LOVINGTON — Hobbsan Sammy Piñon Jr. was convicted of second-degree murder with a firearm Friday on the two-anniversary of victim Thomas May’s death.
Thomas May was shot five times in the 1100 block of Princess Jeanne Drive on Oct. 26, 2016. May would have been 34 years old this year.
The trial took place in the Fifth Judicial District Courtroom of Judge Mike Stone in Lovington.
“Nobody deserves to be shot like that. He was shot five times like a dog as he was running away,” May’s best friend, Tris-tin Kirkpatrick, told the Hobbs News-Sun Friday during a recess of the murder trial.
Kirkpatrick was audibly sobbing when a photo of May’s body and graphic images of a bloody scene were exhibited on screen for the court.
Stone said Piñon will be sentenced at a later date and Fifth Judicial District Attorney Dianna Luce said Piñon could get a maximum of 15 years in prison, plus a one-year enhancement for murdering May with a firearm.
“This is justice for Thomas May. We want to thank the Hobbs Police Department for the work on this case and the jurors for their service,” Luce said.
Piñon, 32, was charged with May’s murder in early 2017 after a four-month long HPD investigation.
The state called 24 witnesses to the stand during the trial, which began Monday. The court also listened to a recording of Marissa Castillo’s testimony at Piñon’s preliminary hearing. Castillo, who was reportedly at the murder scene, passed away of natural causes after the preliminary hearing.
A shell casing and a small bag of methamphetamine were found in Castillo’s bedroom at the crime scene. A shoeprint in May’s blood in the doorway of Castillo’s bedroom matched the shoe of Castillo’s roommate, Sarah Outlaw.
Defense attorney James Clipstine asked Jessica Quiroz, a blood stain expert, how a bullet got into Castillo’s room. She said “I’m assuming it was kicked,” to which Clips-tine replied, “Why would you assume such a thing in a trial of this sort?”
“There are so many unanswered questions, so many unexplained facts, so many unbelievable things. There’s no way you could reach a place of certainty,” Clipstine told the jury during his closing statement.
Outlaw, who was grazed by a bullet the night of the murder, didn’t see Piñon pull the trigger, but said it was only her, Piñon and May in the hallway when May was shot.
Castillo said she was sleeping when Outlaw busted into her room scared, shaking and crying and covered in blood asking for a phone. Hobbs Police Detective Mark Munro, who interviewed Outlaw after the shooting, testified he didn’t see any blood on Outlaw’s hands. Outlaw said she tried to stop May’s bleeding by using a belt as a make-shift tourniquet.
When Clipstine cross-examined Munro, Clipstine asked him if he swabbed Outlaw’s hands for gunpowder. Munro said HPD doesn’t swab hands for gunpowder in investigations.
Castillo said she got in her car with her daughter and left the scene after Outlaw’s busted into her room. She claimed she didn’t hear the five gunshots in the hallway directly outside of her room that night.
Castillo initially told police she was out of town during the shooting, but a video from a surveillance camera at the intersection of South Grimes Street and West Marland Boulevard showed her driving in the opposite direction of her home shortly after the shooting.
Evidence presented during the trial that may have led to Piñon’s conviction included 23 shoe imprints that a blood stain analyst said had a similar pattern to Piñon’s and “Steve Guerra from the lab” who, Luce said, identified Piñon’s shoe-prints in the hallway where May was shot.
During her closing statement, Luce said a vehicle that was at the scene the night of the shooting was seized by Hobbs Police investigators about a week after the murder for a search and examination. By then, Luce said, the car had been cleaned.
Luce then reminded the jury of a recorded phone call between Piñon and Danielle Ortega, who was in possession of the vehicle after the murder.
“I need to talk to you about that cleaning thing, about cleaning that thing up,” Ortega said to Piñon. Quiroz said the car was swabbed during the examination and didn’t yield positives of May’s or Piñon’s DNA.
“If you’re making such a grave decision you want hard evidence. Hard, solid evidence wasn’t there,” Clipstine told News-Sun after the trial.