Wilkins Set Free

Publication: Albuquerque Journal
Date: 03/03/2001 Page: A1
Headline: Last Defendant Goes Free
Byline: Guillermo Contreras And Lloyd Jojola Journal Staff Writers
Charges Dropped in Deaths of Boys, Couple

Charges were dismissed Friday against the last of the four defendants charged in the deaths of a couple and two children at a remote cabin near Torreon in 1995.
At a news conference Friday at the Albuquerque office of one of his attorneys, Shaun Wilkins, 23, expressed relief that 7th Judicial District Attorney Clint Wellborn had decided to dismiss all charges against him, including four counts of first-degree murder.
“I still don’t believe it,” Wilkins said. “I’m sitting here like ‘phew, it’s been a long time of my life.’ ”
His sister said Wilkins’ family planned a barbecue to celebrate. Wilkins said he is now out of gangs and working.
Wilkins was tried in 1997 in Socorro in connection with the killings of Cassandra Sedillo, 23, her sons, Johnny Ray, 4, and Matthew Garcia, 3, and Sedillo’s boyfriend, Ben Anaya Jr., 17. It resulted in a mistrial.
Sedillo and Anaya had been shot in the head. The boys were left inside the locked cabin and died later of thirst and hunger, investigators said.
Relatives of Sedillo and Anaya expressed outrage at the decision to dismiss Wilkins’ case.
“I don’t agree with it,” said Porfie Sedillo, the mother of Cassandra Sedillo and the grandmother to her two sons. “They’ve victimized us since the whole thing happened. We’ve had to go through misery for the past five years.”
Shortly after Sedillo received the news, she called and told Emily Archuleta, the mother of Ben Anaya Jr.
Archuleta was shaken by the news.
“It messed up my whole life and look now, they’re letting him go,” Archuleta said as she sobbed during a telephone conversation.
District Attorney Wellborn did not return phone calls seeking comment Friday.
Deputy District Attorney Mark Pickering, who filed the dismissal paperwork Friday afternoon, also did not return a phone call seeking comment.
The dismissal cites insufficient evidence, a lack of reliable witness statements and interviews with jurors in Wilkins’ first trial who believed the state’s case was weak against Wilkins.
The document said the case was based largely on the statements of two of Wilkins’ now former co-defendants, Lawrence “Woody” Nieto and Shawn “Popcorn” Popeleski. Both men were convicted in separate trials.
The motion, signed by Pickering, noted that the courts did not allow prosecutors to use Nieto’s videotaped statement to police implicating Wilkins and Roy “Eazy” Buchner in the slayings.
That, Pickering pointed out, is the most incriminating statement.
The motion also said a statement taken from Popeleski lacks credibility because he was convicted of murders he denied being involved in. Popeleski was convicted of second-degree murder in the deaths of Sedillo’s two young boys but was acquitted in the killings of Sedillo and Anaya.
“In addition, the statement is vague and full of major inconsistencies,” Pickering’s motion said.
The motion also pointed out that there is no physical evidence linking Wilkins to the commission of the crimes, and that jurors who were interviewed after Wilkins’ first trial “indicated that the state’s case was very weak ”
Former 7th Judicial District Attorney Ron Lopez said he was not surprised Wilkins’ case was dismissed in light of Wellborn’s decision in January to dismiss charges against then co-defendant Buchner.
But Lopez said he believed winning the Wilkins case was probable because the state Supreme Court’s refusal in October to overturn the convictions of Nieto also resulted in Nieto’s inability to plead his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.
“I think it’s disappointing, especially given the fact that we had fought so hard over the last four years,” Lopez said in a telephone interview. “When Mr. Nieto’s conviction was affirmed by the Supreme Court, I think that gave us a much stronger case. At this point Mr. Nieto could not have used the 5th amendment as he had before.”
Sedillo said she wanted to emphasize that the charges were dropped due to a lack of evidence and not because of a not guilty verdict.
“It’s been hell,” Sedillo said. “People say you get over it, but you don’t get over it. It’s always with you. It’s there every day.”
It wasn’t until late Friday afternoon that Sedillo said she received a call from a victim’s advocate from the District Attorney’s Office telling her of the decision.
Wilkins and his attorneys, Stephen Aarons of Santa Fe and Kari Converse of Albuquerque, contended the prosecution was a personal vendetta by Juan DeReyes, a former gang detective with the Albuquerque Police Department. They also accused prosecutors under Lopez’s administration of withholding exculpatory evidence.
They said DeReyes’ gang unit car was shot up by an Albuquerque gang and he assumed Wilkins was responsible. They said DeReyes took it personally, forcing Nieto and Popeleski to implicate Wilkins.
“Woody and Popcorn’s statements changed what, eight times?” Wilkins said at the news conference.
“In our society, intense pressure to solve horrible crimes sometimes leads to improper police work,” Aarons said. “We are seeing the results of that throughout the country as DNA evidence proves how many innocent people have been convicted of heinous crimes.”
DeReyes and prosecutors under Lopez’s administration have denied that the case against Wilkins resulted from a personal vendetta. DeReyes could not be reached for comment Friday.
Wilkins is scheduled for trial on charges of aggravated assault for an incident in December in which he allegedly attacked his father, Tim Jaquez, at his Albuquerque home.
Attorney Converse said that should be taken care of soon. She did not elaborate.
Archuleta said the long, drawn-out prosecution of the men charged in the cabin slayings took its toll on her.
She was forced to leave her job after attending day after day of trial proceedings. She suffered from anxiety to the point that she was placed under the care of a doctor, she said.
“How can you live with that, knowing that your son died,” she said.
Both women criticized prosecutors for not keeping them informed about the case. Both felt the justice system let them down.
“We can’t turn anywhere. The only place left to turn to is God, I guess,” Archuleta said. “He’s the only one who helps us.”
Added Sedillo: “There is no justice in this world. But there is a higher power, and they will pay.”

PHOTO: Color
Shaun “Sagger” Wilkins, now 23, was accused of being the person who shot Cassandra Sedillo and Ben “Deuce” Anaya Jr. Jurors in Wilkins’ first trial in October 1997 deadlocked. On Friday, all charges against Wilkins were dismissed.

PHOTO: Color
Shawn “Popcorn” Popeleski, now 23, was convicted in September 1999 of two counts of second-degree murder for the deaths of Sedillo’s sons. He was acquitted of murder charges in the slayings of Anaya and Sedillo. Popeleski was sentenced last year to 16 1/2 years in prison.

PHOTO: Color
Lawrence “Woody” Nieto, now 23, was convicted by a Torrance County jury in 1997 of four counts of first-degree murder and other charges. He was sentenced to more than 130 years in prison. The state Supreme Court affirmed his conviction in October 2000.

PHOTO: Color
Roy “Eazy” Buchner, now 23, was accused of locking the cabin and sealing the fate of Sedillo’s two young boys, Johnny Ray and Matthew, who died of thirst and hunger. Jurors in Buchner’s first trial in 1997 deadlocked. In January, all charges against him were dismissed.

The victims
Ben “Deuce” Anaya Jr., 17, his girlfriend, Cassandra Sedillo, 23, and her sons, Johnny Ray Garcia, 4, and Matthew Garcia, 3, were found dead in April 1996 by Anaya’s father inside his cabin near Torreon, on the east face of the Manzano Mountains. Investigators later determined Anaya and Sedillo were shot to death in mid-December 1995 and the children died a few weeks later of thirst and hunger because they were locked inside the cabin without food or water.
Horizontal Divider 25
Add your logo here