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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Stephens gives confession, offers no motive for deaths

Local law enforcement officials have a confession, but not a motive, in the May 6 stabbing death of a Pecos couple at the bar they owned on the west side of town. Meanwhile, the decision on whether or not to see the death penalty on Randall Lee Stephens is waiting the formal filing of capital murder charges by police with the 143rd District Attorney’s office.

Police Chief Clay McKinney said Stephens gave both written and video confessions to stabbing Rick and A.J. Cherry to death the night of May 6 at D.J.’s Round-Up on West Third Street. The confession came hours after Stephens was arrested by police in Loxley, Ala., on a warrant for failure to register in Pecos as a convicted sex offender.

“After the interview with Mr. Stephens, he did give us a written and taped confession concerning the murder,” McKinney said during a joint press conference on Friday with 143rd District Attorney Randy Reynolds and Billy Johnson, head of the U.S. Marshal’s Office for the Pecos Division of U.S. District Court.

On Monday, McKinney said police and Reynolds are still working on the capital murder charge to be filed against Stephens, who grew up in Pecos but has spent most of the past 30 years in prison.

“We’ve got a team meeting tomorrow, and we’ve got a lot of things to discuss concerning the investigation,” he said. “Randy Reynolds is working with Capt. (Kelly) Davis on the language of the affidavit, and we should have it completed this week.”

On Friday, McKinney said that while Stephens confessed during his interview with the chief, Davis and 143rd D.A.’s investigator Gerry Villalobos at the Baldwin County Correctional Center in Bay Minette, Ala., last Wednesday morning, he did not provide officials with a motive for the murders.

“We have some suspicions, and we’ve collected some evidence that may show that at a later date, but right now it would be nothing more than an assumption on my part,” McKinney said.

He added that evidence indicated that Stephens did rob the bar’s cash register and took money from a wallet before stealing Rick Cherry’s Ford pickup sometime between 10 p.m. and midnight on May 6. The pickup was found the morning of May 11 having run out of gas on Interstate 25 between Truth or Consequences and Socorro, N.M.

Stephens is currently being held in Bay Minette on federal charges of violation of the 2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which increased punishment against convicted sex offenders who fail to register with local authorities.

Stephens was convicted in 1990 and sentenced to 17 years in prison in connection with a burglary of a habitation in Pecos in which he sexually assaulted a 25-year-old woman.

Police on May 8 filed charges on Stephens for failure to register with local authorities, after he was released from a halfway house in El Paso and returned to Pecos in September of 2007. That allowed police in Loxley to arrest Stephens on the warrant last Tuesday, but officials were planning to drop that charge after a U.S. District Court grand jury in Pecos indicted Stephens on Thursday on the federal sex offender registry violation.

“We actually adopted the fugitive case on Mr. Stephens,” said Johnson, who added that the Marshal’s service was assisting police from the time of the original warrant.

“During our investigation, right before he was caught, we determined that Stephens was also in violation of the federal sex offender statute,” Johnson said. “So sometime today he will be in U.S. Marshal custody in Alabama and we’ll start the extradition process to get him back on the federal charges, which will also give these guys (police) a chance to finish up with their case.”

Johnson said he expected Stephens to be returned to the area in two weeks, but didn’t know if he would be kept at the Pecos Criminal Justice Center or at another area facility used by the Marshal’s Service, pending a hearing in U.S. District Court. “This statute carries an enhanced penalty. He committed a crime of violence while in violation of the statute, and it carries quite an enhanced penalty,” he said. The federal charges against Stephens could bring a sentence of up to 50 years.

The capital murder charges could carry the death penalty or a life in prison sentence, but wasn’t filed earlier because officials said the evidence wasn’t strong enough in the days after the murders, even though Stephens was named as a “person of interest” by police.

“During the preliminary investigation, our witnesses and the evidence we had before us at that point kept pointing towards Mr. Stephens,” McKinney said. “We felt like we did not have enough probable cause at that time to charge him with the crime, and really not even enough sufficient probable cause to classify him as a suspect.

“At that point he was really a person of interest to us, and we needed to talk to him and really just further investigate the crime,” he added.

“Basically, there’s still a lot of investigation to go,” Reynolds said. “In my opinion, while my office doesn’t have a case, and may not have one for some time, until the investigation is basically completed … at some point there will be the process if the case warrants it will go before the grand jury.

“Now I’m confident with where the case stands today I do believe they will pursue an arrest warrant and when I get the case we’ll review it and get it ready and present it to a grand jury for their review,” he added.

