Friday, December 9, 2005
Killer's Verdict, Sentence Upheld
By Barry Massey
The Associated Press
SANTA FE The state's highest court on Thursday upheld the murder conviction and death sentence of a Farmington man for killing a mother of five in 2000.
Robert Fry was sentenced to die by injection for the June 9, 2000, slaying of Betty Lee, 36, who was stabbed and bludgeoned with a sledgehammer in a remote area of San Juan County.
The Supreme Court unanimously affirmed Fry's first-degree murder conviction, but Chief Justice Richard Bosson dissented from the court decision to uphold the death sentence given to Fry.
Bosson said the case should have been remanded for a new sentencing hearing. He contended that jurors weren't properly instructed on the legal standard needed for capital punishment in New Mexico. Bosson concurred in upholding Fry's murder conviction.
John Bigelow, chief public defender whose office handled Fry's appeal, said he could not comment on the ruling because he had not yet seen it. The decision will be carefully reviewed in the next few days, he said, and "all options that might be available will be considered," such as whether to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Fry has been convicted of three other murders and is serving life imprisonment sentences for those.
Currently, there are two men on death row Fry and Timothy Allen of Bloomfield. Allen was sentenced to die for the murder, kidnapping and attempted rape of 17-year-old Sandra Phillips of Flora Vista in 1994.
The Supreme Court also upheld Fry's convictions for kidnapping and attempting to rape Lee as well as tampering with evidence.
The court's majority rejected all of Fry's legal arguments, including his contention that he didn't have an impartial jury because seven potential members were excused because of their religious opposition to the death penalty. Fry had also argued that the death sentence was disproportionate to penalties imposed for similar crimes. The court, in an opinion written by Justice Patricio Serna, said the death sentence was not disportionate given the nature of Fry's crime.
In death penalty cases, after a defendant is convicted of first-degree murder, a separate sentencing proceeding is held and jurors decide whether to impose capital punishment.
State law allows the death penalty under certain "aggravated circumstances," such as murder in the commission of a kidnapping.