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Alleged accomplice takes stand in slaying trial

Staff writer

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The alleged accomplice of accused killer Daniel Murrell III took the stand Tuesday for the prosecution before a Curry County grand jury.

Murrell, 25, is accused of causing the death of 61-year-old Joe Garcia of Clovis, who died in January three days after police say he was mugged by the defendant behind an Allsup’s store on 11th and Mitchell streets.

Terrill Smolar, 21, said Murrell picked him up on the morning of Jan. 4, 2013, and Smolar remained in the car while Murrell attacked Garcia.

Garcia was treated at Plains Regional Medical Center and in Lubbock for injuries sustained during the beating, which included a jaw that was broken in two places, according to officials.

Smolar, who testified he pled guilty to armed robbery and is awaiting sentencing, was also questioned about the morning of Jan. 2, 2013, when police say Murrell mugged 82-year-old David Shober in his home.

Smolar admitted to being high on methamphetamines around 6 a.m. when Murrell invited him to “check on cars,” which Smolar described as looking to see if there were unlocked cars with items inside that could be stolen.

Smolar said Murrell drove to the Shober’s residence. Smolar said Murrell mugged Shober while he waited in the car.

Smolar said he was not aware that Murrell had a handgun until after the mugging, when Murrell came out of the residence holding the gun and Shober’s wallet.

As they left the residence, Smolar said Murrell took cash and credit cards out of Shober’s wallet and tossed the wallet out of the car.

The pair was arrested 10 days later.

Defense Attorney Anna Aragon questioned Smolar’s story, stating that at first he tried to lie to the Clovis police and had stated then that he does not do drugs.

“For quite some time you lied to the Clovis police, did you not?” Aragon said.

Smolar said he had been raised not to lie. He also said he had realized while being questioned that the police knew a lot more than he had expected.

Aragon asked Smolar if he had also been raised to not do drugs.

Smolar said doing drugs depends heavily on the company one keeps. He also said telling the truth has gotten him harassed and called a “snitch.”

Garcia was treated at Plains Regional Medical Center and in Lubbock for injuries sustained during the beating, which included a jaw that was broken in two places, according to Forensic Pathologist Katherine Callahan.

Three days after the attack Garcia suddenly became unresponsive and died, the prosecution said.

Callahan said she performed an autopsy on Garcia on Jan. 8. She said Garcia died of complications of blunt trauma to the head and chest.

Callahan noted that Garcia had health issues that contributed to his death. She said his heart was enlarged, and he had scarring on his liver.

The pain Garcia endured following the attack, Callahan said, triggered his sympathetic nervous system, which controls the fight-or-flight response. This placed extra stress on an already unhealthy heart, Callahan said, which led to Garcia’s death.

Garcia’s manner of death, she said, is homicide.

The defense objected to Callahan’s testimony, stating that she had been in a fellowship program for forensic pathology in Albuquerque at the time she did the autopsy on Garcia, and had not yet become certified as a forensic pathologist.

She received certification September 2013.

Callahan said it was required she be supervised while doing Garcia’s autopsy. At that time, she said, she had performed about 100 autopsies.

District Court Judge Fred Van Soelen allowed Callahan to present her testimony.

“I find she is an expert,” he said.

Other prosecution witnesses included:

• Sandy Loomis, an investigator with the Curry County Sheriff’s Office, who said he executed a search warrant on the red Ford Mustang believed to be the vehicle Murrell drove the day he allegedly mugged Garcia and Shober.

There was a money order belonging to Garcia in the vehicle, Loomis said.

• Sean Martinez of the Clovis Police Department, who interviewed Garcia following the attack, said he collected video surveillance from the Allsup’s Garcia visited moments before the attack. Martinez also collected blood from the alley where Garcia was attacked as well as well as the clothes Garcia had worn that day.

• Testimony from Amber Finch, Murrell’s girlfriend, and the recording of two phone calls Murrell made to Finch from jail. In these calls, Murrell instructs Finch to clean out the red Ford Mustang, which belonged to her, and to not drive it.

The trial will continue Thursday, when a witness for the defense will be available to testify.

In January 2013, a grand jury indicted Murrell on charges of two counts of second-degree armed robbery, conspiracy to commit armed robbery, bribery of a witness, theft of a credit card, 11 counts of fraudulent use of an illegally obtained credit card, felony possession of a firearm, tampering with evidence and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

At the time, Smolar was indicted on charges of armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

In April 2013, a grand jury returned a first-degree murder indictment against Murrell, who is being held on a $50,000 bond.