The DA said he’d wait until he receives a full report from police on the case before deciding whether or not to seek the death penalty on the capital murder charge.

“In any case involving a capital offense, different elements make a homicide capital. One of course is multiple homicides,” Reynolds said. “Another would be committing a murder in the course of committing a felony, so there are several factors that we will look at in determining the charges to pursue.”

McKinney said the Cherrys’ families were notified at the time of the arrest, and were happy to hear that Stephens would be returned to Pecos to stand trial on the capital murder charges.

“We had a plan and some goals from the very start of this case,” McKinney said. “We had weekly meetings and a team of investigators on this case with the district attorney’s office, our department and the U.S. Marshal’s Service, and our strategies paid off. Our short term goals have been met, and we feel very confident we will be arresting the right individual.”

Rodeo entries minimally hurt by sharp jump in travel costs

West of the Pecos Rodeo Committee members still have another 2 1/2 weeks to go before they find out how much higher fuel prices might affect turnout for this year’s West of the Pecos Rodeo. But the committee was happily surprised last week to see that the number of participants for the 2008 rodeo isn’t down all that much from recent years, despite a jump of over 50 percent in fuel prices during the past 12 months.

“We are tickled pink. We’re down basically 40 contestants from last year,” said Rodeo Committee President Joe Keese. “With the price of diesel and the fact that they’re having a big tour rodeo event at Reno that was moved back on top of us, we were afraid the drop would be much greater.”

Pecos’ first-ever rodeo was held on July 4, 1883, so 2008 marks the event’s 125th anniversary. But the rodeo committee pushed the dates up three years ago to avoid conflicts with other Fourth of July rodeos to the west, especially the highest-paying ones in Prescott, Ariz., and Greeley, Colo.

This year’s rodeo will run from Wednesday, June 25 through Saturday, June 28, but Reno’s move back towards the end of June threatened to force many cowboys to skip Pecos this year, due both to the schedule and to diesel prices in the $4. 65 a gallon range.

“With $4.50-$5 diesel, we were afraid we’d lose half of all our contestants, but I guess the power of Pecos’ name was able to affect the entries,” Keese said. “Some of the other rodeos are down 30 to 50 percent, but a lot of the cowboys say they always want to come to Pecos, and the cowboys appreciated the changes we made to accommodate their travel.”

That included pushing back some of the slack competition from the start of Rodeo Week.

“Instead of team roping and calf (tie-down) roping being Monday and Tuesday, we’ll run team roping on Thursday morning, and Friday morning there will be calf roping slack. That’s because we’re right on top of Reno’s, so we moved ours so the guys would have a chance to get out here,” Keese said.

The drop in entries is mainly in the timed events, where cowboys have to travel with horse and trailer, even further increasing their fuel costs.

“We actually have more riders in the roughstock events. We’re up 21 riders just in the horses,” Keese said. He added that the show’s producer, Pete Carr Rodeo, had nine horses and bulls selected for last year’s National Finals Rodeo, and the higher level of roughstock helped attract more riders to Pecos.

Along with the saddle bronc, bareback and bull riders, Keese said the rodeo’s numbers also are up in ladies’ barrel racing. Keese said West of the Pecos Rodeo Committee officials do plan to check with Reno officials in the upcoming months, to see if their change this year to a later June date is permanent.

“It had a domino effect right down the line, because when we moved our (slack) back, it affected Santa Fe, and they had to change theirs, which affected Greeley,” Keese said. “Hopefully next year they’ll move theirs back, so we won’t have to deal with it.”

House destroyed, second damaged by fire

Investigators are looking into the cause of a fire on the east side Thursday evening that destroyed one home and severely damaged a second.

Pecos Volunteer Fire Department members were called out around 7:50 p.m. to the fire, in the 1000 block of East Second Street. Pecos Fire Marshal Jack Brookshire said the fire started in an abandoned home, then spread to a two-story home adjacent to that property.

“It was set, but we don’t know if it was arson or just kids playing over there,” Brookshire said. “We got a report from neighbors who said they saw some kids playing over there.”

Firemen worked on the first floor roof of the second home to keep the fire from spreading any further, after flames from the abandoned home cause it to ignite. “The second house had pretty major damage to it,” Brookshire said. “The whole west side of the house was damaged, and the was fire, smoke and water damage on the inside.”

He added that three vehicle, which apparently were not in working condition, were also destroyed by the fire.

