Jury returns murder verdict
linkDaniel Murrell III
Daniel Murrell III, 25, was found guilty of first-degree murder Thursday afternoon by a Curry County grand jury, which deliberated for about two hours before reaching the verdict.
Judge Fred Van Soelen ordered Murrell held without bond until his sentencing date. Murrell is a habitual offender and is facing a sentence of life plus 28 years in prison with enhancements for prior felony convictions, according to the prosecution.
The murder conviction stemmed from a Jan. 4, 2013, mugging, in which Murrell beat 61-year-old Joe Garcia, also of Clovis, behind an Allsup’s store on 11th and Mitchell streets.
According to police, Murrell stole Garcia’s cell phone, wallet and knife. Garcia, who had been left with a jaw broken in two places, fractured ribs, and a black eye, died three days later.
Murrell was also found guilty of armed robbery in the case of a mugging that took place Jan. 2, 2013. In this incident, police said Murrell hit David Shober, 82, of Clovis, twice on the head with a handgun before taking the man’s wallet.
The incident took place at Shober’s home.
Murrell was found guilty of robbery in Garcia’s mugging; theft of a credit card, which he stole from Shober; 11 counts of fraudulent use of an illegally obtained credit card and tampering with evidence.
Murrell had also been accused of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon for allegedly hitting Shober; as well as intimidation of a witness, for allegedly threatening Terrill Smolar, 21, of Clovis, whom police said was Murrell’s accomplice during both muggings. Murrell was found not guilty on both these counts.
Defense Attorney Anna Aragon said Thursday that Smolar made a plea deal in exchange for his testimony, which he gave Tuesday.
Smolar identified Murrell as the ringleader in both muggings, stating that Murrell had picked him up at his home prior to committing the crimes. Smolar said Murrell had told him to not tell anyone about him mugging Garcia.
Aragon said that, after the trial, Smolar will be able to go home on probation. He’s been incarcerated for 20 months since pleading guilty to being an accessory to armed robbery.
District Attorney Andrea Reeb said sentencing will take place within 60 days; allowing her time to file paperwork describing Murrell’s prior felony charges.
Murrell’s criminal history could affect the sentencing, Reeb said. She also said she was grateful for the verdict “especially to bring justice to Mr. Garcia, who’s no longer here, and Mr. Shober also,” she said.
The trial began Monday, with the prosecution bringing witnesses through Tuesday. The trial rested Wednesday to allow the defense to bring in its witness, forensic pathologist Thomas Bennett from Montana.
Bennett said he concluded Garcia died of an overdose of hydrocodone, which was prescribed to Garcia to help relieve the pain from his injuries.
This contradicted an assertion made by forensic pathologist Katharine Callahan, who testified for the prosecution Tuesday and stated then that Garcia had died of complications of blunt force trauma to the head and chest.
“(Garcia) did not die of injuries, he died of a drug overdose,” Bennett said Thursday.
Callahan, who said she performed an autopsy on Garcia on Jan. 8, 2013, 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 his death.
Garcia’s manner of death, Callahan said, was homicide.
She also said that Garcia’s sudden death, which took place just minutes after he became unresponsive at his home, was not only consistent with a cardiac arrest, but was also inconsistent with a hydrocodone overdose.
A death caused by a hydrocodone overdose, Callahan said Tuesday, would happen slowly, often with the subject falling asleep before slipping into a coma and dying.
Callahan and Bennett noted that a toxicology report revealed Garcia had 210 nanograms per milliliter of hydrocodone in his system.
Seven to 20 nanograms per milliliter is considered therapeutic; which is defined as the amount of a drug needed to attain its beneficial effects. Doses above the therapeutic range may become toxic or lethal.
Also, Callahan and Bennett said that anything from 130 to 7,000 nanograms per milliliter is within the range seen in people who have died from a hydrocodone overdose.
However, Callahan attributed the elevated hydrocodone in Garcia’s body to post mortem redistribution.
As tissues destruct following death, a drug that’s been stored within them is released, Callahan said, causing the presence of this drug to become elevated in the body’s blood.
“Hydrocodone is a drug that’s known for redistribution,” Callahan said Tuesday.
“These were two horrible, violent robberies,” Reeb said in her closing argument to jurors. She also upheld Smolar’s credibility, stating that although he had initially lied to police to protect Murrell, he has since told the truth about the muggings.
“He has not changed what he has said,” Reeb said of Smolar. “He has been consistent.
“You don’t have to like that he got a deal,” she said to the jury. “Just judge his credibility.”
Aragon disputed Smolar’s credibility during her closing argument.
“This case is really about identity and credibility,” Aragon said, noting that Smolar is the only person to place all the blame on Murrell.
Aragon said Smolar’s motive to lie is that he gets to walk free after the trial is over.
She disputed just how afraid Smolar claimed to be of Murrell, given that the two would hang out.
Aragon said the man Shober and Garcia described as their assailant had been Smolar, not Murrell. She noted Shober had described being attacked by someone closer to his height, which is 5 feet, 11 inches tall.
Smolar is 5-9 while Murrell is 6-3.