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A man and woman accused of killing an Albuquerque woman and her 14-year-old daughter while fleeing from police in a stolen van in 2017 may go on trial for felony murder after all.
The charges had previously been tossed by a state district judge in Albuquerque. But the state Supreme Court overturned that ruling in a unanimous opinion Monday, holding that aggravated fleeing from a law enforcement officer can be used as a predicate for felony murder. The charge is used when a person is killed during the commission of certain felony crimes. Because it’s a first-degree murder charge, anyone found guilty of the charge faces a life sentence. The ruling has implications for other cases in which a defendant has killed someone while trying to flee police.
Elexus Groves, 25, and Paul Anthony Garcia, 28, were each charged with two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer, great bodily harm by vehicle, and conspiracy. Groves was also charged with knowingly leaving the scene of an accident involving great bodily harm or death.
Police say the two were fleeing from officers when they crashed into Shaunna Arrendondo-Boling’s car, killing her and her 14-year-old daughter, Shaylee Boling, in January 2017.
In April 2018, 2nd Judicial District Judge Brett Loveless dismissed the felony murder charges against Groves and Garcia, ruling that fleeing police endangers the public and therefore has the same intent as committing murder.
According to the state’s collateral felony rule, a defendant can be charged with felony murder if the homicide is committed while the defendant is committing another felony, as long as the other felony doesn’t have the intent to harm or kill. In this case, the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office argued that Groves and Garcia killed Arredondo-Boling and Boling while fleeing police, which is a fourth-degree felony.
The Supreme Court reversed Loveless’ ruling and said the intent of fleeing law enforcement is to avoid apprehension, not to cause harm to others.
“Because this felonious purpose is independent of the felonious purpose to injure or kill, aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer may serve as a predicate felony for felony murder in certain circumstances,” the opinion says.
But, the justices wrote, “the State must establish that, while committing aggravated fleeing a law enforcement officer, a fourth-degree felony (the lowest degree of felony in New Mexico), Defendants … knew their ‘acts create[d] a strong probability of death or great bodily harm.’ ”
The opinion was written by Justice David K. Thomson.
District Attorney Raúl Torrez said his office will reinstate the first-degree murder charges and bring the case to trial as quickly as possible.
“The thing for us is that it vindicates our theory of the case and we’re happy that the Supreme Court reversed the District Court’s decision,” Torrez said in a phone interview. “This was a horrific crime that was committed several years ago and we’re eager to get it resolved.”
Groves’ attorney, Douglas Wilber, said his client should be charged with vehicular homicide instead of first-degree murder, which is punishable by up to life in prison, because the mother and daughter died in a traffic collision.
“It would be the same as if someone planned and deliberately went out to murder someone,” Wilber told the Journal. “It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”