- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 2, 2015

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - The trial for one of three suspects in the deaths of two Navajo homeless men began Wednesday, with lawyers on both sides delivering opening arguments that provided a glimpse into the grisly murder case that appalled residents and led to the creation of a task force on Native American homelessness.

The three defendants were teenagers when they killed Allison Gorman, 44, and Kee Thompson, 46, in a vacant Albuquerque lot in July 2014, authorities said. Rios has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and other crimes.

Prosecutors haven’t said the victims were targeted because of their race. However, they did describe the attack by Rios and his friends as vicious, saying the suspects gathered weapons and planned the attack.

“You’re going to hear about how they planned it,” prosecutor Vincent Martinez told jurors. “You’re going to hear about how they put masks around their face. Then, (the youngest suspect) will testify that they went back to get some knives to go back and make sure they got the job done.”

The Associated Press is not naming the two younger suspects because of their ages. The youngest was 15 at the time of the attack and has agreed to testify at Rios’ trial under a plea deal that offers him the possibility of release when he turns 21.



“This case is almost literally about making a deal with the devil,” defense attorney Daniel Salazar said. “We are here today because Alex Rios is a friend of (the youngest suspect).”

Now 16, the youngest accused in the case has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and other charges.

Rios, now 20, turned down a plea agreement, triggering the jury trial in state district court. His lawyer said in opening arguments that Rios was present during the attack that came after the suspects left a party, but he did not participate. Salazar also argued that the state has no physical evidence proving Rios struck the victims.

“We say this because the other two boys are literally covered in blood from head to toe. Alex Rios wasn’t,” Salazar said. “The only thing we know for sure about Alex Rios is that he was drunk and that when the police interviewed him he had no blood on him.”

While Salazar acknowledged Rios’ DNA was discovered on a pile of clothes that was found in a bedroom and linked to the crime, the finding did not prove his client beat or killed the men.

One of the defendants told investigators that the attack lasted more than an hour, according to a criminal complaint.

According to police, Rios and the others severely beat Gorman and Thompson with a cinder block, metal pole and with their hands and feet. In court Wednesday morning, the jury viewed graphic autopsy photos of Gorman, whose face and skull were covered with lacerations, bruises and cuts.

Dr. Sophia Rodriguez, a New Mexico medical examiner, testified that Gorman was beaten so badly that bone protruded through a wound under his right eye and a bone in his face had shattered.

There were also apparent stab wounds on his body, but she said Gorman had likely died from multiple blows to his head.

The killings shocked many in Albuquerque and led Mayor Richard Berry to assemble a task force on homelessness related to Native Americans.

A month after the killings, Berry and other Albuquerque officials traveled to the Navajo Nation capital of Window Rock, Arizona, to discuss the framework and goals of the task force.

Ben Shelly, then-president of the Navajo Nation, called the killings appalling. He and Berry said significant work needed to be done to tackle the problem of homelessness among Native Americans.

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Follow Mary Hudetz on Twitter at https://twitter.com/marymhudetz. Her work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/journalist/mary-hudetz.

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