AP NEWS

Jury convicts Owens of murdering Santa Fe man

April 3, 2019

After nine days of testimony and nearly two days of deliberations, a Santa Fe County jury on Tuesday afternoon convicted 32-year-old Christopher Owens of Pojoaque of second-degree murder for the June 17, 2017, shooting death of Timothy Baca.

Evidence showed Owens shot Baca, a 30-year-old Santa Fe father of four, on a northwest-side city street after a night of drinking with others ended in an argument over a joke.

Owens had been charged with first-degree murder, but jurors were instructed that they could find him guilty of the lesser charge if they did not feel the state had proven the killing was premeditated.

The jurors also elected to convict Owens of a lesser charge on one of the other counts against him, finding him guilty of drug possession instead of trafficking. Prosecutors said multiple plastic bags of crack cocaine and a scale were found at the scene of the fatal shooting.

Jurors acquitted Owens of tampering with evidence in the case, in which police never recovered a murder weapon.

State District Judge T. Glenn Ellington said Tuesday he’ll sentence Owens in about 30 days.

If sentenced to the maximum penalty, Owens faces more than 19 years in prison, in part because he is considered a habitual offender. He pleaded guilty to federal drug trafficking and firearms charges in 2008, which could add two years of time to the base penalties of 15 years on the second-degree murder count and six months on the count of drug possession.

Baca’s mother, Sylvia Garcia, and widow, LaPearl Baca — who along with other family and friends kept a nearly constant vigil during the trial in the First Judicial District courthouse in Santa Fe — maintained their composure when the verdict was read, as Ellington instructed them to do.

They dissolved into sobs, however, after jurors left the courtroom.

According to evidence presented over the past two weeks, Owens and Baca had met each other for the first time the night before Baca’s death and spent that evening drinking and dancing with mutual friends at two area nightclubs.

They started arguing, witnesses testified, on the ride home early the next morning, when both were passengers in a car driven by Juan Elias Torres, who had introduced them.

Torres and Owens had been singing along to a song on the radio, LaPearl Baca testified during the trial, when her husband started teasing them — asking if they had gotten together to practice the song at night — and Owens took it personally.

As the car sped down the highway, LaPearl told jurors, Owens began threatening to shoot her husband — and eventually threatening every other person in the car — and calling her names.

When she demanded Torres pull over, LaPearl Baca testified, everyone got out of the car, and the fight between the two men turned physical. She took her husband’s arm and they were walking away, she said, when Owens said something and motioned as if he were going to shake her husband’s hand; then, she said, he raised his arm and shot Timothy Baca in the chest.

Sylvia Garcia said Tuesday before the verdict was read that it was sadly ironic the incident was triggered by her son making a joke, because anyone who knew him knew he was a joker.

“He was always trying to make people laugh if they were mad or sad,” Garcia said. “He joked like that all the time. I don’t know why Chris took offense.”

Garcia said Baca — her fourth-born of five sons — was born two months premature at an Albuquerque hospital in 1986.

Baca worked at the Pojoaque Pueblo Public Works Department and had four children — ages 13, 10, 4 and 2 — at the time of his death, according to his mother.

Garcia said her son was an avid basketball fan and “3-pointer king,” and had the “biggest heart” — literally and figuratively. He had a rare condition that caused him to have two extra heart valves, she said.

Baca sent her a text or called her every day, Garcia said.

On the morning of his death, she said, Baca’s younger brother called her and said, “Timmy died. He got shot in the heart,” and she collapsed on the floor.

Online court records indicate Owens picked up his first criminal charges — for possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia — in 2005, when he was 19.

In 2006, he was charged with DWI and drug possession.

In 2008, he pleaded guilty in the federal drug and firearms case — for distributing cocaine near a Pojoaque playground, according to a previous report in The New Mexican — and was sentenced to more than eight years in prison, plus three years of probation.

Owens was released from prison in 2014, according to the report, and pleaded guilty that same year to violating his probation by being a felon in possession of ammunition, an explosive device or other weapon.

In 2016, he pleaded no contest to battery — after punching a man at Buffalo Thunder Resort & Casino, according to court records — and received a deferred sentence of 90 days of unsupervised probation.

Owens was on federal probation when he shot Baca, according to court records.