'They took my life in their hands' - Albuquerque Journal

‘They took my life in their hands’




Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

In August, a 53-year-old man who goes by “Juve” was scrolling through the news feed on his phone when he came across a familiar black and white photo. It was the smiling face of 18-year-old Kaitlyn Arquette, her short, wavy blond hair falling into her eyes.

The news? Albuquerque police had announced a man had just confessed to killing her 32 years ago. It was one of the city’s most notorious unsolved homicides, as Arquette’s mother – popular suspense novelist Lois Duncan – worked tirelessly for answers until her death five years ago.

Juve knew the case all too well. In the early 1990s he had been one of the key suspects.

Juve – Juvenal Escobedo – was 21 years old when he and his friend, Miguel Garcia, then 18, were charged with murdering the teenager as she drove on Lomas, east of Downtown.

Juvenal “Juve” Escobedo, 53, was charged with murder in the high-profile shooting of 18-year-old Kaitlyn Arquette in 1989. Police say that another man has now confessed to the crime and that Escobedo, and his co-defendent Miguel Garcia, are no longer suspects. On Friday, Escobedo visited a memorial to his nephew, who died last year but had never stopped pushing for his uncle’s name to be cleared. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

The charges hung over them for more than a year before they were dismissed for lack of evidence in April 1991.

“My plan was to, you know, marry my sweetheart, my baby’s mama, and become a police officer,” Escobedo said in a recent interview with the Journal. “I wanted to study how to become a coach for little kids’ football – this was way before my kids were even born – and then this … happens.”

An Albuquerque Police Department spokesman said that Escobedo and Garcia are no longer suspects in Arquette’s death and that their case has been closed.

But Escobedo says the damage has already been done.

He said that even after the case was dismissed all those years ago, he continued to feel like he was on the run.

“It took a flip, it just, like, went upside down,” he said, describing how his life changed in an instant after he was charged.

He sank into alcoholism before finally getting sober in the late 1990s. Whereas once he was gregarious and eager to talk to anyone he met on the street, now he worries that strangers will recognize him or his name and judge him for what he was accused of.

“In my mind, the first thing that comes out when I meet somebody new is, like, maybe there are alternate reasons why they want to talk to me,” Escobedo said. “… The thinking starts going sideways, and for the bad, not for the good. So I’ll just stay to myself.”

It was with mixed emotions that he followed the news of 53-year-old Paul Apodaca’s confession.

Apodaca has not been charged in Arquette’s death, although he has been charged with murder in the 1988 stabbing death of Althea Oakeley, a 21-year-old University of New Mexico student. Police say Apodaca also confessed to killing 13-year-old Stella Gonzales, who was walking near Tingley Beach with a friend in 1988. Investigators have said that they are working with the FBI and believe Apodaca may be a serial killer because he apparently did not know his victims, and targeted them due to his hatred of women.

“I don’t wish no bad on anybody, but by his actions, he messed up a lot of lives, innocent lives – not only the people he killed, but the people he left behind,” Escobedo said. “How could he get away with all this and then not get charged yet – us six hours into the damn thing and ‘you’re booked, you’re charged, you’re going to jail, and you’re going to die.’ Basically, they took my life in their hands and they haven’t released it.”

Gilbert Gallegos, an APD spokesman, said detectives are preparing the Arquette case “in full consultation with the District Attorney’s Office with the expectation charges will be filed in the future.” He said they expect the Gonzales case to be taken to a grand jury in December.

“The investigation in 2021 of Kaitlyn’s murder in 1989 has included cross referencing and looking into every detail that happened since July 16, 1989,” Gallegos said. “Mr. Apodaca’s cases also moved very quickly once he confessed. He has been held in jail since the day he confessed to three homicides. He has been charged in one of the homicides he confessed to and will be charged in the others.”

Arrest: ‘You guys got the wrong person’

When he was a teenager, Escobedo’s life revolved around Martineztown and the neighborhoods directly to the south near Broadway and Martin Luther King Jr. He and his friends attended Longfellow Elementary School and would play football in the street and ride their dirt bikes around the city.

One night, in mid-January of 1990, he was watching “Night Court” on television with his girlfriend and her family in their small house on Broadway near Menaul – “in the projects right there by the cemetery” – when there was a knock on the door. He answered, and it was a man, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, who asked if he was Juve.

“I walk out, and he slams me against the wall,” Escobedo recounted. “At that point in my life, I was, like, ‘Don’t touch me, because I don’t carry weapons – never have – but I know how to defend myself.’ So I kind of like swung my arm like that to push him off of me. That’s when he put his forearm on the back of my neck and right away handcuffed me.”

Soon the whole block was swarming with officers and, Escobedo said, he was put into a cruiser and taken Downtown. He remembers sitting in the back seat, asking an officer what was going on and being sure there had been a mistake.

Paul Apodaca

Then, at the police headquarters, he saw his childhood neighbor and good friend Dennis “Marty” Martinez, 18, and two other friends: Miguel “Michael” Garcia, 18, and Robert Garcia, 16. The Garcias are not related to each other.

Detectives separated the four young men into cells and then each of them into interview rooms.

“They read me my rights again, like, ‘Do you understand them?’ I say, ‘Yeah, I understand them,’ ” Escobedo said. “They’re, like, ‘Well, you’re under arrest for murder in the first degree. And the charges are very serious, and you’re facing death, the death penalty.’ That’s when my blood just dropped to my feet.

“I said, ‘You know what? You guys got the wrong person.’ ”

He said he hadn’t known much about Arquette’s death, although in retrospect he remembers staying with his sister in Southeast Albuquerque and hearing about a crash in Martineztown near where his brother lived. He thinks that might have been when Arquette was shot and crashed her car into a light pole at Lomas and Arno NE.

