ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - Two former defendants in the notorious Torreón Cabin Murders case are back in court but this time as partners in a lawsuit against the officers they say railroaded their prosecution.
Shaun Wilkins and Roy Buchner were among four gang members charged with the murders of Ben Anaya, his girlfriend Cassandra Sedillo and her two young sons. Anaya and Sedillo were found shot to death in April 1996 inside a cabin tucked into the Manzano Mountains near Torreón.
The boys starved to death.
Attorneys began presenting their cases in federal court in Albuquerque Tuesday. Wilkins and Buchner claim they are the victims of false accusations and malicious prosecution by three now-former police officers who investigated the case.
Lawrence Nieto and Shawn Popeleski were convicted of the killings but the trials of Wilkins and Buchner ended in a mistrial. The charges against them were eventually dropped.
During opening statements Buchner and Wilkins' attorney Ray Twohig showed jurors excerpts of an interrogation video of Lawrence Nieto, who remains in prison for the murders.
Twohig told jurors the video demonstrates how the suspects in the case were coerced and forced to name Buchner and Wilkins as the killers. In the video an officer can be heard telling Nieto "stop bull*******, and stop jacking us around.
"Give them up, man. Give them up, bro, because I know you know."
Twohig argued that the officers put words in Nieto's mouth leading to an unjust prosecution. He also said Buchner and Wilkins suffered post-traumatic stress disorder because of the time they spent in confinement on the murder charges.
"The pain inflicted on these two was substantial, and we are asking for substantial compensation," Twohig told jurors.
The officers involved in the lawsuit -- Sgt. Frank Jacoby and Capt. Michael Fenner, then with the New Mexico State Police, and Albuquerque Police Department Detective Juan DeReyes -- stand by their actions.
They are all retired now and according to their attorney, Robert Becker, were "just doing their job" which was to find the killers of two innocent children, their mother and her boyfriend.
Becker told jurors what the interrogation video doesn't show is the result of Shaun Wilkins's polygraph where he was asked if he was the killer. Becker said Wilkins failed the test.
Becker also said the officers had a number of leads pointing to Buchner and Wilkins and were following all those leads and evidence they had at the time.
The officers admit they were forceful and used pressure, Becker said adding it is part of a tactic used by law enforcement officers across the county to get suspects to tell the truth.
Becker then noted the suspects were all gang members who "live by a code and don't rat"
The trial is expected to last several weeks. In the end, the jurors will not only decide if the officers crossed the line and violated Buchner and Wilkins rights, but also if the pair should be compensated and by how much.
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