El Defensor Chieftain

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Jury convicts Lopez on all counts

By Audry Olmsted El Defensor Chieftain Reporter

Bill Houston has spent the last 6-1/2 years of his life advocating for two of his daughters who he believed were murdered a year apart.  Wednesday, Houston was able to find partial closure when a jury found Ramon Lopez guilty of raping and strangling Crystal Houston-Calderella in April 2001.

Jurors took about four hours to find Lopez, 31, guilty of a combined charge of felony murder and the alternative second-degree murder, kidnapping, criminal sexual penetration, taking of a motor vehicle and tampering with evidence.  Special prosecutor Rey Montaņo said the felony and second-degree murder charges would be combined at sentencing.

Houston, though, is not exactly celebrating the verdict.  "Nobody won," he said. "We got justice."

Houston commended the efforts of everyone who worked on the case, including Montaņo and prosecutor Mark Drebing and investigator Angel Garcia.

"They just handled themselves," Houston said. "They're professionals. They never left one rock unturned, small or big."  He also commended the work done by Lopez' lawyers, Mark Horton and Michael Rosenfield.  "His lawyers were paid to defend him (Lopez). They did a very good job. I give them credit for that," he said.

Houston said he was also grateful to District Judge Matt Reynolds for the work he did presiding over the case.  The truth was brought out during the trial and that's what brought the guilty verdict, Houston said. The family was prepared to accept whatever verdict jurors handed down. He said his family has found closure and added that now, he can move on and live his life.

Counsel for defense and prosecution wrapped up their closing arguments Wednesday morning with the prosecution focusing on all the evidence pointing to Lopez, and defense counsel pointing out that the evidence was all circumstantial.

"All the evidence points to Ramon Lopez," Montaņo said during closing arguments. "There was one person on the run that day and that person was Ramon Lopez."

Horton said in his closing arguments that the evidence the state showed was not enough to convict his client.

Lopez will be sent to the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas, where he will undergo a 60-day diagnostic evaluation before he is sentenced.

Rosenfield said he had no comment on the verdict but added that an appeal would be filed with the Supreme Court.

Houston described Crystal as the kind of person who was everyone's friend.  "She was a very sentimental person. She would never harm anyone," he said.  Houston said his daughter was not afraid of Lopez and trusted him, and he killed her.

Crystal, he said, was very close to her sister, Stephanie, and never could get over her death in February 2000.

"I would gladly let (Lopez) walk out of court if I could get my daughter back but that's not going to happen," he said.