The abandoned home was one of many unoccupied homes that have burned in the past 18 months. Most of those cases have been classified as arsons, and Brookshire said he and local law enforcement officers are continuing to work on those cases. “We’re probably fixing to make an arrest on that pretty quickly,” he said. “We have two suspects. One is a juvenile and the other an adult, but he’s not in town right now.”

New problems boost cost of pool repair project

The cost to repair damage caused by a sinkhole underneath the Pecos High School swimming pool will be more than double estimates made in April, Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD board members were told during their regular monthly meeting on Thursday.

The board received updates on construction projects at P-B-T campuses, and also welcomed a new board member to the group and approved hiring several new employees for the district at the meeting, held in the P-B-T Technology Center.

Monte Hunter, architect for Hunter Corral of Midland, was on hand to discuss the construction at the various campuses and the swimming pool, where a 13-foot deep hole was discovered under the foundation of the 25-year-old facility in March. Hunter told the group that the structural engineer evaluated fill under the pool deck slab and exterior walls.

“MidTex (Construction) provided a proposal to replace masonry and shore up the foundation,” said Hunter, who added that some interior blocks (CMUs) might need to be replaced in area of severe cracking.

“The contractor determined that existing face brick would need to be removed to ensure safety during foundation shoring,” said Hunter. “After removal of some face brick, the structural engineer evaluated the walls,” he said.

Hunter said that it was determined that some interior CMU would need to be removed. “In order to remove this CMU, the concrete beam at the top of the wall would need to be temporarily shored,” said Hunter. “The engineer provided a design for shoring this beam,” he said.

MidTex is currently developing a remediation plan. Work is expected to continue through the summer school recess period Hunter said that the additional work includes taking down a whole wall.

“It’s not reinforced,” he said.

Engineers had found a protrusion that would need to be removed. The area in question, near the front entrance to the pool, was found to be ornamental, and is not part of the building’s supporting structure.

“Nobody wants to work underneath that thing protruding,” said Hunter.

He said that because of security issues, the pool will not be open this summer or for the summer swimming program.

“We don’t feel it’s safe at this time and prefer that it not be open,” said Hunter.

“The coaches asked us to add a window, since we will be removing that protrusion, and that will bring in more natural light,” said Hunter. “The window will be high enough that hopefully it won’t get vandalized and nobody will be able to see in,” he said.

The polycarbonate material for the window does not need to be washed and doesn’t steam up, according to Hunter.

“The frames are aluminum and won’t rust,” said Hunter.

Hunter said that the estimate for the pool had gone up. “Their estimate is $184,000,” said Hunter. “There’s a lot of labor involved.”

Board members authorized spending up to $125,000 for pool repairs during meeting in late April, after receiving an initial quote of $86,900, from Mid-Tex of Midland and Frank Lam and Associates, Inc.

“You guys have been real patient, but we keep finding new things,” said Hunter.

He said that the pool would be ready for use in the middle of August. “It will be ready for the next school season,” said Hunter. “But we don’t want anybody in there at this time, until we’re sure it’s safe.”

At that time, the crew will still be working on little things inside the pool, but it will be ready for use by the students, according to Hunter.

“By the middle of August, it will be ready, we will just be working on small details, but MidTex guaranteed us that it would be ready,” he said.

In other projects, Mid-Texas has begun site work and renovations at Crockett Middle School.

“They are due to begin site work at Bessie Haynes next week,” said Hunter.

Hunter said that due to higher than expected costs, they will explore incorporating concessions/restrooms for the PHS tennis courts with improvements to the field house, and have put work on the Technology (CATE) Building on hold.

The high school roof is substantially completed and the roof at Austin Elementary School is underway.

The Austin schematic plan has been provided and is pending staff input; they have met with the kindergarten principal and are developing a schematic plan for that campus and the group is also developing a schematic for the field house with concessions/restrooms incorporated.

Board members approved searching for a registered nurse and healthcare services supervisor.

Bob McCall, interim assistant superintendent, told board members that they need an RN that will be in charge of the LVNs currently working at the different campuses.

“We also have a nurse that will be retiring after next year,” said superintendent Manny Espino. “We’d like to post this position and see if we can bring one onboard.”

McCall said that during the last two sessions, the legislature had added more responsibility to the school districts. “That’s why it’s important to have an RN, to supervise the LVN’s and eventually replace all the LVN’s with RN’s,” he said.

McCall said that every child who goes to school with medication needs to have an independent health plan.

“Will summer school be required to have one as well?” asked board member Bill Oglesby.

“No, if you have 1,000 students, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have one on hand,” said McCall.

Board members also agreed to hire a Dyslexia teacher for the coming school year.

