Courier staff writer
ALAMOSA — Did a man accused of attempted second-degree murder and other offenses understand that he was giving up his constitutional rights when he allegedly confessed to the crimes?
Twelfth Judicial District Chief Judge Pattie Swift will answer that question next week, when she rules on Anthony Gallegos’ motions to suppress the statements that he reportedly made to police following his arrest last July.
Authorities allege that Gallegos stabbed two people during a July 22 altercation that sent one man to the San Luis Valley Regional Medical Center with a puncture wound to his heart. A second man was taken to the facility for medical treatment of four stab wounds to his left side, while Gallegos ended up in the emergency room for treatment of stab wounds to his spinal area and his left shoulder.
Prosecutors subsequently charged the 21-year-old man with criminal attempt to commit murder in the second degree, two counts of first-degree assault and one count each of criminal mischief and disorderly conduct.
The case is currently scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 26, but Deputy Public Defenders Amanda Hopkins and Christopher Light are asking Judge Swift to keep his alleged statements away from any jurors.
The defense claims that Gallegos was too intoxicated to understand a verbal reading of his Miranda rights, since he reportedly drank alcohol and smoked marijuana beforehand.
According to court testimony on Friday, a subsequent test revealed that Gallegos’ blood alcohol content at the time stood at 0.033. In comparison, Colorado state law declares that a person’s ability to drive a motor vehicle is impaired if he or she has a blood alcohol level that exceeds 0.05.
Hopkins also questioned whether the suspect could have understood the rights that were read aloud to him, based on an officer’s in-court recitation. She claimed the officer was “very quiet” and stumbled and mumbled his way through the reading.
Light, meanwhile, told the court that police did not provide Gallegos with a written copy of his Miranda rights at the time.
Under questioning from Judge Swift, he acknowledged nothing under the law compels them to do so. But under the circumstances, they should have, he said.
At other times, the defense claimed that police used coercive tactics to obtain Gallegos’ alleged confession, arguing he was in a fragile physical and mental state when he spoke to them from his hospital bed.
“The statements were not volunteered,” Hopkins said on Friday. “This was an interrogation.”
Throughout his brief stay in the hospital, police limited the handcuffed and undressed man’s contact with his friends and family members, she said.
Light contended that police only allowed Gallegos’ mother to see her son after she agreed to “get him to tell the truth.” That conversation never should have happened, Light said, since Gallegos previously cut his hospital bed interview short by invoking his rights.
Speaking for the prosecution, Deputy District Attorney Mark Loy said there was absolutely no evidence to indicate Gallegos was so impaired he did not understand his constitutional rights.
According to an officer’s court testimony, the defendant nodded his head and verbally agreed to waive his rights. He did so under no great mental and physical strain, Loy said.
“When he invoked and said he didn’t want to talk anymore, (the interview with police) stopped,” he added.
The deputy DA told the court it was important to note that Gallegos’ injuries were not life-threatening. One of the wounds measured one centimeter, while the other was about three centimeters in size.
“The evidence before the court is that these were actually superficial wounds,” Loy said.
Medical personnel found no evidence to the contrary, he said, noting that the attending physician did not sign off on a serious bodily injury report.
Moreover, a nurse reported that Gallegos remained calm and cooperative while he communicated with police, Loy said.
Under the circumstances, Loy said there was nothing unusual about the fact an officer remained in the room while Gallegos’ mother met with her son. But as far as private conversations go, Loy said Gallegos had plenty of opportunities to speak with friends, family members or an attorney before he was taken into custody.
According to court testimony, he remained free for about two and a half hours until he returned to the scene of the incident, where he surrendered to authorities.
During their initial investigation of the incident, police learned that Samuel Montoya, Jeremy Montoya and Michael Sanchez were driving westbound in the 800 block of 10th Street when the rear window of their car shattered.
Samuel Montoya stated that he heard the glass shatter, and then noticed that a man standing in the middle of the street had just thrown a beer bottle at them.
When Jeremy Montoya stopped the car and got out to see what was going on, a man identified as Gallegos allegedly ran toward him and stabbed him near his left rib cage. (A physician who subsequently examined him found that the knife punctured Jeremy Montoya’s heart.)
Moments into the struggle, Sanchez ran to the injured man’s aid and tried to wrestle the knife away from the assailant. At that point, authorities reported that Gallegos stabbed Sanchez four times.