After nearly three hours of deliberation, t he jury could reach no verdict in the case of New Mexico v. Joel Cordoba-Lopez on two counts of homicide by vehicle in the deaths of Mandy Miranda and her son, Joe Albaraz III. The verdict was greeted by stunned silence from family members of both the defendant and victims.
However, Cordoba-Lopez was found guilty on the charges of knowingly leaving the scene of an accident, resulting in great bodily harm or death, and speeding.
The crash occurred on Aug. 5, 2012, around 3:54 a.m. when a 2007 Cadillac Escalade driven by Cordoba-Lopez ran over a blue Hyundai Sonata at the intersection of Brasher Road and S.E. Main Street, crushing the two victims.
The state rested its case after both defense and prosecution stipulated to accept the results of autopsy findings for the two victims.
The autopsy revealed both had suffered from multiple fractures of ribs and long bones, wounds to several vital organs and major blood vessels, including liver, spleen and kidneys for Miranda and liver for Albaraz. Both had punctured aortas, the main artery leading from the heart. The final ruling from the Office of the Medical Examiner was death by accident.
Defense presented its case when Cordoba-Lopez took the stand. He told the court that he had been working long hours with Prestige Well Services, an Artesia-based firm, in August 2012, with 80-hour weeks and one 23-hour day. He said they broke off early, around 9 p.m., on Saturday, Aug. 4. He went from his home in Dexter to the bowling alley in Roswell.
Cordoba-Lopez reported that he left the bowling alley around 1:30 a.m., with three women, but he could not recall their names. He denied drinking that night. After he got a ride back to his Escalade, he first headed for Dexter, but decided to return to Roswell to go to breakfast at Denny’s.
He admitted that he saw the Sonata driven by Miranda in the left lane about 400 or 500 feet ahead, but saw no turn signals to indicate she was turning. He contends that she made an abrupt switch to the right lane, and he did not have time to react.
His testimony contradicted the findings by the New Mexico State Police, saying the Escalade hit the Sonata at an angle as a result of her lane change, rather than straight on. He said he did not flip over immediately, but veered to the left to avoid collision, then right and left again which caused his vehicle to turn over.
He said he remembered his elbow being scraped against the pavement through the sun roof and he then passed out. Cordoba-Lopez said he was dazed when he came to and released himself from his seat belt and crawled from the vehicle. He also could not recollect the accident.
He left his SUV, following the route described by New Mexico Game and Fish Conservation Officer Tyson Sanders. It was only after he reached the alley near Gayle and Lea that he remembered the accident. Then, he turned to go back to the scene, but ended at his aunt’s house instead.
Under cross-examination, Cordoba-Lopez said he did not know what speed he was going at the time of impact, but stated the NMSP findings were wrong. When asked if he had tried to call 911 or notify the authorities after he arrived at his aunt’s house or later, he said: “No, I had done nothing wrong.”
Cordoba-Lopez acknowledged that he had left for Mexico, but said he went to visit his father rather than to evade the authorities.
During closing arguments, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Stone pointed out that the Crash Data Recorder indicated that Cordoba-Lopez was driving at speeds between 82 to 100 mph in a 45 mph zone.
He repeated the NMSP study, which suggested that the Escalade struck the Sonata straight on from behind in a position slightly to the left and that it was his vehicle, not Miranda’s, that was straddling the lane marker.
Stone emphasized the fact that Cordoba-Lopez had done nothing to help, but went to Mexico. Later, Assistant District Attorney John Phinizy said that when Cordoba-Lopez exited the vehicle, he crawled from the side facing the Sonata.
Defense Attorney Gary C. Mitchell argued that speed was not sufficient cause for charges of reckless driving, an element which must be proven for charges of homicide by vehicle. He also stated that he did not believe the data collected from the CDR that indicated Cordoba-Lopez had not used his seat belt when witness testimony said that he was wearing it.
In the end, the jury agreed that Cordoba-Lopez had knowingly left the scene of an accident and must have been speeding, but could not reach a decision about reckless driving. Judge Freddie Romero declared a mistrial on the two counts of vehicular homicide.
Cordoba-Lopez faces up to 18 months in prison for the fourth-degree felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident and a fine for excessive speeds. He may also face a second trial on the homicide charges.