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FARMINGTON — A 57-year-old Bloomfield man charged with stabbing his wife to death last year pleaded guilty Thursday to second-degree murder in an agreement with prosecutors.

Steve Barela entered the plea at a court hearing Thursday afternoon and was sentenced to 20 years in prison, according to San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien.

Barela's attorney, Randy Chavez, could not be reached for comment on Thursday.

Barela was accused of fatally stabbing his wife, Evelyn Barela, on the night of Dec. 18 after a fight over the thermostat at the couple's home on County Road 5413, according to court records.

Barela called 911 shortly before 10:30 p.m. to report the murder, but fled the residence before deputies from the San Juan County Sheriff's Office arrived at the scene, records state.

A clerk from the Hilltop Giant gas station on U.S. Highway 550 later called dispatch and reported a man with blood on his hands and shoes had entered the store and confessed to killing his wife, records state.

Barela was eventually found by deputies driving a white pickup truck north on U.S. Highway 550 and was stopped after a short chase. A 10-inch knife was found in the back of the truck, and Barela admitted in a statement to detectives that he killed his wife, according to records.

O'Brien said the plea agreement was a compromise. A second-degree felony that results in death is typically punishable by up to 15 years in prison, but Barela accepted in the plea agreement that the offense had "aggravating circumstances," which increased the maximum sentence.

O'Brien said first-degree murder requires a high standard of proof, and a conviction for the offense would only guarantee a 30-year minimum sentence.

"From our perspective, given his age, this might be a life sentence, anyway," O'Brien said.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644. 

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