Aug. 1—Jury selection is set to begin Monday in the murder trial of an Ojo Caliente man accused of organizing and arming a group of friends police say opened fire on a moving vehicle in October 2018, killing 18-year-old Cameron Martinez and injuring three others.
Authorities believe the attack, on N.M. 68 north of Española, was a case of mistaken identity.
According to reports of the shooting, Mark Hice, 25, told police he and two friends had fired on the vehicle because they mistook its occupants for people who had threatened Hice's life.
"The victims are not believed to have been related to any prior involvement with the suspects and were targeted as a mistake," New Mexico State Police said in a news release following the incident.
Reports said Hice told police he'd had a falling out with an Española man. Lucas Martinez — no relation to Cameron Martinez — had threatened to kill him and mocked him on social media while posing with guns, Hice said.
On Oct. 4, 2018, the day of the shooting, Hice told police, he and his girlfriend were driving around Española when Lucas Martinez's friends began following them. Hice said he fired three "warning" shots toward the vehicle but didn't strike anyone.
Hice's mother told investigators her son became "paranoid" that afternoon and "believed every car was out to get him."
Hice told officers he had bought ammunition and met up with six friends that evening, according to reports. They drank liquor, he said, and he gave guns to two of the friends.
Hice and his six co-defendants — a few of them teenagers, none over 23 — then got into two vehicles and went for a drive.
They were headed north on N.M. 68 near the Ohkay Hotel Casino when, Hice later told police, a blue Subaru pulled up behind them, driving aggressively before it started to pass.
"I got scared and thought it was [Lucas Martinez or his friends] because I saw one of their windows down," Hice said. "... We wanted to defend ourselves."
Hice is accused of firing nine bullets into the vehicle. Prosecutors say one of them struck and killed Cameron Martinez, a popular graduate of Española High School who lived in Alcalde.
Hice was scheduled to stand trial for the murder in July 2020 in a courtroom in the tiny Rio Arriba County village of Tierra Amarilla. His trial would have been the first public jury trial in the state's First Judicial District after a pandemic-related pause.
But presiding state District Judge Maria Sanchez-Gagne declared a mistrial during jury selection after Hice's defense attorney, Sheri Raphaelson, informed court personnel she'd had contact with people infected with COVID-19 less than 14 days before the trial.
More than a year later, social-distancing requirements aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19 are still shaping the way Hice's trial will be conducted in the Tierra Amarilla courtroom.
Hearings for Hice — charged with more than a dozen felony counts, including first-degree murder — have drawn crowds of Cameron Martinez's loved ones, surviving victims, their supporters and members of the press.
But with pandemic protocols regarding social distancing requiring at least 6 feet of space between every person in the courtroom, public seating in the trial, set to begin Wednesday after two days of jury selection, will be limited.
Space also will be provided in an overflow area, where people can view a livestream of the proceedings.
A judge on Thursday granted a motion filed by Chief Deputy District Attorney Blake Nichols, requesting that victims have first priority on any seats in the courtroom. Nichols identified nine victims he argued had rights to attend the trial — including Cameron Martinez's parents, Urban and Valerie Martinez, who have been at nearly every hearing in the case.
However, Nichols added in his motion, Urban Martinez "tragically passed away July 16, 2021."
Attempts to reach the Martinez family for comment were unsuccessful.
It's unclear how the court intends to seat eight victims when only five seats will be available.
But Nichols said several of the victims are witnesses who are not allowed to observe other witnesses' testimony until after they have taken the stand. Some of the seats will not be occupied for the entire proceedings, he said.