High court ruling threatens sentence in shooting

Steve Garrison
Lawrence Branch

FARMINGTON — The New Mexico Court of Appeals has ruled on an appeal by Lawrence Branch, a 60-year-old father convicted in June 2013 of shooting his son in the leg with a pistol in San Juan County.

The court overturned Branch's conviction for negligent use of a deadly weapon, a petty misdemeanor, and vacated two firearm sentencing enhancements Branch faced for convictions on charges of aggravated assault and aggravated battery, both with a deadly weapon, according to the court's May 23 order.

The court also found the district judge erred in his finding that Branch was guilty of a serious violent offense on the aggravated assault charge. It remanded the case to the Eleventh Judicial Court in San Juan County so the error could be fixed, the order states.

The appellate court upheld Branch's aggravated assault and aggravated battery convictions.

San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien said today that he has not yet reviewed the appellate court's decision, but if the court vacated the firearm enhancements, that could reduce Branch's prison sentence.

Branch was convicted in May 2013 after a two-day trial in which jurors heard evidence he shot his then 32-year-old adoptive son on May 7, 2012, at the family's property on County Road 6255, according to the Daily Times archives.

The bullet broke the son's femur and struck an artery, causing him to undergo five surgeries to salvage his leg, archives state.

Branch's wife was standing next to the son when the shot was fired and testified she thought her husband was also going to shoot her, according to the court's order.

Judge William Birdsall, now retired, sentenced Branch on June 19, 2013, to four years in prison, according to court records. One year of the four-year sentence resulted from the firearm enhancement, records state.

Branch is currently projected to be released from prison on Jan. 7, according to New Mexico Department of Corrections spokeswoman Ashley Espinoza.

A new court hearing in the case has not yet been scheduled, according to court records.

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