AZTEC — District Judge Karen Townsend denied a motion to dismiss the death penalty sentence for convicted serial killer Robert Fry.
The judge made her ruling after a hearing for Fry in district court on Wednesday morning. Fry was sentenced to death for the murder of a Shiprock woman.
Fry’s attorneys argued his sentence should be life without parole because New Mexico abolished the death penalty in 2009. The San Juan County District Attorney said the Legislature made the decision not to apply the new law that abolished the penalty to already imposed sentences.
“New Mexico has repealed the death penalty,” Fry’s attorneys, Kathleen McGarry and Jacquelyn Robins, said in their motion. “It is repugnant to the federal and state constitution to allow this case to go forward with the death sentence intact, while persons who commit the same crimes on or after July 1, 2009, will be spared.”
Fry, a 39-year-old Farmington man, is one of only two people in the state on death row. The other is Timothy Allen, of Bloomfield.
Legislation passed in 2009 abolished the death penalty in New Mexico for future crimes, but it didn’t change the fate of the two San Juan County men who were sentenced to die by lethal injection for their murder convictions.
Fry was convicted and sentenced to death for the 2000 murder of Betty Lee, a 36-year-old Shiprock woman. Fry stabbed Lee in the chest and beat her head with a sledgehammer, which was recovered at Fry’s residence on County Road 5795. Lee’s body was found in a remote area north of County roads 6200 and 6480 in Kirtland, according to court documents.
Fry did not attend Wednesday’s hearing. He is incarcerated at the Penitentiary of New Mexico, a maximum-security prison 14 miles south of Santa Fe. He is in the most secure unit in the facility, according to New Mexico Department of Corrections records.
San Juan County District Attorney Rick Tedrow said Fry’s death penalty sentence should remain in place because a jury imposed it. Prior to 2009, death sentences in New Mexico were only handed down by a jury who listened to testimony after a person was convicted of murder. That jury decided whether or not the person would be sentenced to life in prison without parole or death.
“It’s our position that it’s not our decision. It’s not the Supreme Court’s decision,” Tedrow said in an interview after Wednesday’s hearing. “It was the jury’s decision, and they went through the process. It was the people that spoke, not the politicians.”
In court documents Tedrow said “the Legislature chose to hold first-degree murderers to the consequences for their crimes, as those consequences existed when they committed their crimes.”
Townsend’s decision will automatically be appealed to the New Mexico Supreme Court.
Fry is serving life sentences for other crimes. He was convicted of murder for the 1996 killings of Matthew Trecker, 18, and Joseph Fleming, 25, both of Farmington, who were stabbed to death at Eclectic, a former smoking pipe and knife shop in Farmington, and the 1998 murder of Donald Tsosie, 41, of Ganado, Ariz., according to news reports.
Ryan Boetel covers crime for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @rboetel on Twitter.