By Karl Terry: Freedom Newspapers
District Judge Steven Quinn sentenced 20-year-old Richard Baca to 21 years in prison Friday on charges connected with the 2004 death of Amber Robinson of Portales.
Baca was convicted March 7 by a jury in a Portales courtroom of second-degree murder and two counts of third-degree evidence tampering. Quinn had the option of sentencing Baca as a juvenile, which could have resulted in his immediate release, or up to a maximum of 21 years as an adult. The judge also stipulated Baca must serve at least 85 percent of his sentence.
After lengthy statements from Robinson’s family as well as pleas from Baca’s family for leniency, the defendant, with eyes reddened, made a statement just prior to sentencing.
“My greatest condolences and apologies to the Amber Robinson family,” Baca said. “I know there’s nothing I can do to change things. If I could I would take her place.
“I know I’ve hurt my family,” he continued. “I’m sorry.”
During statements from the victim’s family, Robinson’s mother, Joann Martinez, expressed her grief over the loss of her daughter and vented her family’s frustration with the criminal justice process.
“Amber trusted you like no one else ever will again,” Martinez told Baca in her statement. “On April 27, 2004, you really messed up. You took away the only daughter I will ever have, you took away the only sister Amber’s brothers will ever have,” she sobbed. “You took away the only granddaughter my mother will ever have.”
Martinez said her daughter never judged people the way most of society automatically does.
“When Amber realized that there were people less fortunate than herself, she thought she could help them out,” Martinez said. “Amber didn’t separate people into good or bad.”
Martinez said her daughter felt like she could help Richard and his older brother Clifford with their problems.
Martinez said when she last talked to her daughter, Robinson told her, “Don’t worry, Mom, Richard and Bubba (Clifford) have my back.” Martinez told Baca he didn’t have Robinson’s back — he killed her.
Clifford Baca pleaded guilty in 2006 to second-degree murder and two counts of evidence tampering and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Martinez also expressed frustration with the police in not being able to conduct a search for Robinson soon enough, with being told by District Attorney Matt Chandler to leave her emotions at home and of receiving hollow promises from his office.
Martinez was also upset that the lead investigator and Baca’s brother were not called to testify in the trial, even though Clifford Baca’s plea agreement in the case stipulated he would.
Martinez also took the juvenile probation system to task because, she said, Baca had been on probation at the time of the murder and had been in trouble just previous to Robinson’s death, but the system hadn’t acted.
Martinez said Baca manipulated the system to extend the case, including several changes of attorney.
“We beg of you to put your foot down and show Richard Baca he’s no longer running the show,” Martinez told Quinn.
Baca’s attorney, Anna Aragon of Las Vegas, N.M., expressed disbelief with Martinez’ statement but said there was plenty of blame to go around in the case.
“I never anticipated coming to the defense of the DA’s office in this case,” Aragon said. “But I believe they did a good job in this case. The system has failed everyone in this case.”
Aragon conceded that juvenile sanctions were not appropriate but urged the judge to apply the three years Baca has spent in Roosevelt County Detention Center to his sentence.
Chandler reminded the judge that before returning a verdict in March, the jury had sent a note asking the judge to consider the toughest penalty possible under second-degree murder.
“The fact of the matter is the jury said he (Baca) deliberately chose to take away the life of another individual,” Chandler said.
The judge agreed with Chandler on sentencing and granted Aragon’s plea for time served.
During the trial, testimony revealed that Robinson, 19, and another female were at a drinking party at the Baca house with Richard and Clifford Baca on the night before and morning of the murder. The prosecution charged that after the other two had left the house, Richard Baca, then 17, beat Robinson unconscious and later buried her alive in the back yard of the home.
Baca later cleaned up the blood in the kitchen of the home and destroyed blood-soaked rags and carpet to cover up the crime.