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Mistrial declared in drug case

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By David Giuliani

Gilberto Reyes, who has spent 14 months in the San Miguel County jail, will be behind bars for longer.

On Tuesday, a six-man, six-woman jury failed to return a verdict in the case involving Reyes, who is accused of distribution of marijuana.

After more than three hours of deliberations, the foreman of the Mora County jury reported to District Judge Eugenio Mathis that he doubted that the panel would come to any agreement even if they were given more time to deliberate.

Mathis declared a mistrial and told the jury that he didn’t consider its lack of a decision a failure.

“A hung jury is a vindication of the system,” he said. “You stuck to your judgment.”

Prosecutor Tom Clayton said he would have to consult with his boss, District Attorney Richard Flores, to see if they would try Reyes again.

“We do recognize that he (Reyes) has been in custody for 14 months,” he said.

The judge said the jury panel’s term of service is until June and that it would be inappropriate to try the case again before that group. He said that if prosecutors wanted to try Reyes again, the trial wouldn’t be held until July at the earliest.

He recommended the two sides consult with each other to determine Reyes’ terms of release and his bail.

Reyes, a former professional baseball player, has been in the county lockup since December 2007 because he hasn’t been able to make bail. Some have accused the local judicial system of ignoring Reyes’ right to a speedy trial. Although Reyes is not from Las Vegas, more than a dozen area residents as well as a couple of friends from Ohio attended much of the trial to show support for him.

Even if Reyes were to make bail, he would be sent to the custody of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service because he isn’t an American citizen. He has been in the United States for a quarter century under government-issued visas.

If Reyes were to be convicted, he would be deported to his native Dominican Republic.

Reyes was charged on Dec. 22, 2007. That morning, he was driving a pickup truck full of furniture when it rolled over during a snowstorm on the Mora County portion of Interstate 25 north of Las Vegas. An officer later found the truck containing 420 pounds of marijuana.

He and a woman passenger, Maria De La Luz Gomez, went to the local hospital. She was hurt, while he didn’t suffer any injuries. She was also charged, but made bail and fled.

No one disputed the basic facts of the Reyes case, which was heard in state District Court in Las Vegas. The dispute centered on whether Reyes knew the drugs were in the pickup.

Reyes, who didn’t testify, has stated before that he was taking the truck of furniture from Douglas, Ariz., to Denver. He said a man with the last name Garcia, whom he met playing pool in Agua Prieta, a Mexican town just across the border from Douglas, paid him $1,000 to take the furniture to Denver.

However, Reyes said he didn’t know the exact destination in Denver because he was expected to get that information once he arrived in the city. He said he didn’t know the drugs were in the truck.

• • •

In his closing statement, Reyes’ attorney, Ben Mondragon, said the prosecution essentially based its case on the theory that Reyes “must have known” the drugs were inside. But he said the state had no actual evidence to back that assertion.

Mondragon said his client didn’t run when his truck overturned on I-25, instead choosing to wait for help, nor did he flee when he went to the hospital.

“Why didn’t he take the first trip to Albuquerque or hide out at the Inn of Las Vegas?” Mondragon asked.

Some of the cellophane-wrapped packages of marijuana shifted in the accident, making them visible from the outside. And another fell out of the truck onto the snowy median. Yet Reyes never attempted to hide any of those packages because he didn’t know of their existence, Mondragon said.

The attorney also pointed to testimony from the state’s expert witness from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, who acknowledged that not all mules — those who transport drugs — are aware that narcotics are in their vehicles. And Mondragon noted that the expert witness also admitted that Reyes’ passenger may have been the mule, not Reyes himself.

Mondragon criticized authorities for not conducting followup investigations to determine whether Reyes intended to transport the drugs. No one took fingerprints on the cellophane packages, Mondragon said. To make his point, Mondragon blew on one of the packages and then pressed his fingers against it, demonstrating that prints could easily be taken.

• • •

For his part, prosecutor Clayton contended the defense was building a case of “smoke and mirrors.” He said he had been a defense attorney before and knew that one of the tactics was to distract juries from their clients. So he said that’s why Mondragon was pointing to the female passenger and the officers.

“He will shine light on everyone else but his client,” he said.

Clayton took exception to the argument that Reyes’ showed his innocence by not trying to flee. He said it was very cold on the day of the accident and that there were no homes in the rural area.

“Where would he go? He would be on the highway,” he said.

As for the fleeing from the hospital, Clayton suggested that Reyes got confident because the state police had let him go to the hospital without their presence.

He said the furniture in the truck was cheap and questioned why anyone would get $1,000 plus $350 for expenses to take such a load to Denver. He said the street value of the drugs in question was more than $300,000 in Denver.

“He (Reyes ) understood what he was doing,” Clayton said. “The law doesn’t require direct evidence.”

Clayton noted that Mondragon mentioned that his client was a professional baseball player. Clayton said Reyes shouldn’t get a break because he was a pro athlete. He should be treated the same as ranchers and alfalfa growers in Mora County.

“The fact that he was a baseball player has no bearing on this case,” he said.

• • •

After the mistrial was declared, Reyes consulted with his attorney, who put his arm around him. Reyes looked back at the audience, most of whom were his supporters.

“I will see you guys,” he told them.

Then an officer took him into custody. As his security van passed in front of the courthouse, he waved at someone who attended the trial.