FARMINGTON — A guilty plea entered by Jose Garcia last year in connection with the stomping death of a toddler will stand, a district court judge ruled Tuesday.

Garcia, on the day of his trial Nov. 5, accepted responsibility for the murder of 17-month-old Taegan McKinney through an Alford plea, which acknowledges sufficient evidence to convict without formally admitting the crime.

Months later, the 20-year-old Flora Vista man filed a motion from prison requesting his pleading to the crime be withdrawn due to incompetent legal counsel.

"Why would any competent attorney allow someone to take an unconditional plea and go to jail for 30 years?" Garcia asked the court Tuesday.

Representing himself, Garcia claimed his former attorney, Arlon Stoker, failed to investigate evidence that may have shown innocence, promised Garcia he would face probation time on the charge and never mentioned the plea deal forfeited any right to appeal the conviction.

Garcia cited 2006 New Mexico case law that allowed a man to withdraw a guilty plea due to inadequate legal counsel.

Investigation of the April 2007 killing found the toddler was repeatedly stomped in the head and abdomen. Shoe imprints found on the child matched Garcia, arrest documents state. Garcia was helping a girlfriend babysit the child at the time of the incident.

The District Attorney's Office, trying to prove Garcia was fully aware of the plea deal prior to accepting it, called Stoker's office assistant and private investigator to testify that Garcia was never promised probation and thorough investigations were completed despite Garcia's prior admissions to the crime.

The morning the plea was set to be heard, Garcia changed his mind and opted out of the arrangement only to agree to it again after hearing another trial date wouldn't come for at least five months.

Garcia on Tuesday replayed those court proceedings, including District Judge Sandra Price interviewing him on the specifics of the plea agreement. In the recording, the judge repeatedly asked if he understood the agreement and its corresponding 30-year prison sentence. Garcia replied, Yea,' to each of the questions.

But one standard question was left out: Was anything promised to you that was not included in the plea agreement?

Lacking that question, Garcia's motion to withdraw the plea has merit, said Alfredo Martinez, a family friend, because Garcia claims he was promised a probation sentence.

"She covered that without saying those exact words," Prosecutor Lisa Kuykendall said. "It was discussed at least three or four times."

District Judge Price said that claim was the only one with merit, but reiterated that the question of sentencing was addressed repeatedly, suggesting Garcia did accept the plea with a full understanding of its terms.

"You stood there and made no comment, made no mention and went on to enter your plea," Price said. "I question how someone who is charged with the death of a child would think probation would be an option at all."

"I frankly don't know on what basis he's trying to withdraw his plea," Stoker said Monday. "The plea was gone over thoroughly with him by both myself and by the judge."

The attorney had no other comment on the case.

Garcia told the court Tuesday he had never read the plea before he agreed to it, although at the time he told the court he had.

"That morning was a very confusing morning, there was a lot going on. It went real fast," Garcia said. "I was not given constitutionally adequate advice."

Garcia's family said Tuesday's ruling on the motion to withdraw the plea would likely be appealed to the state Supreme Court.

"We just feel it's unfair without a trial," said Angela Garcia, the man's mother.

Family and friends of the victim declined to comment on the outcome of the case.

James Monteleone: jmonteleone@daily-times.com