Thursday, June 24, 2004
Jury Clears Driver in Woman's Death
By Lloyd Jojola
Journal Staff Writer
GRANTS A Soccoro man charged with vehicular homicide was acquitted Wednesday in a case initially deemed an accidental death but reopened at the urging of the victim's family.
Patrick Murillo, 42, was found not guilty of vehicular homicide by reckless driving in the February 2000 death of Stephanie Houston. The woman died after she was hit by a pickup driven by Murillo, her boyfriend, outside a Belen roadhouse.
Bill Houston, Stephanie's father, and other family members were visibly shaken by the 12-member jury's decision. They deliberated for about four hours.
"The verdict to us was guilty," Houston said. "It's been guilty for the last four years."
He questioned the attentiveness of some jury members.
"We showed where he gassed the truck and ran over my daughter," he said. "It wasn't her fault. She didn't have time to get out of the way."
He also criticized the initial police investigative work.
"They say the case was four years old," he said. "The reason it was four years old was because the two state cops didn't do their job to start with."
Murillo declined to comment after the verdict. He said the death was an accident.
"He's glad that it's over, that the truth finally came out," said his attorney, Thomas Esquibel. "It's been a very difficult four years and four months for him."
The trial took place this week before state District Court Judge William A. Sanchez at the Cibola County Courthouse. The case was moved to Grants after the defense asked for a change of venue.
Closing arguments were made Wednesday morning.
"We know that the defendant knew when he took off where Stephanie was," said Joseph Arite, a prosecutor. "We know that he accelerated from there knowing how close she was. We know that he knew the trailer was wider than the truck and he said he knew he should have stopped."
Arite said Murillo was reckless for driving on the shoulder when he hit Houston.
Esquibel said the state presented a case built upon "smoke and mirrors."
The state was disregarding evidence showing the death was accidental, he said.
Houston, a 28-year-old mother of one and convenience store manager from Soccoro, was struck by the truck in front of the Red Carpet Lounge on N.M. 314. Murillo, described as a plumber and part-time musician and married with children, had been having an affair with Houston.
Murillo's band had played at the lounge that night. Murillo said Houston danced with a male acquaintance of hers to make him jealous. They argued later outside the club.
Houston refused to go with him and started walking. Murillo told police he followed her in his truck and tried to persuade her to get in. He told police she refused to get in.
He told police as he drove away she apparently grabbed onto the truck's right rear, possibly trying to get in the back, fell and was hit by a trailer he was pulling.
State Police originally concluded the death was an accident. The Houston family pushed for further investigation and hired private investigator, Mike Corwin.
In the spring of 2003, police reopened the case, and a grand jury indictment followed.