GALLUP, N.M. (KRQE) - A judge and district attorney who vowed to stop breaking statelaw by pleading away DWI charges continue to do so, and one of thedrivers they cut loose now stands accused in a fatal collision.
In 2007 KRQE News 13 investigative reporter Larry Barkerrevealed McKinley County District Attorney Karl Gillson and hisattorneys were drawing up the plea deals, and magistrate judges areaccepting them.
Barker found more than 50 such cases violating a state law thatsays DWI charges cannot be pleaded down to a non-DWI charge.
"The law is very clear," state DWI Czar Rachel O'Connor toldNews 13. "If you blow over a 0.8 in New Mexico, you can't be pledout of the DWI statute to something like careless or recklessdriving.
"It's extremely frustrating because McKinley is our No. 1 focuscounty in the state of New Mexico."
A death in Gallup
News 13 has learned Gillson and some judges are still pleadingdown DWI cases to lesser traffic charges even though in 2007 theyconceded what they were doing was illegal.
At that time Barker reported on the case of Daryl Begay and histwo DWI arrests. Police had arrested Begay 2006 alleging he wasintoxicated with a blood-alcohol level of more than twice the 0.8limit for presumed intoxication under state law.
But instead of facing jail time if convicted of aggravated DWIhe pleaded to a minor traffic offense and paid a $300 fine in adeal initiated by Gillson and approved by Magistrate Judge JohnCarey.
Now police believe Begay was again driving drunk on Sept. 23when he crashed head-on into a pickup truck driven by Scot Costleyin Gallup. Costley, 21, died the next day.
"I saw my son fight for air," Todd Costley told News 13. "I'mwatching his body fight, just fight to stay alive."
Begay is again charged with DWI although this time with an addedcount of vehicular homicide. He's being held in the McKinley CountyDetention Center on a $200,000 cash-only bond.
When Barker interviewed Gillson in 2007 he asked if there was agood excuse for a district attorney not to follow the law.
"No," Gillson replied. "That's what I'm sworn to do."
In a separate interview Carey told Barker there would no moresuch pleas in his courtroom.
"Now that we know, Mr. Barker, about the illegality of what wehave been doing, occasionally, speaking for myself, we won't dothat anymore," Carey said.
Plea deals continue
Now News 13 has learned Gillson and Carey still are allowing theillegal plea deals that let accused drunken drivers walk away withminor traffic convictions.
Among the cases:
- Ryan Howes, 25, arrested last year and accused of drunken driving at twice the legal limit. Charged with aggravated DWI he faced a mandatory two days in jail if convicted. Instead Gillson allowed Howes to plead to reckless driving, and Carey fined him $165.
- Rena Platero, 56, faced a drunken driving charge last year, but she left Carey's court sentenced to unsupervised probation for careless driving.
- Magdalena Resendiz charged in August with second-offense DWI. If convicted she faced a mandatory three days, but Gillson cut her a deal. Resendiz walked out of court on probation for careless driving charge.
Over the phone Gillson told News 13 he "cannot hold hisattorneys hands" and had given "strict instruction" not to pleaddown DWI cases.
When News 13 attempted to interview Gillson on camera in Galluphe had just stepped out of a trial during recess and said he wouldcomment later. Later, as News 13 waited, Gillson left by a backdoor.
Carey did answer questions for News 13 off camera and admittedthe plea deals did not follow the law.
"Our communities are not safe when we have people who are notbeing held accountable for the offenses," Executive Director LoraLee Ortiz of Mothers Against Drunk Driving told News 13.
MADD filed a complaint against Carey with the Judicial StandardsCommission over accepting the plea deals. Earlier this month, theCommission issued Carey a confidential letter of caution anddismissed the complaint.
The legal wrangling, however, is small comfort to the Costleyfamily still is grieving the loss of their son and wondering if hemight still be alive had Begay been convicted of DWI three yearsago.
"Him even spending 30 days in jail would have given time to bewithout alcohol for 30 days," Christy Costley, Scott's mother,said.
"The community is the only thing that's going to make thiswork," Todd Costley added. "It's not like Judge Carey or any of thejudges are going to change their ways and everything going to befine."
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