Sept. 23, 2017
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Everyone Knew

A family headed toward tragedy—while Santa Fe watched

July 8, 2009, 12:00 am

The record is quiet on the Leybas for the rest of 2006. But on Jan. 17, 2007, a nurse at St. Vincent Hospital called police when Marino left his wife at the emergency room.

Officer Judah Montano found Loretta in tears. Her left arm was in a purple cast.

According to the police report, that afternoon she’d been watching television and having “a few drinks,” she said, when Marino came home, enraged. He lifted her from the sofa by her neck.
“I’ll break your other arm,” he shouted. “I’ll kill you.”

Marino had at least nine inches and 60 pounds on his petite wife. He pushed her into the bedroom door, knocking her down. She looked up at him.

“You’re right,” she said. “I need help. Please take me to the hospital.”

Montano arrested Marino for misdemeanor battery of a household member. He spent four hours and 23 minutes in jail.

The next morning, he called police, complaining of “unwanted telephone calls from his wife.” Then he filed divorce papers. Judge Vigil ordered mediation for the couple.

Marino’s attorney was Yvonne Quintana of Española. Loretta’s only advocate was the state. And three months after saying Marino had beat her, Loretta requested prosecutors drop the case. She was drunk, she claimed, and had “misconstrued” her husband’s actions. Now sober, she realized “he did nothing inappropriate, threatening or abusive” and in fact was only “trying to help her.”

Such reversals are common, Esperanza’s Taylor says.

“If somebody attacked you on the street, you wouldn’t want to protect them. When it’s someone you’re sharing a home with, sharing your bank account with, sharing your children with—a lot of times the charges are dropped,” Taylor says.

Around this time, Reno began dating Sarah Lovato. She was 15, he was 20. Roses grew in the yard of Reno’s new trailer on Calle Norte, off Agua Fria Street, and he continued working for his father.

Sometime on June 20, 2007, Officer Bryan Hidalgo arrived at the Vista Allegre Apartments on Zepol Road, where a Mace-wielding security guard had chased a man into his home.

The guard was Reno’s father, Marino. When Hidalgo arrived, Marino had his Smith & Wesson 9-millimeter holstered.

“I knew Leyba had been arrested for a domestic-violence-related charge since I had served him with an emergency order of protection,” Hidalgo wrote. “Leyba…stated he did not know if the conditions of his bond allowed him to possess firearms. I instructed Leyba that due to the time of night, I had no way to verify those conditions.”

Nothing much came of the incident. Santa Fe County Magistrate Court Judge Sandy K Miera amended Marino’s bond conditions, from the assault on Loretta, so he could carry a gun “for job release uses.”

Miera would later look down from the bench on young Reno.

More red flags unfurled. In September 2007, Detective Martin got what was by then her fourth CYFD referral about Angel, then 16. The girl “disclosed being molested by her father,” according to Martin’s report. SFR has no way of determining the truth of this allegation, only that it was documented in a public record as were Angel’s other allegations. And as with those other allegations, police referred the case to some “other agency”—likely the district attorney or CYFD or both. Father Marino was never charged with molestation. However, a person familiar with the family says Angel would disclose abuse and later recant—much as Loretta withdrew her charges against Marino.

The Leybas spent 2008 spiraling toward destruction.

That May 2, Marino called 911. Loretta had tried to shoot herself, he claimed, but he intervened and she shot the wall instead. SFPD Officer Flavio Salazar’s report doesn’t say whether he simply took Marino’s word for what happened, but police did take the gun as evidence. They sent Loretta to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.

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Corey Pein

Esperanza Shelter for Battered Families Executive Director Sherry Taylor herself survived an abusive mother and ex.

Two things happened that fall.

Detective Martin got her last public report about Angel, who by then lived in a mental hospital outside Santa Fe: “A CYFD referral alleges a 17 year old has been physically and sexually abused by her father and two brothers over several years.” Again, SFR could not determine the veracity of the allegation or what “other agencies” did to follow up. CYFD Investigations Supervisor Gabrielle James did not respond to a message by press time.

The second event: Reno and Sarah Lovato conceived the child they would name Isaac. By all accounts the pregnancy made Sarah glad. She was 16, he was 22.

Sarah Lovato’s family also knew violence.

Her mother, Linda M Sanchez, known as Lindy, married Bennie Ray Lovato Sr., on May 3, 1982. She was 21, he was 23. Their first son, Bennie Jr., was born that September, so Lindy must have been pregnant already. Later came Jared, Nick, Sarah and Julie.

In 2001, police arrested 18-year-old Bennie Jr. for attacking a “household member” with a knife. He was also charged with blocking a call for help.

Bennie Jr.’s first Santa Fe County jail stint lasted 108 days, records show. Later years brought more arrests. He would show up at probation appointments with traces of cocaine in his urine or booze on his breath, telling officials “he cannot stop drinking.” One probation officer wrote, “Mr. Lovato becomes very violent while under the influence of alcohol.” Another wrote, “Bennie appears not to care about his future.”

Reno’s family, the Leybas, looked wealthy next to the Lovatos. Lindy found a job “caring for children” for CYFD in the late ’90s, according to later divorce papers, but was applying for disability benefits in 1999, when Sarah was 7. When Lindy filed for divorce in 2004, she said she was homeless but had physical custody of the children. Their father’s monthly income was $529 in disability benefits; mom got $387 through a federal needy-families program.

Court mediator Teddy Delfs decided the sisters would stay with Bennie Sr. at the Paseo Del Sol apartments. Across the street from Capital High School, that affordable housing project was a step up. Sarah lived there when she dated Reno; she would die there, too. By then, the Leybas’ course was set.

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