Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Nieto Sentenced to 39 Years in Torreon Cabin Murders
SANTA FE A man has been sentenced to 39 years in prison in the deaths of four people, including two young children, in a remote cabin near Torreon more than a decade ago.
Lawrence Nieto entered into a plea agreement earlier this year after his original convictions in the case were tossed out.
Nieto, 30, pleaded guilty today to two counts of second-degree murder and a single count of armed robbery.
State District Judge Michael Vigil sentenced Nieto to the prison term, but also gave him credit for the time he's already served behind bars.
The case stemmed from the deaths of Ben Anaya Jr., 17; his girlfriend, Cassandra Sedillo, 23; and her two sons, Matthew Garcia, 3, and Johnny Ray Garcia, 4, whose bodies were found in April 1996 in the cabin in the Manzano Mountains southeast of Albuquerque.
Anaya and Sedillo had been shot and the children, locked inside the cabin, died of thirst and hunger. A medical investigator concluded the adults died around Dec. 12, 1995, and the children died a few weeks later.
Nieto had been convicted in 1997 of four counts of first-degree murder and other charges and was sentenced to more than 130 years in prison.
The decision to overturn the convictions was based on a 1996 videotape that Nieto's attorney said suggested Nieto was coerced into confessing.
The videotape vanished shortly after Nieto was interrogated, but an investigator for a co-defendant found it among 36 boxes of evidence. Court documents filed by a prosecutor earlier this year said a review of the case files "found no evidence that this missing tape was ever correctly referenced or used as an exhibit."
Nieto testified during his trial that fellow gang members Shawn Wilkins and Roy Buchner were the killers, and that he was outside during the shootings.
Buchner and Wilkins' 1997 trials ended in mistrials, and prosecutors eventually dismissed the charges. A fourth defendant, Shawn Popeleski, was convicted in 1999 of two counts of second-degree murder in the deaths of the children and was sentenced to 16 1/2 years.
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