AZTEC — A judge on Thursday declined to acquit John Mayes of his second-degree murder conviction, which a Gallup jury handed down in November after a two-week trial.
District Judge William Birdsall made his ruling during a hearing on Thursday afternoon. Birdsall said he will allow Mayes' lawyers to appeal his decision to the New Mexico Court of Appeals before he moves forward with sentencing and amenability hearings for Mayes.
Mayes, the 20-year-old son of Farmington City Manager Rob Mayes, was convicted of murdering Dr. James Nordstrom in June 2011 at the doctor's home in the Farmington Foothills neighborhood. Nordstrom was bludgeoned to death with a pool stick and buried under a wood pile on his own property.
Mayes' attorneys filed a motion to acquit Mayes of the murder conviction -- which carries a possible 15-year prison sentence -- because of a procedural mishap the jury made when handing down its verdict, according to court documents.
The jury found Mayes not guilty of manslaughter before reaching a verdict on the charge of first- or second-degree murder. The jury was instructed to reach a verdict on the murder charges before considering manslaughter, according to court documents.
"Mr. Mayes' acquittal of manslaughter, a lesser included offense of First and Second Degree Murder, bars a subsequent trial for either of the greater included in accordance with the principles of double jeopardy," the motion filed on Mayes' behalf states.
San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Brent Capshaw said the jury had no intention of acquitting Mayes of the murder charges when they handed down the ruling on the manslaughter charge. The judge questioned the foreman after the verdict was read, and the foreman said jurors were still debating between first and second-degree murder.
"Someone's not going to walk on a murder count on some technicality where we all know what happened, and we resolved it appropriately at the time," Capshaw said.
Birdsall said it was clear to him the jury wasn't trying to acquit Mayes of the murder charge when it returned the manslaughter verdict.
"The bottom line is, if I grant the defendant's motion, then it will in effect, stand the jury's intended verdict on its head," Birdsall said. "I don't think the law would support an absurdity of that sort. The motion is denied."
Jeffrey Buckels, one of Mayes' attorneys, said Mayes' defense team will try to get Birdsall's ruling heard before the Court of Appeals.
The appeals court can decide not to hear the appeal, they can make a decision based on the briefs or they can schedule for oral arguments before the court in Santa Fe before making a decision, Buckels said.
Buckels said he will file a brief stating why he thinks the judge was wrong, and the New Mexico Attorney General's office will file a brief stating why they think the judge was right. Then Mayes' attorneys will get to file another response brief, he said.
It's not clear how long the appeals process will take. Birdsall said he will wait for that court's ruling before Mayes' case moves forward.
Mayes was also convicted of aggravated burglary and four lesser property crimes at his trial.
He has been scheduled for a sentencing and amenability hearing at the end of the month. An amenability hearing will allow Mayes' attorneys to argue Mayes can be cured with treatment by the time he is 21, which would allow the judge to sentence him as a juvenile, Capshaw said.
Birdsall said he will put those future legal matters on hold until after the Court of Appeals rules on his decision.
"My heart always goes out to the victim's families on things like this. They want a resolution, and although it's never really resolved, (closing a case) at least gets the process over with so they can go on with dealing with their grief," Capshaw said. "You want it over with, and we drag things on with technicalities."
While Mayes' murder case is now on hold, Birdsall said Thursday he wants to move forward soon with Mayes' other case.
Mayes, while he was incarcerated at the San Juan County Juvenile Detention Center on the murder charge, allegedly planned an escape with other inmates that included plans to kill two jail guards.
Mayes was charged with two counts of conspiracy to commit murder, which are second-degree felonies, and four fourth-degree felonies for the alleged plot.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.