Saturday, April 16, 2005

El Defensor Chieftain




Almost four years to the day that 24-year-old Crystal Houston-Calderella was found dead in her Socorro home, police have filed charges against the man accused of killing her.


Ramon Lopez, 30, who lists a Santa Fe address on court documents, has been charged with an open count of murder in the death of Houston-Calderella in April 2001 and the unlawful taking of a motor vehicle.  Chief Deputy District Attorney Reynaldo Montaño, of Bernalillo County, who is prosecuting the case, said he could not comment on where Lopez is currently.  Officials at the Socorro County Detention Center said Lopez was not incarcerated there.


No date for Lopez's arraignment has been set.


"Our belief," Montaño said, "is that he will have the preliminary hearing in May. That would be my best guess."  Montaño said he could not comment on any specific facts about the case or evidence gathered.


The district attorney said he received the case about five months ago and said that he was happy with how quickly they were able to file charges, saying they were right on schedule.  He said that because of conflicts, the case was handed over to him from the district attorney's office in Socorro.  Montaño said he has enjoyed working with Socorro officials on the case during the past several months.


"We've been working very closely with the police department there in Socorro and they've done a great job, as well as the district attorney's office," Montaño said. "This is a nice case to work on. I'm having fun," he said.


Bill Houston, Crystal's dad, said he wanted to thank the Socorro Police Department for sticking with him during these past four years.  "They did their job," he said. "They've worked hard on this case, standing behind me, working for me."  Houston said it has been a long four years getting everything to come together for the case against Lopez.  "It's been a long time, but we can't quit now," he said.


Houston-Calderella was found dead April 15, 2001, at her home on Spring Street. She was found lying on her back on the floor with her sweatshirt pulled up over her face and her sweatpants and underpants pulled down around her thighs. She had been severely beaten and sustained blunt force injuries to the back of her head and contusions and abrasions to both legs. There were heavy marks on her neck.  Socorro Police Chief Joel Haley said Houston-Calderella was dead approximately two days before being discovered.


According to court records, the last time anyone saw Houston-Calderella was on April 13, 2001.  On the night of her death, Houston-Calderella went to the home of Gilbert Hidalgo and Jeanette Savedera with four other people, including Lopez. According to the complaint, the owners of the home told police Crystal pulled Savedera aside and said she was afraid to leave with Lopez because she had promised to have sex with him for drugs. The complaint said she did leave with Lopez.


Court records say Greg Romero, who was with Houston-Calderella on the night she died, confided in another person that he had been driving around with Crystal and four other people in Crystal's car the night she died.  They went back to Crystal's home where she and Lopez began to argue because, the criminal complaint says, Crystal refused to have sex with Lopez.


Romero confided, court documents say, that Lopez "pushed Crystal causing her to fall to the floor and hit her head on something knocking Crystal out." Romero said he witnessed Lopez rape Crystal and confided that he believed Crystal was suffocated by the way Lopez was holding her face.  The complaint said Lopez then left the scene in Houston-Calderella's car.  Her car was found April 22, 2001 in Albuquerque.


According to the criminal complaint, Lopez was seen by a Socorro police detective on the 10 o'clock newscast April 29, 2001, about an incident involving a person that the detective recognized as Lopez. At the time, he was in the custody of the Albuquerque Police Department.


Several individuals, including Lopez, submitted to a voluntary sexual assault kit for the investigation, court documents say.  According to the criminal complaint, DNA and semen from Lopez matched samples taken from Houston-Calderella's body. All other individuals who submitted to the kit were excluded as being the source of the sperm cell DNA.


Montaño said that until Lopez's hearing, the criminal complaint could be changed, as the investigation is ongoing.