LOVINGTON — A Hobbs man who had been convicted of second-degree murder last fall had his request for a new trial denied this week and was promptly sentenced to the maximum prison term.
Fifth Judicial District Judge Mike Stone sentenced Sammy Piñon Jr., 32, on Thursday to 17 years in prison for the murder of 32-year-old Thomas May, who was shot five times in the 1100 block of Princess Jeanne Drive on Oct. 26, 2016.
Piñon and another man were identified as suspects during the police investigation, and the other man told police Piñon was the shooter. Piñon was charged with May’s murder in early 2017 after a four-month long investigation by the Hobbs Police Department.
After Stone on Thursday denied Piñon’s latest motion for a new trial, Piñon was handed a 15-year sentence on the second-degree murder charge, with a one-year enhancement for a prior felony conviction and a one-year enhancement for murdering May with a firearm, explained Fifth Judicial District Attorney Dianna Luce.
Luce told the News-Sun Friday justice was served.
“It did take a while,” Luce said. “We didn’t have the murder weapon, so to some extent, it was a circumstantial case. I’m definitely glad that it’s done.”
Piñon was convicted by a jury of second-degree on Oct. 26, the two-year anniversary May’s death. His sentencing was scheduled to take place Thursday, which it ultimately did.
In November, Piñon filed an initial motion for a new trial based of comments made by courtroom spectators during breaks of his trial and a poem written by the victim’s mother that was published post-trial on Nov. 4 as an advertisement in the Hobbs New-Sun.
“I curse the coward that caused my son’s death,” the poem reads. “I curse him and his every breath! He’s the one that put me on this painful path! May he always be haunted by this mother’s wrath.”
Stone denied Piñon’s initial motion for a new trial.
Piñon filed a second motion for a new trial last week, taking issue with a search warrant that was executed to seize his shoes shortly after May’s murder. Key circumstantial evidence presented at trial were impressions of footprints alleged to be consistent with shoes worn by Piñon.
Piñon’s attorney, James Klipstine, said the search warrant was executed at 10:41 p.m. Nov. 2, 2016, when Piñon was booked at the Lea County Detention Center on other charges. His clothing and other possessions were inventoried and placed in storage. The search warrant called for the seizure of his shoes and clothing, a DNA sample and any other inventoried property.
Klipstine argued the search warrant stated it must be conducted between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., unless the issuing judge had specifically authorized a night time search.
Klipstine said the search warrant was executed illegally, and Piñon was deprived the ability to file a motion to suppress the evidence because the state failed to disclose the search warrant as required under evidentiary rules.
“As a direct result of Defendant’s failure to raise the evidentiary issue he (was) denied his right to a fair trial, due process of law and the equal protection of the law secured to him by both the Constitution of the United States of America and the State of New Mexico,” Piñon’s motion states.
Luce filed a response in opposition to Piñon’s motion for a new trial.
In her response, Luce said the search warrant was actually served at 10:41 a.m. on Nov. 2, 2016, but the jail uses a 24-hour military clock, resulting in a clerical mistake. Luce also said the defense had been aware of the search warrant since at least March 2017 and the second motion for a trial was untimely because it had not been filed within 10 days of the verdict.
“Even during trial, the defense argued that Defendant’s shoe could not have made the shoe prints at issue,” states Luce’s response. “The facts of the case establish that the search warrant was known to the defense prior to trial and that the defense was aware of the shoeprint evidence at trial.”
Klipstine’s law office said Friday he was unavailable for comment.
The state called 24 witnesses at the week-long trial in late October. The jury 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 Piñon’s 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.
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. 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.
A photo of May’s body and graphic images of a bloody scene were exhibited for the court at trial. Other evidence presented included 23 shoe imprints that a blood stain analyst said had a similar pattern to Piñon’s shoes.
HPD detective Eli Gomez and two personnel from the Lea County Detention Center were called as witnesses at Thursday’s hearing for a new trial.
May’s best friend, Tris-tin Kirkpatrick, testified at Piñon’s sentencing hearing later Thursday, calling for a maximum sentence. A statement from a previous hearing from May’s mother, Pam May, was also noted at sentencing.
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