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Court: Throw Away the Key

The court found that Stanfield’s imprisonment without a trial was legal because he was incompetent to stand trial and the background of the case showed that he was a danger to society if he were to be freed

ABQ FREE PRESS STAFF REPORT

The New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled constitutional the involuntary commitment for two life terms of a man who killed two men.

In an nonprecedential order signed by four of the five justices, the court rejected all arguments made by lawyers for Danny Stanfield that he was wrongly imprisoned and denied an adequate defense.

The court found that Stanfield’s imprisonment without a trial was legal because he was incompetent to stand trial and the background of the case showed that he was a danger to society if he were to be freed. The justices found that there was “clear and convincing” evidence that Stanfield had killed the men with premeditation.

The case arose from Stanfield’s shooting of two men and wounding of a third on Oct. 23, 2009, in San Rafael, Cibola County. The men were cutting a barbed wire near Stanfield’s home when Stanfield confronted them, then left to retrieve a single-action revolver, which he used to shoot and kill Sonny Jim and Wayne Johnson.

Stanfield emptied the revolver, ejected the shell casings and reloaded each of the six cylinders individually, then continued shooting. Jim was shot six times and Johnson was shot four times. Stanfield shot at but missed Fernando Begaye, who fled on foot.

When a deputy arrived, Stanfield told him, in response to a question of whether he shot the men, “You’re damn right I did. They were stealing my property. Damn right. I shot him in self-defense.”

After his indictment for first-degree murder in 2011, Stanfield was ruled by the trial judge to be incompetent to stand trial. He was committed to the custody of the New Mexico Department of Health for treatment until he was deemed to be competent, but three years later he was still found incompetent.

Under New Mexico’s health code, that opened the door for the judge hold a hearing on the evidence against Stanfield. The judge committed him to the State Hospital for a period equal to two consecutive life terms – the maximum sentence he would have received had he been convicted at trial.

Because the court noted that its decision is nonprecendential, it applies only to Stanfield’s case.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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