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Judge Rejects Plea Deal in Murder Case

SANTA FE, N.M. — One of two men charged in a brutal 2010 killing in Rio Arriba County apparently is headed to trial after a plea deal with prosecutors was called off at the last minute.

Toby Gonzales, 22, of El Guique was in a Santa Fe courtroom Friday for what both sides believed would be a hearing to present a plea agreement to state District Judge Michael Vigil.

But Vigil said from the bench that Gonzales had “made statements” that rendered the plea deal “not viable,” and prosecutors withdrew their offer.

After the hearing, Tom Clark, Gonzales’ attorney, said Gonzales had written a letter from jail that caused prosecutors to pull out of the plea agreement. Both Clark and prosecutors said they couldn’t disclose what the letter was about or the terms of the prospective plea deal.

Clark said the letter was to someone involved in the case but that it was not directed to the family of the victim, Steven Duran of Chamita.

Gonzales and Rudy Salazar, 32, are charged with first-degree murder for allegedly dousing Duran, who was 31, with gasoline, throwing him into an arroyo near Ojo Caliente and lighting him on fire. Duran’s body was found near his pickup Feb. 24, 2010.

The police have said Duran was killed after a night of partying with drugs and alcohol by the three men turned violent.

Gonzales was back in the news in March after he was mistakenly released from the McKinley County jail, where Rio Arriba often sends inmates. He was free for three days before he was found and arrested, back in Rio Arriba County.

Gonzales had been let go after someone called the Gallup jail representing himself as a person of authority from Rio Arriba and said Gonzales should be released. But McKinley County officials acknowledge they never got paperwork authorizing the release.

A trial for Gonzales on the murder charge now won’t take place until October or later. Salazar, the other defendant in the case, will be tried separately.