Pacheco and was in office when the Donlon investigation started, said in a recent interview that he vaguely remembers the case, but recalls the evidence as being “circumstantial.”
“I do remember there being some concerns (about the evidence),” Valdez said. “The case was two years old before we even got it.”
Valdez said he remembers the case being set for a grand jury hearing that was cancelled because the lead prosecutor had a family emergency. But Valdez said scheduling a grand jury hearing doesn’t necessarily mean the hearing’s purpose was to seek an indictment of CdeBaca. He said it could have been to subpoena documents, which is common in financial cases.
Valdez said a decision was then made to let the incoming DA – Pacheco – take over the case after his term ended in 2008.
Former State Police investigator Paul Chavez said recently that the evidence was strong enough for prosecutors to at least try charging CdeBaca.
“In my opinion, I think it is a very strong case,” Chavez said. “What kind of physical evidence do you need?”
He said he worked on nearly 200 homicide cases and has seen “a lot more circumstantial” cases move forward.
Chavez said he was brought in to analyze and reconstruct the scene in the Donlon case. He said evidence indicates that Donlon was beaten on the head as he was sitting in a chair.
He said the investigating officers have approached every DA’s administration since the investigation started.
“We have brought it to their attention and met with them,” he said.