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Friday, December 2, 2011

[NM] Remembering State Police Sgt.'s wife, Melanie McCracken


Melanie McCracken
Melanie's death was investigated by officers under her husband's command.

"My daughter, Melanie McCracken, 25, died on August 5, 1995. There has never been an official determination of what killed her, but the OMI [Office of the Medical Investigator] Chief's personal opinion is 'violent assault.' Melanie had been married for eighteen months to Mark McCracken, a New Mexico State Police sergeant. One of Mark's stories is that he found Melanie unresponsive and face down on their bed. He didn't call 911... Instead he put Melanie in the back of his 1991 Chevy... and ran the car into a tree...” 

[From news] ...According to deposition testimony, there were at least two prior 911 calls at the McCrackens' home -- but no reports were made... On both occasions, Melanie McCracken was in bed and her husband did all the talking... In one instance, she wore a turtleneck sweater that came up to her chin even though the house was very warm. During the second call, in which she wore a nightgown, paramedics noticed bruises on both sides of her shoulders. According to Hobbs, McCracken explained she was recovering from cancer. Hobbs said that typically with such injuries, rescue crews would have taken McCracken aside to see if there had been some altercation. Hobbs said that didn't occur with Mark McCracken. "We knew him and I guess mainly didn't expect anything like that to be going on in the house"...



In 2003, due to Melanie's mother pressing forward, Mark McCracken was indicted on charges of willful, premeditated and deliberate first-degree murder and evidence tampering. Melanie's body was exhumed, and a out-of-state medical examiner ruled out any cause of death other than homicide. In 2004 a preliminary hearing to determine if Mark McCracken should stand trial was held. As an expert for the defense, a forensic psychologist said that he concluded that Melanie died of an "accidental suicide" - that Melanie McCracken most likely suffered from two mental conditions - a factitious and somatization disorder. The charges against Mark McCracken were dismissed by a judge on a technicality – that the presence of an investigator for the prosecuting attorney had been prejudicial. Mark McCracken retired in good standing with the New Mexico State Police.




PAST NEWS

POLICE INVESTIGATE OFFICER'S ACCIDENT:
Albuquerque Journal
09 Aug 1995:
[Excerpts] Police are investigating a one-vehicle accident that resulted in State Police Sgt. Mark McCracken's receiving minor injuries while he was trying to transport his cancer-stricken wife to a hospital, Department of Public Safety spokesman Dan Hill said Tuesday. McCracken, who is assigned to Valencia County, was driving his wife, Melanie, to the hospital Saturday night when his vehicle went off the road on NM 47 a few miles south of the Isleta Gaming Palace, Hill said. Melanie McCracken was found dead in the back seat. However, Hill said, an initial determination by the Office of the Medical Investigator said she did not die as a result of the accident but was already dead...

A MOTHER LOOKING FOR ANSWERS
Albuquerque Journal
Colleen Heild
Sep 26, 1999. pg. A.1
[Excerpts] Albuquerque woman says State Police botched investigation of daughter's death... Four years after Melanie's death, her mother still is looking for answers. Nancy Grice contends in an unusual federal lawsuit that New Mexico State Police conducted a slipshod investigation of her daughter's death to protect one of their own [State Police Sgt. Mark McCracken]... Grice's lawsuit contends McCracken moved his wife's body from the scene of her death and deflected official investigative inquiries by falsely saying his wife had leukemia or could have committed suicide. State Police, the lawsuit alleges, accepted his explanations without question and actively took steps to protect him... [An article too good and comprehensive to cut down, so find the full article HERE]