“A dyslexia teacher has more specific duties than a regular teacher,” said McCall.

Along with those new hires the group also agreed to hire a DARE officer for the district.

“But that’s something we’ll have to discuss again, because I need to meet with Clay McKinney (police chief), to discuss where the individual will fall under, either the city or the school,” said Espino.

“When he gets back we’ll iron out those details, but we definitely want to hire one,” he said.

Public affairs program held by Study Club

Members of The Modern Study Club of Pecos and guests traveled to J.E. and Catherine Travland’s Davis Mountain resort cabin at Fort Davis on April 18 for a Public Affairs program, Pearl Gustafson, acting chairman. The program was presented by Ronnie Harris, Executive Director of Frontier CASA, Alpine.

After a buffet lunch was served by the Travlands, Mr. Harris passed out several brochures and gave a history and funding sources of CASA. Mr. Harris explained that CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) is a nonprofit organization that trains and supports volunteers to work with children removed from their homes because of abuse of neglect.

He stated that in 1977 a Seattle judge decided he was uneasy about making decisions in 10 minutes that would affect children for the rest of their lives. The judge launched a program to train and appoint community volunteers to research the cases of children who had been removed from their homes due to abuse and neglect. Today in the United States, there are 900 programs with close to 50,000 volunteers under the umbrella of CASA.

Frontier CASA was begun in 1999 as a satellite program of Texas and went independent in July 2001 and now provides services to children in Brewster, Jeff Davis, Presidio, Culberson, Hudspeth, Pecos and Reeves County. They received funding from Texas CASA, Victims of Crime Act.

Advocates must be 21 years of age, have a valid driver’s license, no criminal record and be committed to helping children. Advocates come from all walks of life and the majority CASA volunteers hold down full-time jobs.

Children receiving CASA services include ages 0-17 who have been removed from their homes by Child Protective Services because of severe physical, emotional, sexual abuse and/or neglect. The children are placed in foster care. Frontier CASA’s goal is to recruit and train enough advocates to serve all the children in our area who need one.

Mr. Harris passed out the “Story of the Blue Ribbon,” explaining the Blue Ribbon Child Abuse Prevention Campaign had its early beginnings following the death of a very young child. In spring 1989, a Virginia grandmother received the devastating news that her beloved grandson had died of injuries inflicted by his parents. In an expression of her grief and outrage, this grandmother tied a blue ribbon on the antenna of her van as a way to remember “the bruised and battered body of her grandson” and to alert others to the tragedy of child abuse.

In his closing remarks Mr. Harris stated stated that is “Child Abuse Awareness Month.”

The Collect was led by Lena Harpham and the Pledges of Allegiance to the United States of America and the Texas Flags were led by Catherine Travland.

Minutes of February 13 were read by secretary Catherine Travland and treasurer Betty Lee reported a balance of $3,512 in the checking account.

A thank you note was read from Catherine Travland, newly installed TFWC Western District President, thanking club members for all their help on the TFWC 48th Annual Western District Spring Convention held in Pecos on March 15.

A note from Nikki Matta was read thanking The Modern Study Club for inviting the Daisy’s, youngest group of Girl Scouts, to participate in the Flag Ceremony during opening session of the Western District Spring Convention.

Also a note from Sherry Phillips, retiring TFWC Western District President, was read thanking The Modern Study Club members for hosting the TFWC Western District Spring Convention in Pecos.

Treasurer Lee reported the fundraiser back sale was the largest ever with $724 made toward The Modern Study Club –Pecos High School Senior Scholarship and 20 other projects.

Scholarship Chairman, Margie Williamson, reported that Katherine Leigh Ramirez did not receive the Alma Van Sickle Scholarship. David B. Stumbertg, Sanderson, was the recipient. The application of Vanessa Valeriano for the $800 Eleanor Tipps Scholarship has been chosen in Western District and will be advancing for state competition.

Discussion was had on Joe Villalobos as Modern Study Club recipient of 2008 Senior Scholarship.

Members were reminded the next meeting would be End of Year Luncheon.

Roll call was to respond to the question, “What can we do to protect our children?”

Guests attending were Wes Harpham, J.E. Travland, Harlan and Edna Merle Stanton, Emma Brashear, Jack and Willie Hamilton of Pecos and Ronnie Harris and Mary Vongsavath of Alpine.

The bi-monthly project for this meeting is to support Odessa College Pecos Fund.

Salgado embraces career as UTPB professor

Pecos had a “face of LULAC” in the state convention held in Odessa last week.

