ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Steven Gerecke was returning home after a brief walk with his dog when he found the teens in his garage.
They had tied bandanas over their faces and were wearing dark clothing.
“Whatever encounter they had, it was very brief,” prosecutor Larissa Callaway said. “They sort of, knee-jerk reaction, just shot him and took off.”
Since then, six teens have pleaded guilty to crimes connected to Gerecke’s June 2015 death at his foothills-area home.
This week, the members of the group whose cases were handled in adult court – Jeremiah King, Christopher Rodriguez, Ryan Archibeque and Andrew Hubler – each will appear in court as their cases near an end.
King, who pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, will be sentenced as an adult and faces up to 25 years in prison. The remaining three will have amenability hearings to determine whether they should be sentenced as juveniles or as adults. The youngest two teens had their cases handled in Children’s Court.
Callaway said the group had probably “mobbed” before, but until that night in June, they’d seen no consequences.
The boys would meet up to “smoke weed and drink” before setting out and choosing a street. Sometimes they would split into smaller groups and then they’d make their way down the block breaking into cars and homes, acts police called “mobbing.”
“I think that in their minds, they had sort of this ‘Grand Theft Auto’ (perception),” Callaway said, referring to a violent video game in which players steal cars and commit other crimes. “They hadn’t really had any fallout from what they were doing yet.”
But Callaway said things escalated that June night starting when Charles Lawson, who lived near Arroyo del Oso Golf Course, caught some of the teens in his home. Callaway said King fired at Lawson, who is in his 80s, before fleeing.
Undeterred, the group headed to another neighborhood about nine miles from Lawson’s. And sometime before 3 a.m. June 26, they crossed paths with Gerecke, a bartender who had just gotten home from his late-night shift and was out taking his dog for a short walk.
It’s not clear how the group entered Gerecke’s home, near Lomas and Tramway, but Callaway said that fingerprints the teens left behind show that they went through the house and even enjoyed cans of Coke stored in the garage.
The evidence they left behind showed that they were inexperienced, Callaway said: “I think that they found themselves children in a very adult game.”
One teen told prosecutors that when King shot at Lawson, the backfire knocked him over.
And Callaway said Gerecke’s gunshot wounds indicated that the shooter was “not advanced.”
The group left behind a lot of DNA evidence and fingerprints, she said.
“They left their stuff everywhere,” she said. “We couldn’t even test all of it, there was just so much.”
Amenable to treatment?
King, 18, was the last of the group to plead guilty, and he did so after each of his co-defendants agreed to testify against him and after 2nd Judicial District Judge Brett Loveless ruled that the confession he had made to police would be admissible at trial.
“The idea of a trial became more of a futile undertaking,” King’s attorney, Tom Clark, said.
At sentencing on Wednesday, King faces up to 25 years in prison.
“Both families will be heartbroken no matter the outcome,” Clark said. “This just didn’t need to happen, and it did and somebody’s dead.”
For the other three boys, much rides on this week’s hearings.
If a defendant is found to be amenable to treatment, the court has jurisdiction over him only until age 21. On the other hand, if the judge finds a defendant is not amenable to treatment, that teen faces a lengthy sentence.
Callaway does not expect Loveless to issue his ruling immediately, possibly taking time to write his rulings. Once amenability has been settled, sentencing hearings for the three boys will be set.
Archibeque’s hearing is scheduled for today. Archibeque, 19, pleaded guilty to four charges and faces up to 15 years in prison if sentenced as an adult. His attorney Shelby Bradley said he could not comment on the pending case.
Rodriguez, 17, who pleaded guilty to nine counts, faces up to 31½ years in prison. But his hearing, set for Thursday, could be rescheduled. His attorney Randy Chavez said an amenability report has not been completed.
Hubler, 17, who pleaded guilty to seven charges, faces up to 21 years if sentenced as an adult. His attorney Megan Mitsunaga could not provide specifics about Hubler’s case but pointed out that the presumption under the juvenile code is that a child is amenable to treatment. His hearing is set for Friday.
A Children’s Court judge in December handed down the maximum sentence for Matthew Baldonado, who will stay in custody until age 21. He pleaded no contest in November to four crimes, including conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. The case for Enrique Palomino, the other teen prosecuted in Children’s Court, is pending. He also admitted committing four crimes.
‘They killed our magic’
Gerecke’s daughter, Heather Alter, says every hearing brings her family a step closer to knowing how it all ends.
Following six defendants through the criminal justice system has been exhausting, Alter said. Her family is stuck waiting for the cases to be resolved so they can finally grieve their loss.
“Every time I walk into court,” she said, “my wound is ripped open again.”
Her family is preparing a slide show to present at King’s sentencing hearing. They want him to know who he shot.
“They killed our magic. They killed the cornerstone of our family, the peacekeeper, the joker, the lover,” she said. “He had so many different roles.”