Friday, April 2, 2004
Inquiry of Valencia County Police Wanted
By Jennifer Emmons
El Defensor Chieftain
LOS LUNAS The Valencia County District Court is being asked to empanel a special grand jury to investigate area law enforcement's handling of alleged domestic violence homicides.
The parents of two women whose deaths were investigated by State Police have been gathering signatures in recent months to compel a citizens' grand jury to look into what they believe have been botched investigations.
Aided by Albuquerque private investigator Mike Corwin, Bill Houston and Nancy Grice presented about 800 signatures on the petition to a representative for the Bureau of Elections at the Valencia County Courthouse Thursday.
At least 674 signatures from county residents are required, Corwin said.
The Bureau of Elections must certify the signatures to ensure the names are valid and that all are registered voters in Valencia County.
The deaths of Grice's daughter, Melanie McCracken in 1995, and Houston's daughter, Stephanie Houston in 2000, were closed by State Police without criminal charges being filed.
The Office of the Medical Investigator ruled the manner of both deaths as "undetermined."
After Houston, Grice and Corwin pushed for a reopening of the cases, the district attorney for Valencia County, Lemuel Martinez, ordered new investigations several years ago. Two men are now facing criminal charges related to the deaths.
McCracken was found dead inside a car that had hit a tree and rolled over off N.M. 47. Her husband, former State Police Sgt. Mark McCracken, was at the wheel. He said he had found her unresponsive on the bed at their Los Lunas home and was rushing her to an Albuquerque hospital when he crashed.
In October, a Valencia County grand jury indicted him on a first-degree murder charge.
The grand jury was assisted by former Clovis district attorney Randall Harris, who was appointed special prosecutor by Martinez. The grand jury recommended another grand jury investigate how State Police handled the investigation.
Twenty-eight-year-old Stephanie Houston, of Socorro, died in February 2000, after her boyfriend, Patrick Murillo, now 41, also of Socorro, admittedly ran her over with his truck on N.M. 314 in Belen. He said it was an accident. McCracken was a supervisor at the scene.
In late December, nearly four years after the Houston death, a grand jury found enough evidence to indict Murillo with vehicular homicide.
Corwin said in both cases the OMI asked State Police investigators to check whether there had been a history of domestic violence and in both cases, none was provided to OMI.
Corwin said there was evidence that both women had been victims of domestic violence.
"This is not about the State Police, this is about much more," he said. "We believe that a variety of government employees and individuals paid with taxpayer money may have intentionally sought to obstruct or block the investigation of both of these cases."