Regular online readers already know SFR covered all six days of the murder trial of Marino K Leyba Jr. and first reported the jury’s verdict, on April 30, that “Reno” was guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, aggravated burglary and tampering with evidence.
The murder charges carry two life sentences, and prompt an automatic appeal to the New Mexico Supreme Court, according to defense attorney Gary Mitchell.
Assistant District Attorneys Cynthia Hill and Yvonne Chicoine stumbled in their opening arguments but, by piling on evidence from witnesses and police experts, persuaded jurors that Leyba gave forethought to the shootings last May of his girlfriend, Sarah Lovato, and her father, Bennie Ray Lovato Sr. One surprise, brought to light by prosecutors, was that Leyba fathered a now-2-year-old daughter with a woman in Roswell. The woman—who is now 23, the same age as Leyba—testified that he had threatened her during her pregnancy, which he kept from his family. (Leyba’s parents testified that they’d been looking forward to the birth of their first grandchild, the 8-month-old fetus who died with young Lovato.)
Mitchell argued that Leyba’s diminished mental capacity meant that he couldn’t have planned the murders, and that the charge should be reduced to manslaughter. After the trial, Mitchell said the verdict betrayed New Mexico’s prejudice against mental illness.
Hikers and mountain bikers should take note of one loose end: Santa Fe Police Department Detective Tony Trujillo told SFR before the verdict that prosecutors had hoped to compel Leyba to lead them to the murder weapon: a silver Smith & Wesson 9 mm semiautomatic pistol, serial No. A789298. Leyba testified that he’d walked aimlessly in the hills north of Santa Fe after the shootings, and didn’t know what had happened to the gun he carried for his job as a state-licensed security guard.