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Judge upholds dismissal of murder charge in librarian’s death

August 10, 2018

State District Judge T. Glenn Ellington on Wednesday upheld his decision in June to dismiss a charge of second-degree murder against Robert Mondrian-Powell, accused of killing former Santa Fe librarian Elvira Segura at her home in Nambé.

Ellington had dismissed the case on the grounds that the state had violated 59-year-old Mondrian-Powell’s right to a speedy trial.

Last month, the judge agreed to hear a request by the District Attorney’s Office to reconsider his ruling. But in the end, he wasn’t swayed to change his mind, he announced at Wednesday’s hearing.

The decision came as another blow to family and friends of Segura, 67, whose badly decomposed body was found in the bathroom of her Nambé home in September 2016.

Gabriel Langton, Segura’s son, said when he first heard the news of Ellington’s decision, he was “destroyed.” Langton, who lives in California, crowdsourced money to fund a trip to New Mexico so he could attend recent hearings on the case dismissal.

“My immediate concern was that we didn’t get justice,” he said. “The man who killed [Segura] has no consequence. … Putting him away won’t bring her back, but it will prevent him from hurting somebody else. So, now, I’d say that’s my biggest concern and should be the concern of anyone who was following the case.”

Mondrian-Powell could still face trial.

District Attorney Marco Serna said he plans to present the case to the New Mexico Court of Appeals. He hopes the appellate court will prioritize the case, he said, given the serious allegations.

“We’re hopeful that this will take priority considering the fact that this is a murder case, and we’re confident the case law is in our favor,” Serna said. “The sooner the better so that we can bring this man to trial.”

Police have said Mondrian-Powell confessed to shooting Segura as the two were engaged in a dispute. But the state Office of the Medical Investigator said an autopsy failed to determine the cause of her death. The agency listed two serious health conditions that might have led to the fatality.

Ellington’s dismissal of the murder charge had little to do with whether Mondrian-Powell killed Segura. Instead, it was largely centered on problems with the way attorneys handled the case and long delays at bringing it to trial.

When he first ordered the case dismissed in June, Ellington pointed to a problematic relationship between the prosecution and defense and turnover in both offices that caused issues with the case, including delays that started almost immediately.

“Whether it’s because of court schedules … turnover in the DA’s Office or lack of attention to the case by the prosecution,” Ellington said, “none of that is Mr. Mondrian-Powell’s fault.”

Prosecutor Gregory Chakalian filed a motion afterward asking Ellington to reconsider the ruling. He argued that for a complex case, the 20 months Mondrian-Powell spent in jail between his arrest and the dismissal of the murder charge was not an unreasonable amount of time. The motion pointed to another complex case in which a man had spent 26 months in jail before his trial.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Ellington went into more detail about his reasons for dismissing the case. He spoke of at least one instance of what he said was a misrepresentation of facts by a former prosecutor.

Ellington said 19 of the 20 months of delay in trying the murder case were caused by “prosecutorial neglect.” The other month, he said, was due to an administrative delay in the courts.

After he reaffirmed his ruling, Ellington noted the case can be forwarded to the appeals court.

“One of the beauties of our system is that any decision made by any trial judge is reviewable by a higher court,” the judge said.

Since the case’s dismissal, Segura’s friends and family have penned impassioned social media posts and letters — both to news outlets and to Ellington — arguing that Mondrian-Powell should go to trial and airing their grievances with the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

Langton said he and his family have tried not to “rock the boat,” but almost from day one, they have been worried about delays and reports that the District Attorney’s Office was missing filings in the case. He repeatedly called the office, trying to make sure everything was on track with prosecuting his mother’s accused killer, he said.

“In any DA’s office, including here, even in the best of circumstances people are overworked and so on,” Langton said. “… However, I don’t find it believable that there is a reasonable, even as a collection, a reasonable excuse to be mined out for the management of the case overall.”

He added later, “We’ve been very badly served — not just in one big mistake but in a series of unforced errors.”

It’s hard to blame any one attorney for the problems, Langton said, but he believes Serna, as the leader of the District Attorney’s Office, bears responsibility.

Langton said he appreciated Chakalian’s efforts to persuade Ellington to reconsider his dismissal, and he hopes the appellate court will help his family get the justice it seeks, “assuming the DA is able to do what they’re supposed to do,” he said.

Since Ellington’s dismissal of the Mondrian-Powell case, Serna has implemented changes in how administrators in his office supervise prosecutors, he said. Supervisors have started holding biweekly meetings with attorneys handling important cases, he said, to make sure paperwork is filed on time, witness interviews are completed and discovery is turned over.

“Unfortunately, as an administrator, you tend to take attorneys, what they’re telling you about a certain case, you take their word for it,” Serna said. “It can be very difficult to double check everybody’s work.”

Whatever changes the case may bring, Segura’s friends and family left Wednesday’s court hearing feeling failed by the justice system.

“I’m appalled at what I call a miscarriage of justice,” said Karen Ralston, a close friend of Segura’s sister. “… It makes me lose all faith.”

“Justice hasn’t been served,” said Elizabeth West, who worked with Segura at a Santa Fe library. “In this case, following the letter of the law obfuscates something that is very obvious.”

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