Murder, child abuse and government fraud cases are scheduled for trial next year in Carlsbad and Eddy County.
Cases move through the court system after charges are filed, with many defendants pleading innocent and facing jury trials in Fifth Judicial District Court.
That’s when prosecutors present their evidence, hoping for a verdict from the 12-person juries, and defense attorneys look to exonerate their clients or create doubt among jurors.
Here’s a look at the top cases to follow in 2024 in the Carlsbad Current-Argus.
Kelli Smith – child abuse resulting in death
Kelli Smith is the grandmother of Brent Sullivan, 12, who died of a fentanyl overdose in September 2021.
Smith was set to face a jury in November, but the prosecution and defense failed to select an impartial jury from the Eddy County juror pool, citing previous local news coverage of the case.
Smith’s case was moved to Fifth Judicial District Court in Chaves County, and another jury trial was scheduled for Aug. 12, 2024 in Roswell.
Sullivan’s body was found in a shed on Smith’s property and she and his mother Alexis Murray Smith were both charged with child abuse resulting in death and child abuse not resulting in death.
Police said Smith and Murray Smith, both admitted fentanyl users and suspected traffickers, supplied the drug Sullivan overdosed on and created a dangerous environment for him and multiple siblings in the months before his death.
Murray Smith was convicted via trial in September, and later sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Manuel Sanchez and Bret Roark – first-degree murder, tampering with evidence
Manuel Sanchez and Brett Roark were accused of murdering Brian Runnels in 2014 and burying his body in a remote area of Eddy County near a property where the two men worked.
Sanchez faced a jury trial in October, but the jury could not reach a verdict and a mistrial was declared by District Judge Jane Shuler Gray. Prosecutors said they would re-try the case, and a motion hearing was scheduled for Jan. 4.
Meanwhile, Roark was scheduled for a jury trial on Feb. 16, 2024.
Runnels was missing for six years before investigators, acting on a confession from Roark, found his skeletal remains and brought charges of first-degree murder and tampering with evidence against Roark and Sanchez.
Roark told police Sanchez shot Runnels and the two of them drove the body out into the desert and buried him.
Alexee Trevizo – first-degree murder, tampering with evidence
Police said teenager Alexee Trevizo gave birth in January to a son in a bathroom at Artesia General Hospital, then put the baby in a trashcan where he suffocated.
District Judge David Finger released Trevizo from custody May 16 so she could attend her high school graduation and scheduled a jury trial for Aug. 26, 2024.
Trevizo was charged with a count each of first-degree murder and tampering with evidence and arrested May 10.
In August, a representative of her deceased son given the name Alex Ray Fierro, sued the hospital, alleging negligence by hospital staff in treating Trevizo on the night of the incident.
That case was still pending in Fifth Judicial District Court.
The incident drew statewide attention, amid calls from Democrats for more reproductive health access in New Mexico and criticism of the parties’ supposed support of abortion from Republicans.
Wesley Hooper – 13 counts of making a false voucher, four counts of fraud and two counts of identity theft
When he served as Eddy County Community Services Director police alleged Wesley Hooper committed multiple felonies by fraudulently receiving travel reimbursements, misusing fuel cards and using at least two of his employees’ personal information to do so.
He faced a jury trial March 1, 2024 in Carlsbad before Fifth Judicial District Judge David Finger.
The Eddy County Sheriff’s Office charged Hooper with the crimes in July after the alleged fraud was discovered in a March financial audit, and months after he resigned from his post at the County.
Court records show investigators believed Hooper used two county fuel cards to buy gas for a county vehicle, while also receiving travel reimbursements for use of his personal vehicle which he didn’t use.
Eddy County employees are allowed to either use a county vehicle and its assigned gas card or drive their own vehicles and apply for reimbursement when traveling.
PIN numbers of two county employees reporting to Hooper at the time were allegedly used by Hooper, read a criminal complaint.
The workers told police they had not traveled out of the county during the time of the transaction.
Records show Hooper said he was using a county vehicle because his personal vehicle had “mechanical issues,” but a county inquiry revealed he was still submitting mileage reimbursements for travel in a personal vehicle.
This resulted in a “dual payment,” the complaint read, a violation of the county’s travel policy.
Michael Jimenez – first-degree murder
Michael Jimenez will face a jury in 2024, more than six years after Danny Mendes of Roswell was found beaten to death March 5, 2017 in a rural area of Eddy County.
He was scheduled for the trial March 25, 2024 in Eddy County District Court.
Police alleged Jimenez used a hammer to kill Mendes, after another man Ryan Morgan struck the victim in the back of the head.
The two men along with a woman Shabriel Lopez drove Mendes out to an area near the junction of Haystacks and Four Dinkus roads on the night of the alleged murder, police said.
An argument ensued between Mendes and Morgan who hit Mendes first with the hammer, read a criminal complaint, before Jimenez “finished him off.”
Charges against Jimenez were initially dropped after Morgan and Lopez recanted statements placing Jimenez at the scene.
Morgan later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, and Lopez was convicted of tampering with evidence for removing and hiding the hammer used in the attack.
The murder charge against Jimenez was renewed after Chantiqua Fuller, in prison since August 2017, told investigators she used methamphetamine with Jimenez and he confessed to his role in the incident to her.
About four years later Jimenez was re-arrested and charged with murder in May 2021, and the trial was delayed multiple times since by attempts by the defense to see the charge dismissed.
This article originally appeared on Carlsbad Current-Argus: Here are 5 criminal trials to watch in Carlsbad and Eddy Count in 2024