Farmington Daily Times

 

FAMILIES PRESS POLICE FOR ANSWERS

 

By Laura Banish/The Daily Times

Jan 24, 2004

 

Marie Gray-Lope will never stop seeking the justice she believes she was denied in the investigation of her son’s death.

 

The body of Kristopher Gray, 22, was found dead Sept. 2, 1995, near a gas well site in Upper Fruitland. Despite initial accounts of a beating death, bruised knuckles and ribs, a 4-inch gash on his forehead and what an embalmer with the Office of the Medical Investigator identified as a fresh stab wound, the final report concluded that Gray died accidentally from falling and being crushed by a pump jack. His mother says it’s homicide.

 

Gray-Lope, a Bloomfield resident, joined 22 other families in Albuquerque Wednesday who maintain that the deaths of their loved ones were improperly or corruptly investigated by New Mexico law enforcement. The purpose of the conference was to demand specific changes that will make police more accountable for its actions.

 

“I think it’s a lot of laziness that a lot of deaths in San Juan County are not investigated thoroughly when they should be. I want my son’s case reopened,” Gray-Lope said. “It’s very hard for me not to know exactly what happened to my son. I feel like the justice system failed me.”

 

Those gathered were part of the Real Crimes network. Their cases can be read online at www.realcrimes.com.

 

On Wednesday they made five demands: better cooperation between police and the victim’s families during the investigation phase, creation of an investigation bureau with jurisdiction to investigate cold cases, development of a statewide standard policy for all unattended deaths, the creation of a special prosecutor’s office to remove officers who fail to investigate crimes, and formation of a formal coroner’s inquest process with full subpoena power for victim’s families to which to refer.

 

Gabino Venegas Jr. organized the event. Venegas’ son, also named Gabino, was 34 when he was killed in a hit and run while riding his bicycle home from work in Albuquerque. The family hired a private investigator who discovered three witnesses had seen two vehicles fleeing from the scene — one of those was a patrol car. Venegas claims his son’s death was not investigated properly to protect the alleged law enforcement officer’s involvement.

 

“We’re led to believe that the police are out vigorously looking for the killer and really our cases are just sitting in a file,” Venegas said. “It’s bad enough you’re victimized the first time because you lost someone, then you’re victimized a second time by police.”

 

Complaints Wednesday were against law enforcement agencies in Bloomfield, Farmington, Albuquerque, Santa Rosa, Rio Rancho, Socorro and Gallup, as well as the New Mexico State Police and Navajo Tribal Criminal Investigators.

 

Venegas said law enforcement was not invited to the conference because the victim’s families are intimidated by police and view them as “the enemy.”  “Some people are so angry, they can’t think straight. They hate the police and they hate the system,” Venegas said.

 

Farmington resident Russell Cage was 20 when he died of a gunshot wound to the head following an argument with his girlfriend. Bloomfield Police ruled the January 2003 incident a suicide, however Cage’s family claims it was a gang-related homicide. They say the sizes of Cage’s head wounds indicate he was shot in the left side of the head when he was right handed. Also, the bullet passed through Cage’s head in an upward path. According to family members, Cage stood 5 feet 10 inches tall, yet the bullet hole in his girlfriend’s trailer was less than 4 feet from the ground.

 

Bloomfield Lt. Jim Davis said all of the factors in the case pointed to suicide.

“They’re not happy it was ruled a suicide, but there were witnesses who saw it and the findings were consistent to suicide,” he said. “When they’re convinced their loved one wouldn’t do that, it doesn’t matter what we tell them. They’re not going to accept the results.”

 

Gray-Lope’s complaint is with the FBI and Tribal Criminal Investigators.

 

FBI Agent Doug Beldon did not have her case immediately available this week, but said the agency rarely gets complaints like Gray-Lope’s.

 

“It’s just part of human nature to want a case you have an emotional investment in to get resolved quickly and to your satisfaction. It’s not always easy to do,” he said generally speaking. “Law enforcement works very hard and very well, but not everyone will be pleased all of the time and that’s just a fact of life.”

 

Gray-Lope vowed that she will keep seeking a resolution to her son’s death.

She said, “I’m never going to give up until I get an answer that satisfies me. Right now he’s not resting in peace.”