Saturday, October 11, 2008
'Deal With the Devil' Made
By T.J. Wilham
Journal Staff Writer
Prosecutors made a "deal with the devil" Friday.
They took the death penalty off the table for accused killer Clifton Bloomfield in exchange for his pleading guilty to five murders in Bernalillo County two of which were unsolved until he confessed to police as part of the deal.
Bloomfield, who appeared in District Court in a red "high risk inmate" jail jumpsuit with hands handcuffed in front of his waist, pleaded to 10 felonies, including five first-degree murder charges.
"I feel I made a deal with the devil, but it was a necessary deal," District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said. "It was necessary to bring the families closure, and it was a deal done with the concurrence and the support of all of the families."
Under the plea, Bloomfield will serve five consecutive life sentences. Prosecutors also agreed to make arrangements for Bloomfield to serve his sentence out of state.
In all, Bloomfield pleaded to:
n The Oct. 24, 2005, killing of Carlos Esquibel, 37, an interior designer who was found strangled in his apartment in the 500 block of Walter SE.
n The Oct. 27, 2005, killing of Josephine Selvage, 81, a retired elementary school teacher. She was found strangled in her home in the 7000 block of Bellrose NE.
n The June 28, 2008, killing of Scott Pierce, 40, a nurse and newlywed. He was shot to death in his home on Hannett NE. Police arrested Bloomfield and Jason Skaggs, 35, days after the killing. Police said Bloomfield and Skaggs had intended to kill another man who had previously lived at Pierce's residence.
n The Dec. 4, 2007, killing of Tak and Pung Yi, two of the first Koreans to settle in Albuquerque. They were found dead inside their home in the 6900 block of Avenida La Costa. Police say the couple, ages 79 and 69, were beaten to death. Two magazine salesmen, Travis Rowley and Michael Lee, were charged in the case a few days after the killings.
Prosecutors said Friday that they believe Lee and Rowley committed the killing with Bloomfield, but they will not pursue the death penalty against the two because of the deal made with Bloomfield.
In another development Friday, police and prosecutors said they plan to charge more people in the Yi killings next week.
They declined to elaborate.
"What happened today does not close the case for the Albuquerque Police Department," Police Chief Ray Schultz said. "There is still a lot of work to be done."
Already in jail
Bloomfield was in jail last week awaiting trial for the Pierce killing when police charged him in connection with the Yi slayings.
He became a suspect in the Yi killings when forensic scientists got a match on his DNA from the scene. Bloomfield's DNA was on file in a federal database from a previous conviction.
At the time, police said Bloomfield was also a suspect in three other killings, bringing the total to six.
According to court records, detectives questioned Bloomfield after the DNA match was made. Bloomfield then asked for a plea deal in which he would confess to killing Pierce, the Yis and others.
Bloomfield did not plead Friday to one of the killings he was a suspect in: the Oct. 13, 2004, killing of Emery Julian, 39, who was found dead in his Chelwood Park NE apartment with a bullet wound to his head.
Police and prosecutors declined to say why Bloomfield did not plead to the Julian killing. They said they will, however, look into other unsolved homicides to see if there is any link to Bloomfield.
Other than Pierce's murder, Schultz said Friday that he believed all the killings Bloomfield was charged with were robberies or "property crimes gone bad."
"This is someone who has been a menace to this community," Schultz said. "He was a dangerous person, and we are very glad he is off the streets."
Prosecutors said the Yi family played a vital role in the plea deal. The Yi killings were the only homicides prosecutors could have sought the death penalty for under state law. The family gave Brandenburg their blessing to take the death penalty off the table.
"I really don't think it was a hard decision for us," said Tak and Pung Yi's son, Keunwook Yi. "It was not just about us. ...We did something good today by helping bring closure to the other families. For us, we still need to make sure justice is served with whoever else is involved in this case."
Just after motion
The plea agreement comes one day after Bloomfield's attorney, Liane Kerr, filed a motion calling for District Attorney Kari Brandenburg to be sanctioned for prosecutorial misconduct.
In her motion, Kerr alleged that she had been trying to reach a plea with Brandenburg for months but that the DA kept "reneging" on the deal so she could gather information to prosecute a "high profile case."
Kerr said Brandenburg had put politics ahead of justice. Brandenburg, a two-time Democrat incumbent, is up for re-election Nov.4.
Kerr withdrew the motion after the agreement was reached.
At a news conference Friday with the families of Selvage and Yis present, Brandenburg said Kerr's motion had nothing to do with her reaching a plea deal Friday.
"This is not something that happens in a couple of hours," Brandenburg said. "I can assure you, by the time it was filed, we were well on the way to getting this resolved."
Brandenburg later told the Journal she believed there were several "missed communications" that led to Kerr believing they were not going to reach a deal.
Brandenburg said it took a few months to reach a plea agreement because they felt Bloomfield had lied during the negotiations. There were also numerous things she wanted, including Bloomfield's medical records. Kerr has claimed that Bloomfield is dying of a lung disease and Hepatitis C.
Brandenburg said she met with all the families once she had what she needed. She said that the deal was in the works at the time Kerr filed her motion and that it was finalized shortly thereafter.
"I was accused of having political motivations when clearly we were trying to do the right thing," Brandenburg said. "If you look at every stage of this, if I was politically motivated, I would have made a different decision at every turn. I didn't make those decisions.
"I don't know many DAs (who) would dismiss the death penalty on three people three weeks before the election, but I did it."