By Argen Duncan: PNT senior writer
A District Court ruling has allowed prosecutors to seek the death penalty in the case of a Roosevelt County man accused of contracting the 2005 shooting death of a county rancher.
Tuesday in District Court, Judge Drew Tatum ruled there is probable cause to believe an aggravating circumstance, namely murder for hire, exists in the case against William “Billy Joe” Watson.
Watson, 44, is charged with hiring Donald Taylor, county native and low-ranking member of the Aryan Brotherhood, to kill Jimmy Bo Chunn in exchange for anhydrous ammonia to be used for methamphetamine manufacture.
Murder for hire qualifies a case for the death penalty.
Watson’s case isn’t affected by the recent repeal of capital punishment in New Mexico because of a grandfather clause.
In closing arguments, District Attorney Matt Chandler said the state had met the burden of proof to show probable cause to proceed with seeking the death penalty for Watson.
However, defense attorny Gary Mitchell said the state’s case was “premised upon hearsay information” from Taylor, a known killer, armed robber and assaulter of corrections officers.
“That’s upon whom we rely,” he said.
Chandler said Taylor, while in prison on parole violation charges, explained the murder agreement to a man he didn’t’ realize was an FBI informant.
“It’s nothing you can dispute,” he said.
Also, Chandler said when Watson provided anhydrous ammonia to federal undercover agent Pete McCarthy and FBI informant John Fairres, posing as Aryan Brotherhood members, Watson exaggerated the cost of the substance. Chandler said Watson also asked about the possibility of doing business with the organization and invited the men to his house for a beer.
Those are the actions of a person satisfied with the situation, not someone acting out of fear, Chandler said.
Mitchell countered that no one would object to requests that seemed to come from a dangerous group like the Aryan Brotherhood.
“Well, who in the world would object?” he said. “His neighbor and friend had been killed. How much more of a threat do you have to have?”
Mitchell said Watson’s comments to McCarthy and Fairres that seemed to imply satisfaction actually came from the desire to keep from appearing as if he would cause problems for them.
Mitchell said authorities conducted a close-minded investigation “in which they do little to find out what’s going on in the community.” He said some, but not all, law enforcement officers were “pretty brutal” in the way they questioned Watson.
Chandler said the investigation wasn’t narrow-minded, as authorities arrested around two dozen people in a wider investigation of the Aryan Brotherhood.
Mitchell said tapes of the interviews with local law enforcment show Watson didn’t know anything about what happened to Chunn.
Witnesses saw Watson and Taylor talking the day Chunn was killed, which Watson denied until confronted with their statements, Chandler said.
Chandler also said Watson knew specifically that Chunn was shot in the head.
“There was only one person who would have released that information, and that would be the trigger man,” Chandler said.