GUILTY OF FIRST-DEGREE MURDER
A jury deliberated about six hours Wednesday to convict Arturo Navarrete-Portillo of first-degree murder in the machete slaying of his wife in Carbondale last year.
The sensational case, which emerged after Navarrete-Portillo slammed his SUV into the back of a cattle truck on Feb. 16, 2015, about three hours after the slaying, was Carbondale’s first homicide in more than a decade. After being taken to Valley View Hospital for treatment, he told members of the crew flying him to a Grand Junction hospital that he had killed his wife, setting off an hours-long search for her body.
Navarrete-Portillo’s public defenders admitted he killed Maria Carminda Portillo-Amaya, but argued for a second-degree murder conviction. They contended he was too drunk to have deliberated the slaying, a requirement for a first-degree conviction, and killed Portillo-Amaya in a mindless rage.
Prosecutors declined to seek the death penalty in the case, and Navarrete-Portillo was immediately sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, the only remaining punishment possible. The jury also convicted him of child abuse; his then-6-year-old son was in the room where the killing occurred.
In closing arguments Wednesday morning, Assistant District Attorney Anne Norrdin said the circumstances of the killing without question showed deliberation.
Public Defender Elise Myer told the jury: “I’m going to be very clear; we’re asking you to find him guilty,” but of the lesser charge of second-degree murder.
Myer and Public Defender Molly Owens have said that “intoxication and provocation overcame reason” when the defendant took a machete to his wife’s face early one February morning in 2015.
The public defenders have argued that Navarrete-Portillo was intoxicated past the point of being able to form the requisite mental state of premeditation. He and his wife had been drinking for the day and night leading up to the killing.
The defendant also testified Monday that his wife provoked him with “words that destroyed me.” He testified that Portillo-Amaya said that another man she’d been seeing was a better lover than her husband and that he was useless.
Navarrete-Portillo said he’d punched his wife in the face before the killing. He believed she made these statements about the other man because she was mad that he hit her.
The defense repeated several statements Navarrete-Portillo later made describing the attack as something outside of his control.
“When my head reacted, I had already done it,” he had said. “When it happened, I kind of lost my mind.”
They describe killing as a “lightning quick” attack, something he did without thinking.
This case has always been about second-degree murder, and the prosecution has tried to fit it in the box of first-degree murder, said Myer. “But it doesn’t.”
She argued that Navarrete-Portillo never intended to kill his wife, nor did he ever deliberate on killing her.
The prosecution used statements he made to investigators many hours after the killing to demonstrate that he had a culpable mental state, she said. But those conversations “are not a gauge of his intoxication at the time of death.”
When you’re intoxicated, it’s not about what behaviors you display physically; it’s about what’s happening inside your brain, what’s in your blood and what’s happening chemically, said Myer.
In a first-degree murder case, the jury can consider whether intoxication affected the defendant’s ability to form the “requisite mental state” – as in the ability to commit a homicide with intent and after deliberation.
“We don’t dispute that alcohol was involved,” said Norrdin. But the prosecution did dispute that it prevented the defendant from forming a culpable mental state.
The defendant is also arguing that Portillo-Amaya deserved a machete to the face in part because she provoked him and stirred his passions, said Norrdin.
Him punching her in the face and her responding that “you’re not a good lay” is not justification for a sudden heat of passion, said Barrett.
You can’t hit your wife and cause the provocation that you end up using as your defense for second-degree murder, he said.
In a case like this, usually only two people truly know what happened: the victim and the perpetrator, said Norrdin. When the victim is dead, the attacker knows he can weave whatever tale he wants, because no one can contradict his story, she said.
This trial began May 31, and the first four days were occupied with jury selection.
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