QUESTIONS RENEWED IN DEATH OF OFFICER'S WIFE
Albuquerque Journal
Colleen Heild Journal Investigative Reporter
Mar 5, 2000.
[Excerpts] ...A nationally recognized forensic expert hired to review the unexplained 1995 death of a State Police officer's wife concluded she died of "homicidal suffocation." [FBI consultant] John Smialek, chief coroner for the state of Maryland, also criticized the autopsy performed on 24-year-old Melanie McCracken and faulted the State Police investigation into her death... Smialek was hired by Melanie McCracken's mother, Nancy Grice, for a civil-rights lawsuit she filed in 1998 against her former son-in- law and the State Police... Meanwhile, Albuquerque private investigator Mike Corwin, who was hired by Grice, has been in contact with the state Attorney General's Office about the possibility of that agency conducting an investigation... Nancy Grice, a nursing supervisor at Carrie Tingley Hospital in Albuquerque, began calling for an independent police investigation within days of her daughter's death... She filed suit in federal court in August 1998, claiming that McCracken negligently caused his wife's death by failing to seek immediate medical attention for her. She also alleged that State Police performed an inadequate investigation because the case involved a fellow State Police officer. After several months of depositions in the case, the parties agreed to settle in December for an undisclosed amount... McCracken's deposition was never taken. French said last fall there was no credible evidence to show Melanie McCracken was murdered...  A State Police patrolman interviewed McCracken at the hospital but didn't search his house. Nor was there a detailed search of the car, nor an accident reconstruction. After the crash, a field investigator for the OMI who had worked with McCracken did go to the home with two State Police friends of McCracken. The two friends said they weren't there to investigate. The OMI investigator said he found nothing unusual when he looked around the mobile home, but photos he took there are missing... "No comprehensive scene examination, or photographing and collection of evidence was carried out at the most critical time. This was despite the fact that knowledgeable members of the New Mexico State Police who, while friends of Mr. McCracken, knew how death investigations should be conducted"...

JUDGE'S SUIT CLAIMS HARASSMENT: MAGISTRATE CRITICIZED MCCRACKEN INQUIRY
Albuquerque Journal (NM)
Scott Sandlin
December 30, 2003
[Excerpts] Valencia County Magistrate John "Buddy" Sanchez claims he and his family were harassed by State Police, including Lt. Mark McCracken, after Sanchez criticized the department's investigation into the death of McCracken's wife. In a federal civil rights lawsuit, Sanchez, 37, says both he and his family were followed and he became the unfair target of other investigations. Sanchez says the harassment occurred after he attempted to persuade authorities to investigate McCracken in his wife's mysterious 1995 death. He also claims personal injury. As a former State Police officer himself, Sanchez was familiar with the players, the lawsuit says...

STATE SPENT THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS TO DEFEND FORMER PATROLMAN IN WIFES DEATH: Jury Wants Probe Into Original Investigation 
Location: Valencia County
Source: KRQE News 13
Wednesday, January 14, 2004
[Excerpts] The grand jury that indicted former State police Lieutenant Mark McCracken for murdering his wife is also calling for a separate probe of how State police officers handled the original investigation eight years ago. State police shielded McCracken from reporters Monday, hustling him to the Valencia County courthouse in an unmarked car for his formal surrender. There McCracken pleaded not guilty to charges of first degree murder and evidence tampering and was released on bond... A State police investigation cleared McCracken of any wrongdoing although there were serious questions about his story, including why he didn t drive his powerful police cruiser and why he drove past a emergency medical dispatch center. An independent medical investigator examined Melanie McCracken s body after it was exhumed last December and says he believes she was murdered...

KIN SEEK GRAND JURY PROBE OF AGENCIES 
By Joline Gutierrez Krueger
Tribune Reporter
4/1/04
[Excerpts] Grand jury indictments in the deaths of Melanie McCracken in 1995 and Stephanie Houston in 2000 didn't come easy, but they eventually did come. The women's families say shoddy investigations by law enforcement and other agencies made the system resist, and they want the system itself and its minions to come under grand jury scrutiny. Today, Bill Houston, the father of Stephanie Houston, and Nancy Grice, the mother of Melanie McCracken, were expected to file a petition seeking the convening of a grand jury to investigate allegations that government employees and others paid by the public improperly investigated both cases... Both families also point to the involvement of the State Police in both cases as part of the reason for the botched investigations. That's largely because of the involvement of retired State Police Lt. Mark McCracken, now charged with his wife's death and the lead investigator in the Stephanie Houston case... Special prosecutor Randall Harris, who handled the McCracken indictment, said the jury strongly believed that the State Police should have never investigated one of its own for murder... "We've been fighting the justice system for years and it's been like chopping down a giant tree with a little ax," Houston said. "You keep chopping and chopping, and sooner or later it will fall down"...

