A district judge is delaying the trial for a woman accused in the killing of an 83-year-old man. The ruling is in response to concerns over pretrial publicity.
Jessica Livingston, 24, is accused of an open count of murder in the June 2007 death of Jose Apodaca. She and Dolores Salazar, 19, were accused of robbing Apodaca and then killing him with their car.
Salazar has already pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide in the case.
Livingston had been scheduled for trial for mid-August on an open count of murder, but District Judge Eugenio Mathis last week delayed it to allow the defense time to get a firm to study the effects of the publicity on the ability to get a fair trial for Livingston.
On July 20, her attorney, Jeffrey Buckels, argued that the Optic’s latest story headlined, “Suspect’s transcript: ‘I did it. I did it,” would prevent the District Court from finding jurors uninfluenced by the publicity.
As such, he is requesting the trial be transferred to another county, a move the district attorney’s office opposes.
“This florid publicity appearing on the eve of the trial makes it improbable that Ms. Livingston can get a fair and impartial jury in San Miguel County,” Buckels wrote in his request. “Up until then, the previous publicity, extensive and troubling enough, was deemed at least manageable... The latest blow is too much.”
He wanted a delay of three to four weeks to hire Albuquerque-based Research and Polling Inc. to gauge the awareness and prejudgment of area residents.
“The headline would be enough in and of itself to taint the pool beyond repair,” he stated.
Buckels was referring to an Optic story that reported on a prosecutor’s pleading, which included portions of a transcript from Livingston’s phone conversations with her grandmother while she was in the San Miguel County jail.
According to the transcript, Livingston’s grandmother asked, “You’re taking the rap?”
“I just ... I just, it’s my fault, it’s all me,” Livingston responded. “I stole, I did it. I did it. I did it. I hurt the old man. I stole from him.”
In another conversation, according to the transcript, Livingston seemed to take all the blame, minimizing Salazar’s role.
“She didn’t get me in trouble,” Livingston reportedly said. “I made my decision on my own.”
She said that she did the crime because she wanted to get high.
Buckels stated in his pleading that it hadn’t been established that the transcripts will be used during the trial and that the prosecution made an “untimely disclosure.”
He said the statements were made out of context and were “grossly misleading.”
District Attorney Richard Flores said in an e-mail that his office argued that the media coverage wasn’t anything unusual. He said prosecutors are fighting any request to change the trial’s location.
According to police, Apodaca, who was on oxygen all the time, was dragged several feet after Livingston and Salazar asked him for money in the 1900 block of North Gonzales, where Apodaca lived.
As a struggle ensued, the women took his wallet and got into their car and drove away, with Apodaca somehow getting caught or holding onto the car, police said. Reports state that Livingston is an admitted heroin addict.
In a pleading earlier this year, Buckels said the offense didn’t rise to the level of first-degree murder, calling it a vehicular homicide case. He said there was no way his client knew that her actions created a strong probability of murder,” citing decisions of the state Supreme Court.
He contended that authorities haven’t reconstructed how Apodaca went from his wallet being snatched to lying injured in the street, stating that the victim was in “no apparent zone of danger.”
Prosecutors, however, argued that Livingston’s crime rose to the level of felony murder. They cited a police report in which an officer witnessed both Salazar and Livingston laughing in the jail’s booking area as if nothing happened. The laughing doesn’t support the argument that the death was an accident, according to the DA’s office.