Judge lets murder charges stand despite SFPD losing evidence

Vialpando said there was a lack of consistency in keeping track of the chain of custody of certain evidence and that some pieces of evidence were labeled with the wrong case numbers.

September 27, 2019

SANTA FE — A Santa Fe District Court judge on Friday denied a defense motion to dismiss a murder case, despite the Santa Fe Police Department losing evidence.

The ruling came after a crime scene technician who did an independent audit of evidence in the case testified that the SFPD didn't adhere to its own policies regarding the safekeeping of the evidence.

Christopher Garcia, 28, is charged with first-degree murder, aggravated battery, aggravated burglary and tampering with evidence. He's accused of stabbing to death 21-year-old Selena Valencia, his live-in girlfriend, at a southside apartment complex in June 2017.

Garcia also allegedly beat a man after breaking into his apartment and stabbing another man outside the apartment complex.

In late June, Paul Joye, who was recently promoted to Deputy Chief of operations at the SFPD, sent a letter to Santa Fe Deputy District Attorney Todd Bullion saying the department lost 11 pieces of evidence, including trace hair that was found on Valencia's body as well as some of her fingernail clippings.

As a result, Garcia's attorney, Jennifer Burrill, filed a motion to have the case dismissed. She argued that the fingernail clippings could have shown that she was struggling with someone other than Garcia before her death.

Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer denied the dismissal motion Friday, but not before hearing from Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office crime scene technician Shari Vialpando, who conducted the court-ordered audit of all of SFPD's evidence in the case.

Vialpando said there was a lack of consistency in keeping track of the chain of custody of certain evidence and that some pieces of evidence were labeled with the wrong case numbers.

"I do not believe they (SFPD) adhered to the policies they set forth," Vialpando said on the witness stand.

Vialpando also said some envelopes containing evidence were unsealed, but she couldn't say for sure if the contents were contaminated.

"I think the integrity of the evidence has been compromised," she said. "I can't say if it has been compromised."

Although Marlowe Sommer didn't grant the motion to dismiss, she did say the missing evidence can be addressed in instructions to the jury at trial. The trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 21.

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