--2 Leyba Murder Trial Day 2: Prosecution Case Continues (Updated)
Sept. 23, 2017

Leyba Murder Trial Day 2: Prosecution Case Continues (Updated)

April 22, 2010, 12:00 am
By Corey Pein
For background on the case, read this SFR cover story, and this follow-up. For previous days' trial coverage, click here.


Today, the state's case against Marino Leyba, Jr—known to friends and family as "Reno"—continues with testimony from the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator. SFR will be checking in periodically.

Reno's father, mother and paternal grandmother have been sitting outside the courtroom all day, every day since jury selection began on Tuesday, April 20. Reno's defense attorney, Gary Mitchell, says they may be called to testify.

"We're hanging in there," Marino Leyba, Sr, told a spectator this morning.

(The photo here shows Reno listening as Assistant District Attorney Cynthia Hill shows the jury a love letter written by Sarah Lovato.)

Update 1pm April 22:

Police Put Murder Weapon Back In Leybas' Hands

One juror, a Santa Fe Police Department Sergeant, was excused after a photograph of the alleged murder weapon jogged his memory about responding to a previous domestic violence incident at the Leyba home. The excusal should not disrupt or delay the case, attorneys for both sides told SFR.

The alleged murder weapon, a silver 9mm Smith & Wesson semiautomatic pistol, was returned to Leyba by the SFPD after a May 2, 2008 incident requiring police response. SFR previously reported about that incident in its cover story on the case:

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.

Today Marino Leyba, Sr testified that he gave Reno the gun because, between the mortgage payment and household bills, he couldn't afford another one.

Of all the governmental failures leading up to Sarah Lovato's murder, this may be among the most egregious. Briefly, here is what happened:

Two years ago, SFPD officers responded to a call about shots fired at a home that the department was aware had a long history of domestic violence and abuse. Only a few months prior, Marino Leyba Sr had been arrested for beating and threatening to kill his wife, Loretta.

But that night, police took his word that the gun went off when he batted it away from Loretta, who had threatened to kill herself.

It may be that that is exactly what happened. But there is reason to doubt Leyba's story. Loretta had a history of recanting, likely because she was afraid of her husband, domestic violence experts say. In any event, the SFPD was not so cautious.

Police returned the gun to Marino Leyba, Sr, on June 18, 2008. He would go on to give it to his son, Reno, for work. The Regulation and Licensing Department, which was supposed to oversee private security companies, did nothing to stop what happened next. On May 22, 2009, Reno would allegedly use the same Smith & Wesson to shoot and kill his girlfriend and her father.

Lovato's Mother, Reno's Father Testify

This morning's testimony was much more interesting than attorneys for either side were willing to let on beforehand.

Marino Leyba, Sr, testified about Reno's work for USA Security, the family business; he also testified about the Leyba family's excitement at Sarah Lovato's pregnancy. He said he had talked with Reno about naming the baby Marino, as well.

Sarah spent a lot of time at the Leyba house with Reno. That much was confirmed by Sarah's mother, Linda Lovato, who will return to the stand after the court's lunch break. Linda testified this morning that she was with Sarah when she met Reno for the first time, in the parking lot of Ortiz Middle School. "When I found out [Sarah and younger sister Julie] were over there with boys, I went over there and picked them up," Linda said.

Sarah was 15 at the time, she said, contradicting an earlier prosecution assertion that she was 14. (Sarah's mother testified that she didn't learn Reno was 23, not 19, until she took Sarah to have her first sonogram, in March, 2009.)

At first, Linda Lovato said, she thought Reno "was a nice guy." In the months before the killing, however, he argued constantly with Sarah. Her mother could hear them screaming at each other over the phone.

Supporting that depiction, a Lovato family neighbor testified this morning that she'd once witnessed Reno dragging Sarah back into his car by her hair, during an argument she had tried to leave.

Cross-posted at the new sfreporter.com.


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