She was 19, he was 25 or 31.
Reno’s mother, Loretta Valdez, married Marino Leyba in Santa Fe in 1986, according to their pending divorce papers; Santa Fe County clerks have no marriage license on file and Marino has given authorities conflicting birth dates.
Reno was born that August, so Loretta was likely pregnant already. Brother John was born in 1989. Sister Angel came in 1991.
By then or soon after, Loretta had developed a drug problem. In June 1992, police caught her forging prescriptions for the painkiller Darvocet. (In one of Reno’s later suicide threats to Ewers, documented in her restraining order, he said he’d swallowed 72 pills.)
State prosecutors, represented by Angela “Spence” Pacheco, called six Santa Fe Police officers as witnesses against Loretta. Pacheco, now the district attorney for the 1st Judicial District, declined comment to SFR for this story.
Loretta passed her probation in July 1993. Three months later, she was involved in a car accident. Four-year-old John, who was in the car, suffered leg injuries.
For various reasons, the Leybas spent a lot of time among doctors. In the early ’90s, St. Vincent Hospital garnished Marino’s wages through his employer, ABC Self Storage, which court records indicate was owned by local businessman Gerald Peters.
That $4,738 hospital bill finally got paid off in 1995. Even by Leyba standards, it was a rough year.
That April, Marino filed a protection order against Loretta, citing her “verbal abuse.” He claimed she’d showed up at his work the day before, demanding out of the marriage and threatening to take the kids. She said they belonged to another man.
“I hit her and she also slaped [sic] me and I want this vilonce [sic] to stop. She call me a asshole over and over making my work day hard,” Marino wrote to the court, in his scrawl.
The court at the time thought Loretta’s location was “Maybe Esperanza.” The shelter could not confirm that for SFR.
Now deceased Judge Carol J Vigil, who oversaw domestic violence cases in the First Judicial District Court at the time, gave Marino temporary custody of Angel, John and Reno, then 8.
Three days after requesting the protection order, Marino had it dismissed. He and Loretta were attending counseling, he wrote, and they wanted to keep the kids together. Vigil agreed.
“That L word is what gets people in trouble,” Esperanza Executive Director Sherry Taylor says, only half kidding.
Whatever counseling the Leybas received didn’t end their fighting. Loretta faced a domestic violence charge in Mora County in 1997. For a while after that, the law didn’t get involved.
But in the wee hours of Feb. 2, 2005, Santa Fe police responded to an argument between Loretta and Marino. “No physical violence occurred,” Officer Peter Neal wrote. He “exceptionally cleared” the case, which can mean police lacked evidence to press charges or the victim refused to cooperate.
That March 10, Sue Shaffer, a case worker at the mental health clinic Casa De Su Vida, asked police to check on fighting at the Leyba home. The officer’s report listed Reno, then 18, and Loretta as victims. The next day, Detective Charle-Ann Martin followed up on another call from Shaffer. This time, Martin listed daughter Angel as the victim of “emotional and physical abuse and neglect.”
Shaffer declined comment. Martin referred SFR to Capt. Gary Johnson, who did not respond by press time.
Within a month of Martin’s investigation, police arrested Loretta for felony domestic violence. Ten days later, prosecutors dismissed the complaint “pending further investigation;” that May, police arrested Loretta on a lesser domestic violence charge. She accepted a plea deal amounting to $67 in fines and fees, 180 days probation and 12 hours community service.
Loretta completed her community service on July 20, 2005. At 10 am that very day, Martin got another referral from the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department alleging “abuse and neglect” of 14-year-old
Angel, then attending Capital Christian School.
Teenage Reno knew the abuse in his family was wrong, according to his ex—and he “hated” it.
“His dad was always abusive; his mom was an alcoholic,” Amanda Ewers says. “I know that really fucked him up.”
Whatever animosities they might’ve shared, father and junior worked as a team at the security firm. But the family business became another detriment to Reno’s education. He dropped out of high school twice. “He was smart enough to finish. But working for his dad at nights, till 5 am, that always sucked up his days,” Ewers says.
Marino founded USA Security and Surveillance in 2000. Clients included apartments, hotels and the Santa Fe Place mall. The state Regulation and Licensing Department, which oversees private security companies, records no violations for Marino’s company.
“Sadly there was nothing in [Reno’s] file, or in the file of US Security, that would indicate such a traumatic event was ahead,” RLD Public Information Officer Teala Kail says. “There simply were no red flags…Our hearts go out to the family, of course.”
Indeed, RLD records no complaints filed against the company. Reno got his guard license in 2004, and RLD renewed it in 2006 and 2008, after the documented incident in which he threatened to “blast” the police with his new .22. (Until recently, the agency did not conduct background checks for license renewals.)
RLD wasn’t alone in underestimating the danger.
First Judicial District Court Judge Daniel A Sanchez closed Ewers’ restraining order on Feb. 5, 2006, seven days after granting it.
Within two months, police responded to another incident involving the couple.
Ewers says she was meeting a friend at an apartment complex off Sawmill Road. She says she fell asleep in her car, parked in the lot Reno was guarding. When Reno found her, he called his dad, Ewers says. When Marino arrived, he put a boot on her wheel, Ewers says. Then he called police.
Officer Shane Shultz reported finding Ewers parked in a handicapped spot. Marino “held the juvenile and called her father and police,” Shultz wrote. “Marino feels the juvenile is stalking his son.” Case closed.
Ewers says police did tell Marino he was “lucky” they didn’t arrest him for false imprisonment, but recalls no official follow-up. “That was pretty much the end of that,” she says.
On May 2, Detective Martin got another referral from caseworkers about Angel, who made an unspecified disclosure about her “19 year old brother”—Reno. The details would become clearer in following years, but only after Angel moved to a mental institution.