Yolanda Salgado represented LULAC in the theme “Vision for Leaders.”

The 1982 graduate of Pecos High School has taught at the University of Texas Permian Basin for seven years, and has recently completed her doctoral dissertation in the area of curriculum and instruction in bilingual, early childhood and educational technologies.

Two publishers have already contacted Salgado about publishing her dissertation as a textbook. She plans to do further research in those areas, hoping to contribute nationally.

The recent death of her father, Eladio Salgado, and teaching summer school has slowed her down for the present, but she hopes to get back to the book and research in July.

“Hopefully, I will be able to present some of my work and studies at a national conference,” she said.

Her work is her leisure, because she enjoys reading and writing so much is “doesn’t feel like work,” but Salgado spends a lot of time in Pecos with family and friends.

“The community of Pecos was always my home, and I go there because that’s where I find comfort,” she said.

Her mother, Felicita Salgado, brothers Mario, Rene, Amador and Adan Salgado, and sisters Margie Salgado and Amie Rodriguez still live here. Maria lives in Dallas, but she comes to visit often too.

Salgado has been a single mother for nine years. One daughter is in college, and one is in 8th grade.

She knows the value of education, having worked in the fields.

“I want to show students and their families that there are possibilities, and education opens up those possibilities,” she said.

Quoting Jorge Ramos, Salgado said that we are students of life, and we shall never graduate.

“It is a continuous learning process in the field of education,” she said.

She is certified as a principal and has almost completed superintendent certification.

“That’s a step back,” she said. “I don’t really want to be a superintendent, but to understand the school system. “Teaching has just opened up my eyes,” she said.”

But teaching was not on Salgado’s agenda when she entered Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., where she earned a degree in criminal law.

“I worked there for awhile and was really turned on by education when my oldest daughter was born,” she said.

She had just started law school when she decided to come back to Texas and get her teaching certification. She taught school in Odessa and was looking for a principal’s job when UTPB offered her a position.

She was able to take online courses through New Mexico State University to earn her doctorate, while teaching at UTPB.

“I finished up in less than two years and worked on my book,” she said. “It seems like I have gone to school forever.”

Lujan earns degree at Texas Christian University

Betsy Ann Lujan of Pecos has successfully completed degree requirements at Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth.

Lujan received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Education and majored in Early Childhood Education with an ESL Endorsment.

Commencement exercises were held on May 10 at the Daniel Meyer Coliseum on the TCU Campus where more than 1,300 students were honored.

Lujan will be employed with the Grand Prairie ISD as a first grade teacher.

Lujan is a 2004 Pecos High School Graduate and is the daughter of Irene Lujan of Pecos and Tony Lujan of Odessa.

Maternal grandparents are Jose and Mary Lou Garcia of Barstow and paternal grandmother is Elva Lujan of Pecos.

Hidalgo honored with a baby shower

April Ryan Hidalgo was honored with a baby shower on Saturday, May 24.

The shower which was held at the Reeves County Sheriff’s Posse Barn began at 12 p.m. until 3 p.m.

Sandwiches, chips, dip and cake were served. Hostesses for the event were Ava Williams, who is also Mrs. Hidalgo’s grandmother, Charlene Banks, Desiree Sanchez, Diana Briones, Erika Adame, Erika Mendoza, Gloria Lundy, Imelda Gomez, Irma Gabaldon, Martha Ryan, Nina Gomez, Shazel Martinez and Vanessa Hidalgo.

Also in attendance was Irene Hidalgo, mother in law of the honoree and Wanda Ryan, mother of Mrs. Hidalgo.

Robert and April Hidalgo are expecting their first baby, a boy which will be named Robert Hidalgo, Jr., on July 13.

Livestock programs’ sign-ups due next month

Tanya Kiehne, Executive Director for USDA’s Farm Service Agency in Reeves/Loving County today announced that livestock producers have until July 18, 2008, to enroll in the 2005–2007 Livestock Compensation Program (LCP) and Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP). Signup began on Sept. 10, 2007, for the two programs that provide aid to livestock producers who suffered eligible livestock or livestock feed losses between Jan. 1, 2005, and Dec. 30, 2007, because of a natural disaster.

The LIP provides payments to eligible livestock owners and contract growers who incurred the death of livestock because of a natural disaster. The LCP provides payments to eligible livestock owners and cash lessees who suffered feed losses or increased feed costs because of a natural disaster.

More information about LCP and LIP is available online at: HYPERLINK For more information on FSA programs, visit your local USDA Service Center or the agency's Web site, HYPERLINK

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