N.M. Court of Appeals panel to hear challenge in Las Cruces today.
A 2004 U.S. Supreme Court ruling could jeopardize the convictions of five family members in one of Las Cruces’ most horrific child-abuse cases, the Las Cruces Sun-News is reporting on its Web site today.
Five-month-old Brianna Lopez died on July 19, 2002, after being physically abused and raped. She had suffered skull, arm, leg and rib fractures, had bruises on her head and face and had genital injuries.
The trial of five family members was moved to Albuquerque because of extensive publicity in Las Cruces, and on Sept. 12, 2003, the jury found the girl’s father, 22-year-old Andy Walters, and uncle, 20-year-old Steven Lopez, guilty of child abuse resulting in death, rape and other charges. The baby’s mother, Stephanie Lopez, 20, was convicted of two counts of negligent child abuse. Grandmother Patricia Walters and another uncle, Robert Walters, each were found guilty of failure to report child abuse.
In early 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited that in cases with multiple defendants, one defendant’s statement to police incriminating another defendant would be inadmissible unless the one who gave the statement also testifies at trial, the Sun-News reported.
All of the defendants in the Baby Brianna case gave statements that were entered into evidence, but none testified at trial, according to the Sun-News.
The high court ruling was to ensure that all statements were subject to cross-examination, but the ruling was unclear as to whether it should apply retroactively, the paper reported.
Appeals Court Judges Lynn Pickard, Celia Foy Castillo and Michael Vigil will be hearing arguments today in Las Cruces.
Prosecutors told the Sun-News that if the convictions are overturned it is unlikely the defendants would go free, but there would be a new trial.