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Attorneys: Police recorded confidential talk between accused murder suspect, lawyer

Defendant released from county jail on Feb. 4

Joshua Kellogg
Farmington Daily Times
  • John Davidson, 46, is accused of shooting 45-year-old Fruitland resident Justin Tapaha on the night of Aug. 20 along Airport Drive.
  • Steve Murphy, one of Davidson’s current attorneys and Lee McMillian, Davidson’s initial attorney, told The Daily Times that officers for the Farmington Police Department recorded a confidential conversation involving McMillian and Davidson.
  • Gallup District Court Judge R. David Pederson ordered the defendant released in a court order filed on Feb. 4, following a Jan. 29 court hearing.

FARMINGTON —Two attorneys say Farmington police recorded a confidential conversation between murder suspect John Davidson and his lawyer.

Davidson, 46, is accused of fatally shooting 45-year-old Fruitland resident Justin Tapaha on the night of Aug. 20, 2020 along Airport Drive. The defendant faces second-degree felony counts of shooting at or from a motor vehicle (great bodily harm) and murder, according to the criminal complaint.

Steve Murphy, one of Davidson’s current attorneys and Lee McMillian, Davidson’s initial attorney, told The Daily Times that officers for the Farmington Police Department recorded a confidential conversation involving McMillian and Davidson.

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The conversation has been referenced in court filings by both the defense and prosecutors.

A district court judge ordered Davidson's release from jail this month after deciding that the prosecution failed to provide his attorney all of the exculpatory evidence related to his case before a hearing on his no-bail status, and failed to prove that detaining him on no-bond hold was the only way to protect the community.

Confidential conversation

Murphy said the San Juan County District Attorney’s Office knew about the recording. About 30 minutes of recordings were made on Aug. 20 at the Farmington Police Department, according to Murphy. One part is about 20 minutes long and another about 10 minutes long.

John Davidson

The recording took place as Davidson used a telephone to reach his attorney.

The conversation is mentioned in a Dec. 1 motion filed by Murphy and co-counsel Victor Titus.

The DA’s office also acknowledges the existence of the recording in a Dec. 3 motion filed in district court.

Farmington Police spokesperson Nicole Brown said in a statement one of the highest priorities in every case is justice for the victim through an unbiased investigation. 

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"Every criminal trial has contentious issues," Brown said in the statement. "These are typically and properly argued in court. FPD will allow the facts of the case to speak for themselves. This case should be argued in a court of proper jurisdiction, not in the media."

San Juan County Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien said in a statement the prosecution became aware that the conversation between McMillian and Davidson was being recorded when a prosecutor entered the detective division to assist with the investigation and advised them to stop recording. 

Matt Baca, spokesperson for the New Mexico Attorney General's Office, said in a statement the agency has not received a complaint in this matter but would review any complaint if one is filed in this case.

Murphy said the prosecution failed to do anything to protect the rights of citizens in San Juan County.

Release from jail

Davidson was released from the San Juan County Adult Detention Center on Feb. 4, after Gallup District Court Judge R. David Pederson issued a court order that day directing that the defendant be released.

The defendant had been held without bond at the county jail since Aug. 21.

Davidson allegedly shot Tapaha once in the chest during a confrontation around 7:53 p.m. on Aug. 20 near the intersection of West Main Street and Airport Drive.

The order was issued by the judge following a Jan. 29 hearing in state district court.

Judge Pederson ruled the prosecution failed to provide the defense all the exculpatory evidence prior to the original no-bond hearing on Aug. 27.

"Our goal is to protect the community and our position is that the risk the defendant poses is evident based upon his conduct at the time of the incident," O'Brien said in a statement in response to the judge's order.

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The judge noted Davidson called 911, did not flee after the incident, was cooperative with police and has no significant prior criminal record.

It also stated the prosecution failed to meet the burden of using clear and convincing evidence that no conditions of release would keep the community safe from the defendant, according to the order.

O'Brien said in a statement the prosecution provided the evidence the attorneys used at the no-bond hearing prior to the Aug. 27 hearing.

He added Davidson was made aware of the existence of other evidence including other recorded statements along with a recording of the 911 call the defendant made.

The order goes into detail describing Davidson’s conditions of release. He has to wear a GPS monitor at all times while under house arrest while having work release, giving him 30 minutes to travel to and from work.

Davidson has to surrender all firearms into third-party custody, cannot consume drugs or alcohol and has to submit to random urine analysis at any time.

If Davidson violates any of the conditions, he returns to the jail without bond until his jury trial.

There were no court hearings scheduled in the case as of the morning of Feb. 12. 

Joshua Kellogg covers breaking news for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 or via email at jkellogg@daily-times.com.

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