Prosecutors to seek adult penalties against Santa Fe teen in homicide case

Police hint at what they think happened at Ragle Park in August

News (Andy Lyman)

Prosecutors on Thursday said they would seek a first-degree murder charge against Elijah Judah Trujillo, who was 15 when authorities say he fatally shot 60-year-old Samuel Cordero in the early morning hours of Aug. 10 at Ragle Park.

Assistant District Attorney Jeanine Salustri told Santa Fe state District Court Judge T. Glenn Ellington during a hearing on Thursday that the DA’s office early that morning had filed a “notice to invoke adult sanctions” and that “the state will proceed as a serious youthful offender.” That means if Trujillo is convicted, he could face time in adult prison, but the serious youthful offender distinction means Ellington is not bound by the mandatory sentence of 30 years to life in prison.

Cordero was last seen alive leaving his job at a Santa Fe assisted living facility around 2 am on Aug. 10. Cordero’s body was found at Ragle Park nearly three hours later.

The DA’s office and the state Law Offices of the Public Defender, which is representing Trujillo, who is now 16, have been tight-lipped about specifics surrounding the case, and court records are sealed. But a criminal complaint recently obtained by SFR offers a partial picture of what police think might have happened.

In the document, police contend that both Cordero and Trujillo had accounts on Grindr, a dating app marketed towards the LGBTQ community. But there is nothing in the complaint that shows—or even suggests—the two communicated or even matched on the app.

Santa Fe Police Det. Rebecca Hilderbrandt signed the criminal complaint, which authorities used as justification to arrest Trujillo. “A limited download” of Cordero’s phone showed he had been using Grindr around the time he left work the morning he was killed. The document goes on to detail the specifics of a “geofence search warrant,” which both police and DA Mary Carmack-Altwies say they used to identify Trujillo as the suspect.

Cordero and Trujillo were near the same baseball field about five minutes apart, according to a timeline police laid out in the criminal complaint, which they pieced together from the geofence search warrant.

Trujillo’s email address was “used to create an account” on Grindr, the complaint says, with “a profile age of 19 years old.” According to the date of birth listed for Trujillo on the arrest warrant, he turned 16 more than a month after Cordero was killed.

Patrick Lenihan, a spokesman for Grindr, tells SFR the company has a policy to cooperate with law enforcement “in instances where it’s clear and obvious that it makes sense,” but that the company also keeps “very little data” on its users.

“We don’t do a whole lot of tracking of our users,” Lenihan says in a phone interview, adding that “given the nature of the customers we serve, we’re very buttoned up around how we deal with law enforcement, globally.”

In a written statement, Lenihan goes on to say Grindr takes the safety of its users “extremely seriously” and encourages users “to be careful when interacting with people they do not know.”

According to the criminal complaint, Cordero’s body was found with “a gunshot wound to the back of the head,” under a gazebo, “near the bathrooms, baseball field and parking lot,” with a “.9mm spent casing” near his feet around 4:45 am. When police searched Cordero’s car near the park’s west entrance, they found Cordero’s wallet, with more than $500 in cash and other items.

Surveillance footage shows an unknown person in a “hooded shirt” near Trujillo’s house around 2:30 am, according to the complaint. About 10 minutes later, a gunshot “can be heard” in the video. The shot rang out around the same time Trujillo and Cordero were reportedly at the same place in the park, the complaint states.

About 10 minutes later, according to the complaint, the video shows someone in a “hooded shirt” running to the driveway of what police say is Trujillo’s house. The driveway lights began “flickering on and off” about 20 minutes after that.

In addition to the murder charge, Trujillo faces an evidence tampering charge for allegedly trying to dispose of Cordero’s phone, which was later found on the side of a road near Ragle Park.

Roughly 30 minutes after police suspect Cordero was killed, Hilderbrandt wrote in the complaint, Cordero’s phone “was pinging within 15-30 meters” of Trujillo’s residence.

During Thursday’s hearing, Salustri, the prosecutor, told Judge Ellington that the DA’s office also filed a request to keep Trujillo locked up at the San Juan County Juvenile Services Center until his trial. It’s unclear when that trail might happen, but a preliminary hearing—to determine whether prosecutors have enough evidence to move forward with a trial—is scheduled for next week.

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