SANTA FE – It was a vehicular homicide case in which problems with the criminal investigation were a liability for prosecutors, but a jury on Thursday still convicted defendant Juan de Dios Cordova in the death last year of motorcyclist Mark Wolfe of Algodones.
A state District Court jury took about 3 1/2 hours of deliberation to convict Cordova, 57, of vehicular homicide, two counts of great bodily injury by vehicle, two counts of aggravated DWI and one count of knowingly leaving the scene of an accident.
Debbie Hill, Wolfe’s widow, wept after the jury read the verdict. She held on to Stephen Manzer, another person injured in the 2011 crash that killed Wolfe, and said she felt justice was done for her husband.
“(I’m) overwhelmed,” she said. “Just overwhelmed. It’s just like the levee has broken and everything is coming out.”
Wolfe, Hill and four friends – members of the Duke City Drifters, an Albuquerque-based motorcycle club that Wolfe led – were enjoying a motorcycle trip through northern New Mexico when a pickup investigators say was driven by a drunken Cordova crossed the center line.
The truck plowed into the lead bike, killing 51-year-old Wolfe, a mechanic and veteran who loved New Mexico history.
Hill, riding on the back of Wolfe’s bike, was seriously injured. One of the other riders called the crash “a nightmare.”
Although Cordova was quickly identified, tracked down and charged after allegedly fleeing the scene, the investigation of the case by the Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office had spiraled into controversy and even provoked a separate State Police probe of the office’s police work.
Among the mishaps was loss of the truck that Cordova was said to be driving when he drove into Wolfe’s path on N.M. 76, the High Road to Taos, near Chimayó. The truck was mistakenly scrapped by a towing yard operator instead of being held as evidence.
In his closing arguments to the jury Thursday, Chief Deputy District Attorney Juan Valencia said the case, with its mistakes and missing evidence, fell short of perfect but there was still enough evidence to convict Cordova.
Defense attorney Damian Horne, however, invoked images of the former Soviet Union’s kangaroo courts in urging the jury not to let a faulty investigation convict his client.
Also in the case, Deputy Paula Archuleta disavowed a criminal report about the crash and its aftermath which was attributed to her. The report launched the State Police investigation into who actually wrote the report, which was inconclusive.
Horne also mocked the fact that a blood sample taken to prove Cordova was drunk after the wreck was stored over a weekend in a deputy’s home refrigerator – “next to the pimento loaf and a six pack of beer,” in his words.
Valencia argued that those problems did not negate the facts of the case. He said they showed Cordova was drunk and on Valium when he rammed his older model pickup into the group of motorcyclists that was returning from a motorcycle rally on May 28, 2011, over Memorial Day weekend.
Cordova faces a sentence of more than 15 years on the charges, according to state statutes, but his sentence could be increased if he has any valid prior DWI convictions.
Sentencing before Judge Mary Marlowe-Sommer will be held at a later date, possibly late January.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal