As troubled kids go, Johnny Hovey was one of the worst.
So troubled that his mother confided in friends and relatives and a probation officer that she wondered whether he was possessed by the devil, that she thought his hobby of making lifelike corpses and other gruesome props was disturbing, that she feared one day he would kill her.
That last concern proved prophetic.
Before dawn on June 19, 1984, at the family home on Valley Park SW, the 16-year-old Hovey crept into his parents’ bedroom clad only in underwear and his thick, oversized glasses and opened fire.
His father, Raymond Hovey, 36, was shot twice. It took five shots and several hours to kill his mother.
“My son, John Hovey, shot us,” Nancy Hovey, 37, told the first Albuquerque police officer to arrive. “Get him before I die.”
The case of Johnny Hovey was extensively covered by the local news media, the photo of the skinny kid with bushy hair and big glasses a near-constant presence on the front pages for months.
Hovey, as the testimony goes, had a knack for making grotesque mannequins and bloody props, including a decomposing, bloody-eyed corpse he named Susan and rolled about the house in his grandmother’s wheelchair.
His mother had gotten rid of the props. That, one relative testified, was something Johnny Hovey could not forgive.
He was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in June 1986. A month later, he was sentenced to two consecutive life terms.
Court records show that Hovey was initially transferred to an Oregon prison, then returned. He had also been transferred and returned more than once to a Florida prison (a location he fought hard to be removed from, according to court documents) and one in Washington.
In 1997, an escape plan he is accused of masterminding while incarcerated in New Mexico was thwarted. In 1998, he was accused of stabbing a paraplegic inmate 230 times in New Mexico, and in 2000 he was given an additional life sentence plus 16 years.
That’s the last the public heard about Hovey.
Earlier this month, Roman Garcia of Omnibus Investigations of Santa Fe contacted me about the Hovey case. He had been the initial defense investigator for Hovey, he said, and while cleaning out files, he had come across a document he thought Hovey might want. He didn’t specify what the document was.
He tried to locate Hovey on the state Department of Corrections website but found nothing. A Department of Corrections employee he spoke with told him she could find no record of Hovey’s ever having been in the New Mexico prison system.
“I reminded her the he got escape charges, filed a tort claim against (the prison warden), had habeas actions and even killed another prisoner while incarcerated,” Garcia said in an email. “Her refrain: ‘Oh, really? He was never here.’ ”
It’s as if Hovey had never existed.
It may seem that way to the public when an inmate is transferred out of or into New Mexico to serve out a prison sentence through an interstate compact.
“It can be difficult for not only the survivor but the family of the inmate in that often they are not sure when or where an inmate might be taken out of state,” said Joan Shirley, victim advocate for the Resource Center for Victims of Violent Death.
Currently, 76 inmates convicted in New Mexico are incarcerated out of state, while 83 inmates from out of state are serving their time in New Mexico facilities, said Alex Tomlin, public affairs director for the Department of Corrections.
None of those names – of those transferred out of or into New Mexico prisons – appears on the department’s website, nor is information on the whereabouts of those inmates otherwise available to the public.
Tomlin says most inmates are moved out of state because of security risks either to themselves or to the prison system itself. To list those inmates’ whereabouts publicly would put them in jeopardy, she said.
“We have a responsibility to protect inmates in our custody,” Tomlin said.
At the same time, Tomlin said, the department is cognizant of victims’ right to have information about the inmate who wronged them. The department’s constituent services team will work with victims, their families or the inmates’ families to provide them with information.
As for Hovey, Tomlin said the worker who took Garcia’s call believed that he spelled Hovey’s name with a “b” rather than a “v” – a claim Garcia adamantly disputes.
Tomlin confirmed that Hovey, who is now 45, has been serving his time out of state since 2004 but for security reasons asked that the exact location not be revealed.
I contacted a cousin of Hovey’s who was willing to meet with Garcia about the document he recently found.
The cousin told me none of the family members she is in contact with knows where Hovey is imprisoned.
And, she said, that’s just fine with them.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.