Woman sentenced for man's death

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By David Giuliani

A woman has pleaded guilty in connection with the death of an elderly man a couple of years ago.

Jessica Livingston, 24, of Las Vegas entered a plea agreement last week with prosecutors in which she agreed to plead guilty to lesser charges. She was convicted in connection with the June 2007 death of Jose Apodaca, 83.

She originally had been charged with felony murder, among other charges. Her plea agreement had her pleading guilty to the reduced charges of homicide by vehicle, robbery, tampering with evidence and conspiracy to commit the offense of tampering.

As part of the deal, she will be sentenced to 12 years in prison. That time will be reduced by a year and a half, the time she’s been in jail.

District Judge Eugenio Mathis signed the plea agreement on Friday.

Livingston has been allowed to spend two weeks on furlough at the home of Aurelia and Mark Livingston at 3501 Louis St., court documents state. She will be under house arrest, wearing an ankle bracelet and undergoing drug tests.

She and Dolores Salazar, 19, allegedly robbed Apodaca and then dragged him with their car.

Months ago, Salazar had already pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide in the case.

Since last year, Livingston’s attorney, Jeffrey Buckels, has argued that the crime didn’t rise to the level of felony murder. He called it an “unintentional killing.”

“The car was set back away from Mr. Apodaca. He was in no apparent zone of danger,” Buckels stated in one pleading, arguing that the police didn’t reconstruct how Apodaca went from his wallet being snatched to lying injured in the street.

That’s an argument that ultimately swayed the district attorney’s office.

“The more we looked into the case, we realized that it was unlikely that we would have secured a conviction under the felony murder rule — a first-degree felony,” District Attorney Richard Flores said in a statement. “Our doubts of securing a first-degree murder conviction were confirmed at the plea hearing when Judge Mathis informed the parties that he never thought of this as a first-degree case and as such, felt the plea agreement was just.”

Flores said he was pleased with the outcome. He said the crime was just another example in which someone is going behind bars as a result of the abuse of alcohol and drugs.

“I am hopeful that people will realize this and make some life changes,” the district attorney said.

Buckels said that once the two sides got past the argument about whether the crime was a murder, the matter was resolved in 24 hours.

“This is not some kind of windfall (for Livingston). She is being punished for what she did. She’s not being sent on a vacation; she’s being sent to prison,” Buckels said. “She’s extremely remorseful for what happened, and she accepted responsibility. In the end, the result was fair.”

During the summer, District Judge Eugenio Mathis delayed the trial for Livingston at the request of Buckels, who contended that pretrial publicity may prevent his client from getting a fair trial in Las Vegas.

In particular, Buckels argued that an Optic headline, “Suspect’s transcript: ‘I did it. I did it,’” would make it nearly impossible for District Court to find jurors uninfluenced by the publicity.

Buckels was referring to an Optic story that reported on a prosecutor’s pleading, which included portions of a transcript from Livington’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 all on my own.”

She said she did the crime because she wanted to get high.

Buckels asked Mathis to bar the jail conversations from being used during his client’s trial because the prosecutors brought them up late in the process and hadn’t pinpointed which parts they planned to use.

Mathis granted Buckels’ request, but he allowed prosecutors to use the conversations if they could call into question Livingston’s testimony.

During the summer, Buckels asked the court to allow him to hire Albuquerque-based Research and Polling Inc. to gauge the awareness and prejudgment of area residents. The company agreed to perform the survey. While the court file didn’t include the results, Buckels said Thursday that most residents had clearly been influenced by the publicity.