A jury has convicted Alex Rios of beating to death two homeless Navajo men last year as they slept in a vacant lot in Albuquerque.
Jurors on Wednesday found Rios, 20, guilty of two counts of second-degree murder in the July 2014 deaths of Allison Gorman and Kee Thompson. Rios, who was 18 at the time of the murder, was one of three teens accused of using cinder blocks, a metal fence post and other objects to bludgeon the two sleeping men to death.
The verdict came after five days of arguments and testimony in the Second Judicial District Court in Albuquerque, during which the jury heard graphic accounts of the gruesome crime and viewed photographs revealing the extent of the men’s injuries. Gorman and Kee were beaten so brutally they were unrecognizable.
Rios’ attorney, Daniel Salazar, told the court his client was not guilty. Although Rios was at the scene, he did not participate, Salazar said.
“The other two boys are literally covered in blood from head to toe,” he said in court. “Alex Rios wasn’t. The only thing we know for sure about Alex Rios is that he was drunk and that when the police interviewed him he had no blood on him.”
Rios, who told police he watched his friends commit the crime, did not take the stand during the trial. In fact, the defense did not call any witnesses. Jurors only heard Rios’ side of the story when prosecutors showed a taped interview of him telling police he had punched and kicked the victims.
Rios, along with Nathaniel Carrillo, then 16; and Gilbert Tafoya, then 15, were arrested last year after Gorman and Kee were found dead in the early morning hours of July 19. At the time, the teens told police they went out after a party looking for “someone to beat up,” the criminal complaint states. Tafoya reported he was upset because he had recently broken up with a longtime girlfriend.
The teens tied black T-shirts around their faces to conceal their identities then walked to a field near two of the teens’ homes, where they found three men sleeping on mattresses. One of the potential victims ran away, but the teens repeatedly beat the other two men.
According to Tafoya’s statement to police, the teens “took turns picking cinder blocks over their heads and smashing them into the male subjects’ faces.” Tafoya admitted to using the cinder block as a weapon more than 10 times.
Each of the teens was charged with two open counts of murder, tampering with evidence, three counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and robbery. Tafoya, now 17, last month pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in a plea deal and agreed to testify against Rios and Carrillo.
In court this week, Tafoya testified that the brutal attacks were his idea, but that Rios also bludgeoned and stabbed the men. “Once I hit him, after like seven times, Alex picked it up and started hitting him,” Tafoya told jurors Friday.
Salazar’s defense largely was based on poking holes in Tafoya’s testimony. On more than one occasion, he claimed prosecutors’ plea agreement with Tafoya was “making a deal with the devil.”
During closing arguments Tuesday, Salazar again attacked Tafoya. “The state struck a deal with possibly the most evil person you’ll ever come across in your life,” he said.
Along with two counts of second-degree murder, the jury also found Rios guilty of attempted murder, aggravated battery, robbery and other charges. He could face life in prison.
The trial for Carrillo, the final defendant in the case, is scheduled for September 2016.