Then-2nd Judicial District Attorney Robert Schwartz held a news conference about the arrests, and the news was widely reported.

A tipster had reportedly told Crime Stoppers that Michael Garcia admitted he shot Arquette and that Escobedo was driving, and a confidential informer had told the same story and suggested Robert Garcia might have more information. A front-page Albuquerque Journal article with the headline “Teen Shot at Young Woman on a Dare, Officers Say” said that Robert Garcia told police he was on a joy ride with the other three when Escobedo – who was driving – dared Miguel Garcia “to shoot at the female driver.” He said Miguel Garcia then pointed a gun at the blond woman and fired several shots.

But the story quickly became mired in contradictions.

An article two days later revealed that Robert Garcia was at the Juvenile Detention Center the night Arquette was killed. The detectives, undeterred, said the new information should not change the case, and a short time later Escobedo and Miguel Garcia were charged with murder. They spent about 10 days in jail – during which time Escobedo said the other inmates quickly realized what he was in for and two towering men threatened to shank him until his cellmate stepped in – before the charges were dismissed.

Escobedo’s legal troubles were far from over. Escobedo had moved to the United States from Mexico with his parents at the age of 10, and he said that although he and his family had applied for amnesty, his case was still pending when he was arrested and charged with murder.

So after he was released from the jail, which was Downtown across from the police station, agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service came looking for him. They took him into custody and put him on a bus to El Paso, where he spent several days at an INS facility before he was extradited back to Albuquerque.

By late February, the DA took the case to a grand jury, and after about five hours of testimony and 30 minutes of deliberating, Escobedo and Miguel Garcia were again charged with murder. Garcia had been in jail already on unrelated charges. A warrant was issued for Escobedo.

Escobedo never turned himself in and spent the next 18 months or so on the lam.

Then, one day, he ran into an old acquaintance who recognized him and told him the charges had been dropped again. Court documents filed April 23, 1991, say the charges were dismissed without prejudice “in the above captioned case for the reason that the evidence, at this time, is insufficient to prove this matter beyond reasonable doubt.”

District Attorney Schwartz told the Journal at the time that the decision to drop the charges was prompted by evidence from the defense that Arquette was associated with a “Vietnamese Mafia” and that she and her boyfriend had staged a crash for a rental car scam. He said police would investigate that angle.

But that theory never resulted in criminal charges.

For Escobedo, dismissal of the case against him did little to ease his mind. He said his attorney told him that because the case was dismissed without prejudice, it could be refiled “at any time until you die.”

A spokeswoman for the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office told the Journal on Friday that prosecutors don’t intend to dismiss it with prejudice, which would close the case for good.

“The State does not intend on filing anything additional in this case,” Lauren Rodriguez said in an email.

Mother’s book showed him her point of view

After charges against Escobedo and the other suspects were dropped, the Arquette case largely faded from the headlines, although it would reemerge from time to time over the years.

In 1992, Duncan wrote “Who Killed My Daughter?” – a nonfiction book detailing the aftermath of Arquette’s death and her search for answers. She wrote about hunting for Escobedo, who she believed had fled to Mexico.

Kaitlyn Arquette’s family believes the damage to the left rear bumper and panel suggests that her car was rammed and pushed off Lomas into a utility pole. (Courtesy of Lois Duncan)

Escobedo continued dating the girlfriend he had been with the night he was arrested, and the couple had two children, a boy and a girl. But, he said, the memory of what had happened ate him up inside.

“Very angry, very, very pissed off,” Escobedo said. “… I became an alcoholic. I didn’t know how to suppress all this anger I had, so I started drinking bad, broke up from my family.”

Eventually, in 1999, Escobedo got sober. He read Duncan’s books, and although once he had been upset watching her accuse him on the news, now he began to see the case from her point of view.

“It clicked in my head. I was like, ‘How would I feel if anything like this ever happened to me?'” Escobedo said. “That I lose a kid and I don’t know who did it? I felt bad for her.”

He says he read the book and its sequel “One to the Wolves: On the Trail of a Killer,” many times.

Electronic billboards throughout Albuquerque in 2019 urged the public to come forward with information on the 1989 death of Kaitlyn Arquette. Pictured on the billboard with Kait as a child is her mother, author Lois Duncan, whose book “Who Killed My Daughter?” became a bestseller. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

After his son died in a workplace accident in 2012, he thought about Duncan and her family even more. Instead of becoming a police officer, Escobedo got work in construction, laying asphalt in parking lots and roads. After his son’s death, Escobedo and his son’s mother got back together.

He said he called Miguel Garcia after he heard the news that Apodaca had confessed to killing Arquette. Miguel Garcia could not be reached by the Journal.

As for Robert Garcia, he was found dead in an alley between two apartments in 2003. He was 30 years old, and an autopsy report found he had died of alcohol, cocaine and morphine intoxication. It appeared that he had been dragged from an apartment into the alley and all that was in his pockets was a toothbrush, a parole discharge card and some miscellaneous papers.

Dennis Martinez died at the age of 43 on New Year’s Eve 2014 from the toxic effects of ethanol and benzodiazepines. According to an autopsy report, he was found unresponsive behind a dumpster with a bottle of vodka, a bottle of lemon extract and two bottles of orange extract.

Now, middle-aged with a bad back, wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes, Escobedo said he wants to tell his story, and clear his name in any way he can. His daughter just gave birth to his first grandson.

“My grandbaby, he needs to know the truth,” Escobedo said. “I mean, if he, by any chance, he reads, that book … I don’t want him to think that his grandpa was like that.”

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

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