A state District Court judge in Santa Fe ruled Thursday afternoon that prosecutors have enough evidence to proceed to trial against a 26-year-old man accused of coercing his girlfriend to kill a woman in a Southside home last year.
Isaac Apodaca faces one count each of accessory to first degree murder and conspiracy in the Oct. 29 killing of 21-year-old Grace Jennings. First Judicial District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer ruled from the bench in front of about a dozen of Jennings’ friends and family members.
Apodaca “participated in this plan from the very get go,” Marlowe Sommer said. “In fact, I think there’s probable cause that he’s the one that came up with this plan.”
Santa Fe Police arrested Apodaca and 21-year-old Kiara McCulley last fall and initially charged them both with murder in connection with Jennings’ death in a detached garage at McCulley’s mother’s house. McCulley was placed in psychiatric care at the Las Vegas (New Mexico) Behavioral Health Institute and is awaiting determination on whether she’s fit to stand trial. McCulley is still facing a first degree murder charge along with tampering with evidence and a conspiracy charge.
There is no allegation that Apodaca killed Jennings.
Prosecutors, through social media and text messages between McCulley and Apodaca, painted Apodaca as the manipulative puppet master who pushed McCulley to kill Jennings with a sword about 3 feet in length.
In one instance, McCulley allegedly sent Apodaca a message simply saying, “Anger me.” Deputy District Attorney Kent Walquist presented additional messages he said showed Apodaca did exactly that. The prosecutor argued that the exchange indicated McCulley was having second thoughts about an alleged plan to kill Jennings while she spent the night with the couple and was seeking motivation from Apodaca.
According to testimony from McCulley’s mother, McCulley and Jennings had been friends in the past, but had not been in contact for years—a narrative that runs contrary to initial reports that Apodaca, Jennings and McCulley were romantically involved at the time of the killing.
Walquist submitted pages of evidence that he said shows Apodaca pushed McCulley to kill Jennings. The messages, which Walquist argued also included instructions on which weapon to use and how to use it, seemed to play a large part in convincing Marlowe Sommer there was enough to move forward with a trial.
“There’s many times where [McCulley] is asking him to remind her why she’s supposed to do this,” the judge said as she announced her decision. “I think that he definitely describes how she’s supposed to be killed.”
Apodaca’s attorney, Kelly Golightly, did not dispute the state’s case and conceded there was likely enough evidence to show probable cause, but not necessarily guilt.
“Obviously, we have very strong opinions about a defense, but I know that today we’re looking at probable cause,” Golightly said. “And with the information that you have been given, I would prefer to keep our strategy to ourselves, and we will agree that the court would most likely find probable cause in this matter.”
Marlow Sommer in November ordered that Apodaca remain in custody without bond. Walquist said he would start moving forward with the next court filings and schedule an arraignment for Apodaca. McCulley is scheduled for a status hearing next week.
A previous version of this story incorrectly cited Kiara McCulley’s age. She is 20 years old.