SANTA FE — The Santa Fe Police Department has lost several pieces of evidence in a homicide case, and now the attorney for the accused murderer wants the case to be dropped.
Christopher Garcia, 28, is charged with one count of first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, one count of aggravated burglary, three counts of tampering with evidence and one count of concealing identity.
Police reports say Garcia fatally stabbed 21-year-old Selena Valencia, who he was romantically involved with, at the Vista Alegre Apartments on Airport Road in June 2017. Garcia also allegedly broke into another apartment and attacked a resident there and attacked another man outside the apartment complex after the alleged murder.
Garcia’s attorney, Jennifer Burrill, filed a motion to dismiss the charges after receiving a notice that the SFPD lost evidence in the case.
Her motion included a letter that SFPD Capt. Paul Joye sent to Santa Fe Deputy District Attorney Todd Bullion on Friday that says the police department lost 11 pieces of evidence that includes trace hair found on the victim as well as some of her fingernail clippings.
The DA’s office had asked the SFPD to send that evidence to the state Department of Public Safety laboratory for DNA testing, according to the letter.
“At this time, the items have yet to be found, however, we are still in the process of exploring other areas that the items may have or could have been,” Joye wrote.
Burrill argues the loss of this evidence severely hampers the defense’s case.
“Since the evidence was collected, then lost before it was tested for DNA, the State effectively destroyed the evidence,” Burrill wrote. “The defense has no opportunity to examine the evidence in preparation for trial, cannot cross examine the state’s witnesses about the evidence, and cannot use the evidence to present its defense of Chris Garcia. This is a severe violation of Chris Garcia’s State and Federal Constitutional right to due process and a fair trial.”
Some of the hairs found on Valencia were shorter than her own and therefore belonged to someone else, Burrill argues, and DNA from Valencia’s fingernails could show who she struggled with before she was murdered.
Burrill is asking a judge to suppress any evidence related to the identity of the killer. She said by phone Tuesday that she believes the case will be dismissed if the judge suppresses the evidence.
James Hallinan, a spokesman for the Santa Fe District Attorney’s Office, said a response to Burrill’s motion is being drafted.
“District Attorney (Marco) Serna is extremely concerned about the loss of evidence by the Santa Fe Police Department,” Hallinan said in an email. “Despite this, District Attorney Serna and his prosecutors will continue to fight for justice for Selena Valencia.”
SFPD did not respond to emailed questions.E