Fleeing driver who killed two acquitted of murder - Albuquerque Journal

Fleeing driver who killed two acquitted of murder

Elexus Groves, right, gets a pat on the shoulder from her attorney Maxwell Pines, left, while listening to the verdict in her vehicular homicide case. Groves was found guilty on 7 of the 9 counts in the 2017 case, when she was behind the wheel of a stolen work van that slammed into a car, killing Shaylee Boiling and her mother, Shaunna Arredondo-Boiling. At center is attorney Douglas Wilbe. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Jurors found Elexus Groves guilty of two counts of vehicular homicide, but acquitted her of more serious murder charges stemming from a 2017 crash that killed an Albuquerque woman and her 14-year-old daughter.

Jurors apparently agreed with her attorneys, who argued throughout the trial that Groves had killed two people in a “tragic accident,” but that she was not guilty of murder.

Groves was driving a stolen work van and fleeing from police at the time of the fatal crash. She could be sentenced to up to six years in prison on each vehicular homicide conviction.

The 2nd Judicial District Court jury also found Groves, 25, guilty of five lesser charges, including aggravated fleeing officers, leaving the scene, and taking a motor vehicle.

Jurors found her not guilty of a second count of taking a motor vehicle.

“It is basically what the evidence showed,” said Groves’ attorney, Douglas Wilber, following the verdicts. Groves, he said, “was overcharged” by prosecutors.

District Attorney Raúl Torrez, whose office prosecuted the case, blasted the verdict, saying in a statement that it highlights a gap in the law “that poses a significant risk to public safety.” He called on lawmakers to close that gap.

“Too many times in this city, we see criminals fleeing the police at high speeds and endangering the public,” Torrez said. “We should have a law that holds criminals responsible when they injure or kill someone while racing down our streets as they flee from the police.”

Groves and her family members appeared relieved and joyful that jurors had found her not guilty of the most serious charges: two counts of first-degree felony murder homicide or, in the alternative, depraved-mind murder.

Groves faces up to 25½ years in prison. Judge Brett Loveless said he would hold a sentencing hearing within 60 days.

If Loveless finds that the vehicular homicide conviction is a serious violent offense, Groves would be required to serve 85% of each six-year sentence.

Groves’ case stemmed from a Jan. 18, 2017, crash that fatally injured Shaunna Arredondo-Boling, 39, and her 14-year-old daughter, Shaylee Boling, and injured her 3-year-old son.

Boling, a Sandia High School freshman, died at the scene. Arredondo-Boling died in a hospital 13 days later having never regained consciousness. Her son was hospitalized with a broken leg.

Prosecution and defense attorneys this week sparred over the issue of a police pursuit at the heart of the two felony murder charges.

Wilber told jurors in closing arguments Wednesday that police broke off the pursuit some time before the fatal crash, eliminating a vital element of first-degree felony murder charges.

Wilber also questioned the credibility of a key prosecution witnesses, Paul Garcia, 28, who pleaded guilty last month to felony charges connected to the fatal crash. Garcia, a passenger in the stolen van at the time of the crash, testified in Groves’ trial as a condition of his plea agreement.

Testifying in her own defense earlier this week, Groves admitted that she and Garcia stole an electrician’s van as it idled in front of the worker’s home in Northeast Albuquerque.

She also told jurors she was driving the van at the time of the fatal crash. Groves apologized to the victims’ family and expressed remorse for her actions, Wilber said.

But Groves’ testimony differed from Garcia’s in key ways, Wilber told jurors.

Garcia testified last week that he told Groves to pull over when police attempted to stop the van on Tramway NE.

Groves later testified that Garcia urged her to flee police, Wilbur said. Groves also testified she believed Garcia had a gun and stolen jewelry with him in a backpack.

“He lied about telling Elexus to pull over,” Wilber told jurors. “She saw him acting panicked when he saw police. Paul (Garcia) had a lot of reasons not to get pulled over by police.”

Both testified that Garcia injected Groves with methamphetamine the morning of the crash and that Groves had never before used meth in that fashion.

Garcia pleaded guilty last month to two counts of motor vehicle theft and two counts of conspiracy. The plea agreement recommended he serve six years in prison and required him to testify in Groves’ trial.

After receiving credit for time served, Garcia will only serve about one year, Wilber said.

“Now, Paul only has to do another year in jail because he got a pretty sweet deal,” Wilber said in his closing.

Wilber also told jurors that the two counts of felony murder Groves faces are inappropriate.

A felony murder conviction would require that Groves caused the deaths while committing a felony crime – in this case, aggravated fleeing from law officers.

Police broke off pursuit about the time Groves made a right turn on Copper NE from Tramway to avoid a high-speed chase in a residential area, according to testimony.

“They weren’t following with lights and sirens,” Wilber told jurors. Without an active police pursuit, prosecutors have no case for felony murder, he said.

Moments before the crash, Groves took her foot off the gas pedal and hit the brakes, Wilber said.

“Once she realized this crash could happen, she tried to stop it,” he told jurors.

Deputy District Attorney Guinevere Ice told jurors in her rebuttal that Garcia’s actions were not at issue.

“This case is not about Paul Garcia,” Ice said. “It’s about what Elexus Groves did that day.”

Groves began driving fast and recklessly because she knew police were pursuing her.

“She made a conscious decision to floor it and go 78 mph in a residential area,” Ice said. “She blew through that stop sign and killed two people. She drove this way because she was fleeing police.”

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