New Mexico trapper acquitted in case that prompted new law

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A northern New Mexico man has been acquitted of illegal trapping charges stemming from an incident that caused a dog’s strangulation death and prompted a new state law prohibiting trapping on public land.

A state District Court jury on Wednesday acquitted Marty Cordova, 44, of Chimayo of crimes regarding trapping fur-bearing animals, including trapping within 25 yards (23 meters) of a public road, failing to have identifying information on his traps and failing to check his traps daily.

“It’s a sense of relief, obviously,” Cordova told the Santa Fe New Mexican on Thursday. “It’s been about three years I’ve had this burden on my shoulders.”

Cordova was charged after an 8-year-old heeler mix named Roxy died at Santa Cruz Lake, a federal Bureau of Land Management recreation area, east of Espanola as the dog’s owner tried to free it from a snare trap.

The owner, Dave Clark of Espanola, declined to comment Thursday, the New Mexican reported.

The case prompted New Mexico legislators to approve the ban on use of traps, snares and wildlife poison on public lands. The Wildlife Conservation and Public Safety Act, also called Roxy’s Law, takes effect next April.

Cordova’s defense lawyer, Yvonne Quintana, said the acquittal was “the right outcome.”

“The case was overcharged, and the state and (Game and Fish Department) officers really did a disservice in regards to losing evidence.”

Game and Fish deleted thousands of photographs related to the case, Quintana said, adding other pieces of evidence — such as parts of the trap that snared Roxy — were lost.

Quintana also said the dog was not on a leash as required in the Santa Cruz recreation area.

“So while the traps may have been at fault for the loss of the dog, there was also that issue that if the dog had been controlled with a leash, the tragic loss of the domestic pet may never have occurred,” she said.

District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies disputed Quintana’s contention that the case was overcharged and said some of the evidence had been lost by the BLM during that agency’s investigation.

The prosecution “fought hard for accountability and what the jury did see and hear was heartbreaking testimony and evidence about how Roxy and her owner suffered,” Carmack-Altwies said.

Quintana said it was difficult to empanel a jury to hear the case because many potential jurors had strong opinions regarding trapping and animal rights.

“It was very inflammatory because the dog got killed,” she said,

Cordova, a utility manager at Los Alamos National Laboratory, said he uses traps because he has a small farm and that coyotes and other predators sometimes kill his chickens.

He said activists who pushed for the passage of Roxy’s Law used him to accomplish something that had been on their agenda for some time.

“They used me as a scapegoat to say, ‘Look at how bad sportsmen are, and look at the results of trapping,’” he said.