EX-COP'S MURDER CASE DISMISSED ON TECHNICALITY
KOB-TV
May 7, 2004
[Excerpts] ...Melanie McCracken’s mother has said she believes her daughter was murdered before being placed in the vehicle and the crash was used to cover up the real cause of her death...

MURDER CHARGES THROWN OUT AGAINST FORMER COP
Location: Los Lunasm N.M.
Source: KRQE News 13
5/7/2004
[Excerpts] A stunning announcement was made today in the case of a former New Mexico State Police officer accused of killing his wife. The charges against Mark McCracken were dismissed by a judge on a technicality... McCracken has been accused by his former wife’s family and prosecutors of killing Melanie McCracken on August Fifth, 1995. The death, investigated by McCracken’s own men, had been originally ruled an accident, but a later, more detailed investigation indicated her death was a homicide. After the announcement, McCracken and new his wife were greeted by applause from supporters as they left the Valencia County Courthouse. The defense said the prosecutor broke court rules by having one of his investigators [Allan Farkas] inside the grand jury proceedings... Twenty-five-year-old Melanie McCracken was found dead in the back seat of the family car, which had overturned on New Mexico 47 on August Fifth, 1995. Mark McCracken has said he was rushing his wife to the hospital after finding her unconscious at their Bosque Farms home. He has said the accident occurred when he looked back to check on her and the car swerved, rolling over.   McCracken had already passed an emergency medical facility when the vehicle crashed. It was men under McCracken's command who first responded to the crash and investigated the incident, including visiting the McCracken home. Her body was exhumed last December, and a Michigan medical examiner ruled out any cause of death other than homicide. McCracken, retired in good standing as a lieutenant in the state police just weeks before being indicted. He has always insisted that he did not kill his wife.

MCCRACKEN CASE DISMISSED: Prosecutor will set grand jury or preliminary hearing again
Valencia News Bulletin
Clara Garcia
Saturday, May 8, 2004
[Excerpts] ...Peter Shoenburg, [Mark] McCracken's attorney, filed a motion in court requesting that the indictment be quashed because a man who investigated the case was present in the grand jury room in October. Schoenburg said that Allan Farkas, an investigator for the 9th Judicial District Attorney's office in Clovis and who had helped investigate the McCracken case, was not authorized to be inside the grand jury room during the taking of testimony. According to state law, the only persons allowed in the grand jury room are the "district attorney and the attorney general and their staff, interpreters, court reporters, security officers, the witness and the attorney for the target"... Nancy Grice, Melanie McCracken's mother, said after the hearing that she was disappointed in the turn of events but is still hopeful... In 1998, Grice filed a federal lawsuit against her former son-in-law and state police, alleging the agency did a sloppy investigation to protect a fellow officer. The case was settled out of court a year later. [Special prosecutor, Randall] Harris has credited the efforts of Grice, who, he said, pushed for an independent investigation of her daughter's death soon after state police took jurisdiction of the case... After walking out of the courtroom to a cheering crowd of his family and friends, Mark McCracken said he was thankful for all the support he has received since his indictment. "I've had a lot of people that support me a lot, and I appreciate it"...

JULY 6, 2004 LETTER DIRECTED TO US SENATOR JEFF BINGAMAN 
regarding the McCracken case, from the New Mexico Victim's Rights Project, prepared by Mike Corwin HERE.

LAWYER FILES TO RE-TRY COP SUSPECTED OF KILLING WIFE
The Albuquerque Tribune
By Joline Gutierrez Krueger
July 31, 2004
[Excerpts] Legal papers have been filed that signal a special prosecutor's second attempt to try former State Police Lt. Mark McCracken on murder charges in the 1995 death of his wife. "It was no secret," special prosecutor Randall Harris said. "He knew it was coming"... "People might have thought this case just went to sleep," [special prosecutor, Randall]Harris said in a telephone interview. "Well, it didn't. We've continued to investigate. We've continue to meet with the attorneys. We've still been working this case. They know it wasn't going to go away"... McCracken, who now lives in Albuquerque and is married, will remain free on the same bond as in the first case...

