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Ex-sheriff wants road rage sentence tossed, blames lawyer

April 8, 2019
FILE - In this Aug. 12, 2014, file photo, former Rio Arriba County Sheriff Thomas Rodella, center, leaves the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Albuquerque, N.M. during his trial over a violent road rage episode. Rodella, who is serving a 10-year federal prison term, in March 2019, filed a motion to vacate his sentence over claims his attorney failed to provide an effective defense. (Jim Thompson/The Albuquerque Journal via AP, File)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A former sheriff convicted of abusing a driver in an off-duty traffic stop that prosecutors described as a fit of road rage is seeking to get his 10-year prison sentence tossed.

Former Rio Arriba County Sheriff Thomas Rodella filed a motion in federal court last month to vacate his sentence over claims his defense lawyer failed to provide an effective defense.

According to papers submitted in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, Rodella, 57, claimed that attorney Robert Gorence refused to let him testify, resulting in “a miscarriage of justice.” Court documents also accuse Gorence of failing to investigate critical issues in the case.

Gorence declined to comment.

According to prosecutors, Rodella pulled a gun on motorist Michael Tafoya, then 26, and struck him in the face with his badge during the 2014 traffic stop because Tafoya cut him off in traffic.

Tafoya testified during the trial that he felt his life was in danger when Rodella chased him and pulled out his gun. “I said, ‘Please, don’t kill me,’” Tafoya told jurors.

Rodella, who was not in uniform, said Tafoya was a reckless driver whom he was trying to stop in the interest of public safety.

He was convicted of brandishing a firearm and deprivation of rights following a four-day trial. Rodella was sentenced in 2015 to 10 years. He’s currently at a federal prison in Seagoville, Texas.

“No other witness could have given the recollection that Mr. Rodella could provide of the events in question,” court documents said. “Mr. Gorence’s advice for Mr. Rodella not to testify resulted in the testimony of the government’s witness going unrebutted.”

Eugene Rodella said his brother believes he has a shot at getting his sentence thrown out and continues to maintain his innocence. “He’s not giving up hope,” he said. “All he needs is someone to listen.”

The case has been referred to U.S. Magistrate Judge Carmen Garza, but a hearing has not been set.


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