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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — She has been charged three times with murder in the shooting death of her husband.
But just a week short of three years after Air Force Major Marc Herrera was shot in the face in the couple’s upstairs master bedroom closet, Amy Herrera remains free, employed and unadjudicated – despite sworn statements from three acquaintances who say she admitted killing him.
“Three years ago, I knew that somehow I would have to learn how to move forward after my only child’s life was stolen away from me,” said Marc’s mother, Marian Herrera of Littleton, Colo. “But the piece that literally drives me crazy and pushes me over the edge each and every time is the insanity, unfairness and apathetic court process we’re trying to get through.”
According to Albuquerque police reports, a criminal complaint and excerpts from court transcripts and documents:
The Herreras had held a party on June 30, 2012, at their home on Malaguena NE, and they and most of their guests – exchange students at the University of New Mexico – had been drinking. As the party wound down around 3 or 4 the next morning, the students were asked to stay over, separating by gender into different bedrooms.
Marc became upset when he found a male student chatting with female students in an upstairs bedroom and pointed a loaded .45-caliber pistol at the male student.
Amy, called by other students to the room, told Marc to put the gun down and go to the couple’s bedroom, which he did. Amy was in the bedroom walk-in closet when she said Marc pushed her to the ground, sat on top her and aimed the gun at her face.
“And I thought he was going to shoot me. I was absolutely sure,” she testified during a grand jury hearing. “And then when he didn’t, he put the gun in his own mouth. Then he put it in my hands, saying that I was going to do it. And then I pulled the trigger.”
He died almost instantly, the bullet shattering teeth and bone and brain and vertebrae.
Few might have imagined such a fate for Marc Herrera, a decorated Air Force Academy graduate with eyes as blue as the skies he loved to fly. At 38, Herrera – nicknamed Cheech by his friends – had logged more than 4,500 flight hours and nearly 17 years of active-duty service. But he always made time to call his mother and made plans every year to go hunting with his father.
He was stationed at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque with the 550th Special Operations Squadron when he started dating Amy.
She was Amy Collins then, married to Tejay Collins and employed by the UNM department of family and community medicine.
She divorced Collins in May 2009, according to court records. Less than two weeks later, Collins, 26, was found hanging from a closet door in his Northeast Heights apartment, an autopsy report says. His death was ruled a suicide.
Amy and Marc Herrera were married in February 2011. Sixteen months later, Marc was dead.
His death was ruled a suicide almost from the start. The Albuquerque Police Department didn’t send a full violent crimes team to investigate. Amy’s hands weren’t tested for gunpowder residue. She never underwent a toxicology screen. Hours after the shooting, she was allowed to direct Air Force personnel to clean the bloody closet and clear it out.
After concerns were raised by an Air Force investigator and by Marc Herrera’s parents, APD assigned a violent crimes detective to the case.
Evidence – the location of blood and brain matter on Amy’s purple dress and the back of her legs, the position of Marc’s body and the lack of substantial gunpowder residue in his mouth, for starters – appeared inconsistent with Amy Herrera’s version of events, detective Holly Anderson wrote in a criminal complaint.
In October 2012, the first of three confidential witnesses told police that Amy had admitted killing her husband.
“He did not kill himself,” one witness said Amy had related, showing no emotion. “But cops had nothing on her.”
Amy’s attorney, Dane Eric Hannum, disputes the witnesses’ statements.
“That’s not murder,” he said. “That’s the act of someone with a reasonable fear of her own death acting in self-defense.”
Amy Herrera was arrested Oct. 11, 2012, and indicted on an open count of murder.
But prosecutors dismissed the indictment in April 2013 after Hannum argued the state had erred when prosecutors allowed two Albuquerque police detectives to demonstrate a theory of the shooting before the grand jury.
A second indictment – this one for second-degree murder – was also tossed after the state Supreme Court agreed with Hannum that the prosecution had “failed to act in a fair and impartial manner when instructing the grand jury,” among other concerns.
In August 2014, prosecutors again presented their case against Amy Herrera, this time in a three-day preliminary hearing that ended with Herrera being bound over for trial on a charge of second-degree murder.
Trial is now set for Aug. 17 before state District Judge Jacqueline Flores – the fifth judge assigned to the case.
Hannum, however, isn’t through with trying to head off a trial. On Monday, he filed a motion seeking a reconsideration of a decision rendered by Flores just last Friday arguing that Amy Herrera’s right to a speedy trial had been violated.
So Marian and Steven Herrera wait again, devastated, angry and tired of making the eight-hour drive from Colorado in the hopes of finding justice in New Mexico for their son.
“Not only has this entire travesty been painful; it’s also been maddening that the reason for it all has been ignored,” Steven Herrera said. “That our son is dead and that no one has been held accountable.”
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.