MAGISTRATE'S CIVIL RIGHTS SUIT AGAINST MCCRACKEN DISMISSED
Albuquerque Journal
August 28, 2004
[Excerpts] A federal civil rights lawsuit filed by a Valencia County magistrate against former State Police officer Mark McCracken and other officers has been dismissed...  [Magistrate Buddy] Sanchez alleged in the lawsuit that he had been targeted by various entities after he tried to get authorities to look at McCracken after the 1995 death of McCracken's wife, Melanie... Justin Pennington, Sanchez's lawyer, said in December that the alleged harassment stemming from his attempt to have McCracken investigated ranged from being followed in the grocery store to complaints being filed against Sanchez with the Judicial Standards Commission...

MURDER HEARING CONTINUES TODAY FOR EX-COP
KRQE News 13
11/30/2004
[Excerpts] Is Melanie McCracken's death a nine-year-old medical mystery or an unsolved killing? That's the question before retired state District Judge David Bonem of Portales in an evidentiary hearing that started in Albuquerque yesterday. If Bonem finds probable cause, retired state police officer Mark McCracken could face trial for first-degree murder in the August 1995 death of his 24-year-old wife, Melanie. On Monday, prosecutors wanted to know why New Mexico State Police did not investigate more aggressively when one of its own officers was involved in a mysterious death. McCracken s own subordinates investigated the crash and prosecutors say the officers did not collect vital evidence at the scene or at the McCracken home. Mark McCracken's attorney, Peter Schoenburg, says Melanie McCracken suffered from mental illness and died after taking too many prescription drugs. Former District Attorney Randall Harris of Clovis is special prosecutor for the case. He says Melanie McCracken died of oxygen deprivation and that the only reasonable explanation is that her husband did it...

PROSECUTION CONTENDS TROOPER FEINED UNCONSCIOSNESS AS DEAD WIFE DISCOVERED
KOBTV
By: Reed Upton
11/30/2004
[Excerpts] A defense attorney went on the offense but the prosecution countered during opening arguments in a preliminary hearing for a retired State Police officer producing a witness contending the officer was not unconscious at the time his dead wife was discovered... Monday, during McCracken s preliminary hearing, held in Albuquerque on a change of venue, a witness said that McCracken appeared to raise his head for two seconds upon being transported, while presumably unconscious, from the accident scene. "No sooner then I saw that, I saw another person - I'm sure it was a State Policeman - get the top of his head and push it back down," said paramedic Weldon Heath Wright in Monday s testimony. Heath also said McCracken appeared to brace himself against a potential fall as he was being transported on a backboard to an emergency helicopter. "There was a reaction of the arm to come out as and then come back in, which I remember very distinctly," said Heath Wright. In his opening argument, Peter Schoenburg, the attorney representing McCracken, portrayed Melanie McCracken as a liar and a drug user, calling her a walking pharmacy.  He also said her cause of death is at doubt.

MCCRACKEN IN COURT: THE FORMER STATE POLICE LIEUTENANT IS SEEING ANOTHER HEARING ON WHETHER TO BE INDICTED IN THE 1995 DEATH OF HIS WIFE.
Albuquerque Tribune
Joline Gutierrez Krueger
November 30, 2004
[Excerpts] Melanie McCracken had the bluest skin one seasoned paramedic had ever seen, a possible indication that she had died some time before the crash where her body was found, sprawled outside her husband's car. "One distinct thing I remember was that she was blue, she was very blue," Heath Wright testified Monday during the first day of a preliminary hearing that will decide whether her husband, retired State Police Lt. Mark McCracken, will stand trial for the Aug. 5, 1995, death of the 24-year-old Bosque Farms woman and McCracken's wife of just 18 months. Prosecutors contend that Melanie McCracken died at the hands of her husband, who suffocated her then staged the crash and influenced a shoddy investigation done by his fellow State Police officers - some of whom he supervised... McCracken's attorneys contend that it was not unusual for State Police to lead investigations of car crashes and other incidents in that jurisdiction because of their superior experience. On Monday, they also said that the emotionally fragile Melanie McCracken died by her own hand on an overdose of a prescription medicine. McCracken, they said, found his wife face-down in bed and was rushing her from their Bosque Farms home to an Albuquerque hospital when he turned around to check on her and lost control of his white Chevy Lumina, slamming into an elm tree and a fence post and rolling the car down a grassy slope on Isleta Pueblo land... Defense attorney Peter Schoenburg also attempted to discredit [ medical technician Don] Hobbs' contention that he had been sent to the McCracken home twice before on 911 calls and had seen bruising on Melanie McCracken's neck and shoulders. No written reports could be found for either call...

