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Police: Man's DNA found at motel murder scene

Suspect released from jail five days before murder due to an apparent paperwork error

Steve Garrison
stgarrison@daily-times.com
Timothy Serrano

FARMINGTON – A 32-year-old Farmington man is scheduled to make an initial court appearance today on allegations he stabbed 62-year-old Dalton Ford to death last fall at the Rimrock Lodge motel. 

Timothy Serrano was charged Tuesday in Farmington Magistrate Court with an open count of murder and tampering with evidence, according to court records. He was being held at the San Juan County Detention Center on a $750,000 cash bond.

Two witnesses told investigators that Serrano admitted to them he stabbed Ford, and his DNA was found at the scene, according to the records.

Serrano was previously arrested in August on allegations he fled from police in a stolen vehicle, according to the Daily Times archives.

He was released from jail without bond on Sept. 9 — five days before Ford’s murder — because of what appears to be a lack of communication between the Farmington Police Department and the San Juan County District Attorneys Office.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien said Farmington police failed to provide his office Serrano's criminal information, which prosecutors needed to proceed with charges.

"If we had the documents with the information from the police department, with the witness comments, we likely would have been able to make the case," O'Brien said. "We didn't have that."

Farmington police Chief Steve Hebbe confirmed it was an issue with his department, one he has worked to address.

Farmington police were dispatched the morning of Sept. 14 to the Rimrock Lodge at 2530 Bloomfield Highway in Farmington after receiving reports the body of an unidentified man was found in a motel room, according to an arrest warrant.

Investigators search a guest room on Sept. 14 at the Rimrock Lodge on U.S. Highway 64  in Farmington.

Detectives found the man nude and covered in blood, according to a search warrant. Blood also stained the walls, the bedding, a pillow and a pornographic magazine. Bloody shoe prints headed south from the room toward Bloomfield Highway, the warrant states.

In the room, police found several pairs of women's blue jeans, smoking pipes, almost $3,500 in cash and a driver's license for Dalton Ford's son, Travis Ford. Police determined the cash was won at a local casino, the warrant states.

Travis Ford was outside the motel room when police arrived at the scene, according to a warrant. Visibly upset, Ford said he was with his father last night watching a football game, according to the warrant. He said he left the motel in his father's vehicle after the game and spent the night with friends.

Several acquaintances reported meeting with Dalton Ford the day before his death. One woman told detectives she met Ford to ask for a ride home later that evening from the SunRay Park & Casino. Another man said Ford paid him $100 that night to give him a back-rub, the warrant states.

Mark McGuffin contacted police Sept. 29, about two weeks after Ford's body was found, and said he had information regarding the murder, according to the warrant.

McGuffin told detectives he was at a residence belonging to Iran Olguin during the early morning hours on Sept. 14. He said Serrano appeared at the residence covered in blood and armed with a knife and said he had just visited "Pops," a nickname for Dalton Ford, the warrant states.

Serrano allegedly told them he heard Dalton Ford recently won $10,000 at the casino and he went to the motel room to rob him, according to the warrant. He said he was unable to get the money from Ford and had to stab him "near 20 times," the warrant states.

McGuffin told detectives Serrano changed out of his bloody clothing at Olguin's residence and the clothing was destroyed.

Olguin, located by detectives, agreed to provide a statement, according to the warrant.

He confirmed Serrano visited his residence covered in blood the morning of the murder, the warrant states. He told detectives Serrano said he met "Pops" to obtain heroin, but "Pops" refused to give it to him because Serrano owed him $20.

So Serrano got angry and stabbed Ford "more times than he could count," according to the warrant. Olguin said Serrano then fled the motel room on a bicycle, the warrant states.

Olguin said Serrano was a childhood friend, so he gave him clean clothes and food to eat. Olguin told detectives McGuffin later burned the clothing on a backyard grill, the warrant states.

McGuffin has not been charged in connection to the murder, according to court records.

Serrano was contacted by detectives and agreed to provide a statement, according to the warrant.

He told detectives he did meet a man named "Pops" at the Rimrock Lodge, but claimed it was a chance encounter. He said he was looking for cigarettes in the motel parking lot when he met an old man in front of one of the rooms, the warrant states.

The front entrance of the Rimrock Lodge is seen on Sept. 14 on U.S. Highway 64 in Farmington.

He said he smoked marijuana with the man, who identified himself as "Pops," and then he left the area, according to the warrant.

Serrano denied anything further happened at that time, the warrant states, and he agreed to provide detectives a DNA sample.

That DNA sample was matched to DNA on a cigarette butt found in an ashtray in Dalton Ford's motel room, the warrant states.

An autopsy report further indicated that Dalton Ford did not have marijuana in his system at the time of his death, according to the warrant.

Serrano was previously arrested Aug. 28 after he was spotted leaving a Farmington residence in a stolen vehicle, according to the Daily Times archives.

The vehicle's owner followed Serrano, who eventually abandoned the vehicle near the intersection of Zuni Drive and East 20th Street, archives state. Serrano was arrested after police found him in the backyard of a nearby residence.

Serrano was charged Aug. 31 in Farmington Magistrate Court with vehicle theft, firearm theft, possession of a firearm by a felon and resisting an officer.

He was initially jailed on an $80,000 bond, according to court records, but he was released without bond on Sept. 9 after the district attorney's office failed to present evidence at a preliminary examination hearing that connected Serrano to the crimes.

O'Brien said prosecutors had no evidence to present to the judge because the Farmington Police Department failed to forward Serrano's criminal information to his office. He said his office did not receive the information until Sept. 24, after a second preliminary hearing was also delayed.

Serrano eventually waived his right to a preliminary examination hearing on Oct. 21 and he is set to appear at a jury trial on Aug. 3. Serrano's attorney did not respond to a request for comment.

O'Brien said, given his criminal record, Serrano would have likely stayed in jail if his office was able to present a case. Serrano had a lengthy criminal record, which included felony convictions for burglary, vehicle theft and drug possession.

Hebbe said his office has worked to improve communication with the DA's office, and the office recently switched to an electronic system for transmitting case information.

"It's extremely disappointing and frustrating. I have to do a better job of getting that process squared away," Hebbe said. "We still have to do a better job to make sure we get the information to (the court liaison) to make sure this doesn't happen."

Linda Ford, Travis Ford's mother, said in an interview early Wednesday before The Daily Times knew about the paperwork error, that she was relieved when police made the arrest.

"It's been hard on my son," she said. "It's been hard on me."

Linda Ford said Dalton Ford grew up in the Indian Hills neighborhood in Gallup and spent most of his life working in retail.

"He was a hard worker and a good provider," she said. "An awesome father."

The couple married in San Antonio, Texas, in 1983 and spent several years in the Lone Star state before moving to the Bloomfield area in 1996.

"He never met a stranger," Linda Ford said. "Everyone was always his friend." 

Police continue to investigate the murder. Anyone with information is encouraged to call the Farmington Police Department Detective Division Tip Line at 505-599-1068.

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

Crime scene tape blocks off a portion of the parking lot at the Rimrock Lodge in Farmington on Sept. 14 as police investigate a homicide.