GALLUP — After deliberating for more than 10 hours over two days, a jury on Monday convicted John Mayes of second-degree murder in the 2011 death of Dr. James Nordstrom.
Jurors found Mayes not guilty of first-degree murder, which would have made Mayes a “serious youthful offender” and required the court to hand down a life sentence, said Stephen Taylor, Mayes' attorney.
Prosecutors said Mayes could still get a maximum sentence of 31 1/2 years in prison if the judge sentences him to the maximum on each count and orders the counts to be served consecutively. Mayes' attorneys will argue in future hearings that Mayes should receive a much lesser sentence. They intend to argue that the court should take into consideration he was 17 years old at the time of the crime and that there were mitigating circumstances to the attack, Taylor said.
“For us, the difference between a first degree muder conviction and a second is the difference between a life sentence and the chance to have a life in a few years,” he said.
Mayes, the 20-year-old son adopted son of Farmington city manager Rob Mayes, went to trial in Gallup on Nov. 13. On Friday, the jury convicted him on the lesser charges of aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence, unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, fraudulent use of a credit card and attempted residential burglary in connection to the death of Dr. James Nordstrom on June 9, 2011. The jury also found him not guilty of manslaughter in Nordstrom's death.
The jury left for the weekend, returned to court at 8:30 a.m. Monday and deliberated for two more hours before handing down the second-degree murder convction.
The lesser charges could carry a sentence of up to 16 1/2 years in prison, Chief Deputy District Attorney Brent Capshaw said. A second-degree murder conviction is punishable by up to 15 years.
Taylor said since Mayes was arrested and charged with an open count of murder, he could be considered a serious youthful offender, which means the court doesn't take his age into consideration. Taylor said when the jury found Mayes not guilty of first-degree murder, it opened the door for District Judge William Birdsall to consider Mayes' age and other factors, such as his diagnosed mental disorder, when handing down a sentence.
During trial, prosecutors put forth evidence that Mayes broke into Nordstrom's home during a burglary. When Mayes saw Nordstrom was watching television, he armed himself with a pool cue and waited in the bedroom, where he attacked the doctor and bludgeoned him to death, they said.
After killing Nordstrom, Mayes buried the doctor underneath a wood pile near his home in the Farmington Foothills neighborhood. He took the doctor's truck and wallet and charged more than $3,000 to his credit cards.
Mayes' attorneys argued their client was acting in self defense from an unwanted sexual advance. They also had his counselor and a forensic psychiatrist testify that Mayes suffers from Reactive Attachment Disorder, or RAD, because of severe neglect and possible abuse he suffered as a young boy in the Ukraine before he was adopted.
Carol Mayes, John Mayes' mother, described in court the horrible living conditions she found Mayes and his biological sister living in when they adopted them from the Ukraine in 1998. She also described John Mayes' lifelong inability to form human attachments.
Mayes attorneys will use evidence of the medical disorder and neglect at an amenability hearing, which will determine if Mayes will be sentenced in juvenile or adult court. If Birdsall moves the case to juvenile court, Mayes could only be incarcerated until he is 21 years old, which is less than a year.
Capshaw said that scenario is unlikely because the court would need mental health experts to testify to the likelihood that they can treat Mayes' disorder in that time.
“He has to be assessed for amenability. They are going to be looking at if they can fix him in the six or eight months,” Capshaw said. “We'll take it seriously ... But they are not going to be able to meet that burden.”
All jurors declined to be interviewed after the trial. One juror spoke with Chief Deputy District Brent Capshaw and said 10 jurors wanted to convict Mayes of first-degree murder and two jurors wanted to convict him of second-degree murder, he said. Capshaw said the juror told him the 10 eventually decided to hand down the second-degree murder instead of ending with a hung jury, which would have meant Mayes could be retried.
Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.