Widow wants focus on her husband, not his killer - Albuquerque Journal

Widow wants focus on her husband, not his killer

Audrianna Aragon near a photo of her father, State Police Officer Lloyd Aragon, who was killed in the line of duty Aug. 1, 2001. She is wearing his officer’s hat. (Courtesy of Monica Aragon)
State Police officer Lloyd Aragon and his wife, Monica Aragon, had renewed their vows when this photo was taken a couple of years before he was murdered in 2001.
Zacharia Craig

The case involving the murder of State Police Officer Lloyd Aragon trudged along for six long years, with hearing after agonizing hearing ripping open the wounds on the hearts of those who grieved his loss.

You could see that in the way Aragon’s widow, Monica Aragon, sat stoically in the courtroom, surrounded by family, stonily silent afterward as she walked away from me and other reporters who could never elicit a comment from her.

She didn’t have to speak a word to convey the pain and the repressed rage that burned in her eyes.

In October, word came that Zacharia Craig, the man who killed her husband, was being set free, his projected release date Nov. 10.

Craig, now 36, has served 13 years in prison – a surprisingly short sentence for a defendant who once faced the death penalty.

Now, finally, Monica Aragon is ready to speak.

But she is clear. She talks now because she wants to remind the public, not about the killer, but about the man killed, the dedicated police officer who died in the line of duty, the father of her two children, the love of her life.

“I refuse to make this about Zacharia Craig,” she told the parole board this fall. “He took life away from an amazing human being just trying to do good in life by protecting others.”

Lloyd, she said, had always dreamed of being a police officer, even as a boy in Las Vegas, New Mexico, struggling to learn English and working to keep the family afloat after his parents split.

“He mowed lawns to make money,” she said.

They met in Grants after he became a police officer there. Five years later, he joined the State Police, proudly wearing the badge for eight years while he and Monica raised their children, Lloyd Jr. and Audrianna.

“Lloyd loved his kids, loved taking them fishing, loved being a dad. He was their best friend,” she said. “But even then, being an officer came first.”

Aragon and another officer were headed to federal court in Albuquerque on Aug. 1, 2001, when they learned that a chase was heading their way, east on Interstate 40 from a Walmart in Grants, where two young men in a stolen pickup truck had shoplifted $6 worth of cold medication.

The driver of the pickup was Craig, then 19.

The officers stopped to assist, laying spiked stop sticks across the interstate near the N.M. 6 turnoff.

But Craig wasn’t stopped. Instead, he veered off the highway into the median and, according to testimony, straight into Aragon, 37, killing him instantly.

“Lloyd wasn’t even supposed to work that day,” said Monica Aragon, the anger and pain she has carried for 18 years still in her voice. “My son, the oldest, was 11 when it happened. That kind of grief, that damage never goes away. As a matter of fact, it gets harder. And then to think this person, Craig, gets another shot at life – Lloyd never had that opportunity.”

Craig was indicted on murder and 31 other charges but was found incompetent to stand trial in 2002 and again in 2003.

Psychologists testified that he was raised like a feral animal by barely functional parents, living among the rusted wreckage of the family’s auto salvage yard in Albuquerque with no utilities or sewage system. Tests indicated he had an autistic-like brain disorder exacerbated by Grave’s disease, a thyroid condition with symptoms that include psychosis, poor judgment and agitation. He dropped out of school in eighth grade, started getting in trouble with the law and never held a job or had a close relationship.

In May 2003, state District Judge Louis McDonald in Bernalillo found that there was “clear and convincing evidence” to convict Craig of first-degree murder but that he was incompetent and a danger to society. The judge ordered him hospitalized in the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas until he was ruled competent.

That ruling of competency came in June 2004, but it took nearly two years for a trial date to be set. Prosecutors declared they would seek the death penalty.

Craig chose instead to accept a last-minute deal, pleading guilty but mentally ill to second-degree murder and five other charges. He was sentenced in October 2006 to 20 years in prison and given five years’ credit for time served.

Despite his projected November release, Craig is still listed as an inmate at the Lea County Correctional Facility, near Hobbs. Calls and emails to the Department of Corrections and the parole board to find out why were not returned.

Monica Aragon said she has been assured that Craig – whose ability to function on the outside is certainly in question – will be allowed to reside out of state, far away from her family.

“He’s very uneducated and still seems mentally ill,” she said of his appearance at the parole hearing. “He should be in jail forever. It’s no wonder the crime rate is so high in New Mexico. We don’t keep these people locked up. The scariest part is there are individuals out there who don’t care what they do or who they hurt. I don’t even know if Craig understands what he did.”

Monica moved from Grants years ago. She works at a job that often keeps her on the road. She never remarried. She keeps busy, rejoices in her grown children. She sees Lloyd in their faces, their mannerisms, their thoughts.

She thinks about Lloyd every day. She hopes you will think about him, too.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, jkrueger@abqjournal.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.

 

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