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Respect May Be Motive in 3 Deaths

By T.J. Wilham
Journal Staff Writer
    $500 and respect.
    That's why 24 bullets were fired from an automatic assault rifle seven years ago at a Datsun carrying three teenagers in the East Mountains, according to an arrest warrant made public Monday.
    The gunfire killed Kevin Shirley, 17, Luis Garcia, 16, and Matthew Hunt, 17, and launched a massive investigation.
    Shirley owed $500 in cocaine money, witnesses to the slaying told police.
    Brandon Craig, 27, whom police arrested last month in the triple homicide, was trying to collect and gain respect, police say.
    According to the arrest warrant, Craig's girlfriend, a cousin and a friend were with him at the time.
    "This was not about narcotics," said Lt. Gregg Marcantel of the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office. "The issue of narcotics is what led to the paths crossing between Mr. Craig and these kids. But, at the moment he chose to pull the trigger, it was about exercising his authority over them."
    Craig remained in custody Monday at the Metropolitan Detention Center in lieu of $10 million bail. He was charged last month with three counts of murder and three counts of child abuse after police made a stunning arrest in the high-profile case, which had gone cold despite a $100,000-plus reward and public pleas by the victims' parents for information.
    According to the warrant, witnesses during the past two months told detectives that they saw Craig stand about five feet from the hood of the Datsun and empty a 30-round magazine at the car.
    Police would not say why the witnesses are just now coming forward. They said that the investigation is continuing and that charges could be brought against people who were with Craig that night.
    "There is not a day that goes by where we don't learn something new on this case," Marcantel said. "We are far from being done."
    According to the warrant unsealed Monday:
    Craig wanted to take over his girlfriend's "illegal drug distribution," witnesses told police, and, on the night of the killings, he intended to collect on a drug debt owed to his girlfriend.
    Before leaving, Craig told his cousin he wanted to "gain respect" to become "successful in drug trafficking." He also told the cousin that he had a plan to "take over drug sales on the mountain."
    So, Craig, his girlfriend, cousin and another friend drove to the East Mountains looking for a "younger man" who police say was Shirley.
    They found Shirley at a party attended by about 15 people, mostly Manzano High School students.
    According to the arrest warrant, Shirley and the other teens were members of a group that called itself "The Crew," which would gather on weekends, smoke marijuana, drink alcohol and, at times, use cocaine and hallucinogens.
    At the party, Craig and Shirley argued over the debt he allegedly owed the girlfriend. Shirley insisted that he didn't owe her any money. At one point, several football players stepped in and defended Shirley. Craig and his friends left because they were "outnumbered."
    The four parked the truck on a nearby gravel road, waited and smoked marijuana.
    After a while, they decided to go back to the party and confront Shirley again.
    On their way to the party, they saw Shirley's Datsun headed in the opposite direction. Shirley's two friends, Garcia and Hunt, were passengers.
    Craig, who was driving his girlfriend's truck, did a quick U-turn and chased after Shirley's car.
    Craig flashed his lights and tailgated the car. At one point, when the Datsun slowed, Craig quickly pulled in front and cut it off.
    He then took a rifle from beneath the seat, walked around the bed of the truck and began to fire at the windshield, according to the warrant. While firing, Craig walked from one side of the vehicle's front to the other.
    When he returned, he told his cousin to "get out and help collect the brass."
    None of the witnesses indicated that Craig said anything to the teens before firing the assault rifle.
    The four then drove to the girlfriend's parents' home in the East Mountains, where they smoked more marijuana and tried to calm the girlfriend.
    About 90 minutes later, they went to the home of Craig's parents, who also lived in the East Mountains.
    Craig used a blowtorch to cut the gun into three pieces. He then told his cousin and the friend to dispose of the pieces at three Dumpsters.
    The two went to three Hasting's stores in Albuquerque and threw the gun pieces into the Dumpsters.
    The warrant said they were aware that Dumpsters were at those sites because of a scam one or more of them were involved in that included stealing video games.
    Police say Craig had threatened his friends never to talk about what happened.
    When questioned by detectives, the girlfriend told police that she didn't believe that Shirley, whose picture she was shown, was the same Kevin she sold drugs to or the one Craig got into an argument with.
    Investigators, however, say they believe that Shirley is the same person whom argued with Craig at the party.
    The girlfriend told police that she had told Craig that "Kevin" owed her $1,000 for some cocaine she had sold him but that the actual debt was $500.
    Shortly before Thanksgiving, investigators allowed the victims' families to read the arrest warrant. The Journal was able to reach two of the families Monday.
    They said that details of the alleged drug use surprised them and that they had always assumed the crime was random.
    But, "it doesn't matter what I find out about anything. There is never a reason for killing someone," Hunt's mother, Mary, said. "I think my son and his friends did whatever any other teenage boys do. None of these kids are angels and are sitting at home twiddling thumbs and drinking soda pop. Kids do what kids do."
    Shirley's mother, Joan, praised the three witnesses and stressed that Shirley's family holds no ill will toward them.
    "We would have never have gotten to this point without their courage to come forward," she said. "These people, who were kids at the time, were threatened if they came forward. For their courage, we are thankful."