PORTALES – Autumn Duran remembers James Roper as a free-spirit, wandering the streets of Portales, making people laugh.
She called him “the statue.”
“We saw him around a lot,” she said. “He would stand at Allsup’s and not really move, just move his eyes. And then he’d start to winking and smiling. He’d ask for change or whatever, but I think that was just a way for him to get to know people.”
“He wouldn’t harm anyone,” Duran said. “What happened to him was very, very inhumane.”
What happened to Roper, 37, according to police, is that a group of juvenile boys punched him, then kicked him in the head in an alley behind an Allsup’s on West Second Street on June 5. Prosecutor Brian Stover said the boys told investigators Roper “disrespected” them.
He died last week after being removed from life support in a Lubbock hospital.
Four teens, all between the ages of 15 and 17, are charged with second-degree murder in connection with his death. Stover said he plans to charge the two teens accused of beating and kicking Roper as adults. Two others may also be charged as adults, but Stover said he doesn’t believe those boys directly attacked Roper.
“There are two kids we know of who punched and kicked him,” Stover said last week after investigators reviewed security footage from a nearby business. Two others he said are also charged with second-degree murder because they caused or encouraged the others to commit the violence. Stover said one boy in the group did not chase Roper after he tried to walk away from the teens so he probably will not face criminal charges.
Stover said he plans to decide on adult sanctions against two of the boys after receiving input from juvenile probation authorities this week. He said two of the boys were in police custody Friday afternoon. The others are “still in Portales,” he said, but had not turned themselves in early Friday afternoon.
Stover said evidence investigators have gathered shows Roper first encountered the group at Allsup’s.
“Our victim is someone known to have some mental health issues. At some point, he snatches a cellphone away from one of the boys. They push him and snatch it back,” Stover said.
Stover said the five boys then walked away.
“They walk around to (Eastern New Mexico University) and make a loop and come back. When they come back, our victim is still there,” Stover said.
“They confront him because they feel they have been disrespected. They shove him, words are exchanged, they chase him into an alleyway, and they beat him.”
Stover said Roper was well known around Portales. “He would walk up and down the main road, visiting with people.
“James would get into trouble every now and again, but he was not a known criminal. He was not known to be violent.”
On those occasions when criminal charges were filed against Roper, they were dismissed because he was found incompetent to stand trial, Stover said.
“You know we just had that meeting with county personnel and the cities talking about the feasibility of a mental health facility for this region,” Stover said. “In a way this kind of highlights the need for a facility like that.”