COURT HEARS TAPED ACCOUNT
Albuquerque Tribune
By Joline Gutierrez Krueger
December 1, 2004
[Excerpts] Sometime before her death, retired State Police Lt. Mark McCracken said, his ailing wife believed something was going to happen that would require her to be rushed to a hospital. She didn't want to go by ambulance, he said. "She wanted me to drive her," he said... On Tuesday, one of the key witnesses was Mark McCracken himself, his voice heard in an interview taped Oct. 6, 1995, as part of a State Police investigation into his wife's death. The tape details McCracken's life with a woman whose health [HE says] had hung by a thread for much of their 18-month marriage. McCracken said his wife had undergone several surgeries, suffered from endometriosis and depression, experienced seizures and had to take numerous prescribed medications for her ailments.... McCracken said although he and his wife argued like most married couples, usually over his busy work schedule, there had been no violence save for a time when Melanie McCracken threw a TV remote control at a wall. Other witnesses, including two State Police officers who had also been friends with McCracken, said they had never seen any indication of domestic violence. Prosecutors allege that crucial evidence was lost because the case was not treated by State Police as a homicide - they say Mark McCracken suffocated his wife, who he had abused for months. McCracken's attorneys contend that his wife died of an overdose from promethazine, an antinausea medication, and that he was following her wishes in driving her to the hospital when he lost control of their car and crashed. On the tape, McCracken said he worked on the day his wife died and came home to find her weepy, ill and in bed watching the Home Shopping Network. He washed the car and worked out in another room. He came into the bedroom and found her face-down in the bed, he states on the tape...McCracken said he tried to resuscitate her, and when that failed he carried her to his car to take her to the hospital...

RETIRED TROOPER CHANGES STORY ON STAND AT MCCRACKEN HEARING
KOBTV.com
By: Reed Upton
12/01/2004
[Excerpts] A former State Police officer now says he was never at a car wreck scene where a man facing murder charges was discovered with his wife's body. James Keryte, in a 1999 deposition, said that he spoke with officer Mark McCracken the evening of the crash and that McCracken was alert and tearful... Tuesday, Keryte testified that he never spoke with McCracken the night of the accident.  When asked by a prosecutor whether he had a conversation with McCracken at the time, Keryte said, No.  No I did not, and in later testimony denied ever being at the scene.  Also testifying Tuesday was medical investigator Luis Brown who said he discovered no signs of trauma on Melanie consistent with an auto accident. Brown said his investigation led him to the McCracken home where he took several photographs of the couple bedroom. He said his pictures disappeared after he turned them in at work.

MCCRACKEN CASE 'UNUSUAL': PATHOLOGIST SAYS ASPHYXIATION A POSSIBLE CAUSE OF DEATH
Albuquerque Tribune
By Joline Gutierrez Krueger
December 2, 2004
[Excerpts] Ross Zumwalt has seen plenty of death in a lifetime. But even to the longtime forensic pathologist, the death of Melanie McCracken more than nine years ago remains one of the most perplexing... Earlier Wednesday, the 18-year-old brother of Melanie McCracken testified that he saw Mark McCracken pin her down on a couch and slap her, apparently angry that she had gone to a grocery store to buy sodas and attempted to conceal her trip by taking the phone off the hook before she left...

DEFENSE WITNESS CALLS DEATH OF COP'S WIFE ACCIDENTAL
El Defensor Chieftain!
Clara Garcia
Dec 4, 2004
[Excerpts] A preliminary hearing to determine if Mark McCracken should stand trial was held. As an expert for the defense, Forensic psychologist Elliot Rapaport said that after conducting a psychological autopsy, he concluded that Melanie McCracken died of an "accidental suicide."  Rapaport said that Melanie McCracken most likely suffered from two mental conditions — a factitious and somatization disorder. He said that people who suffer from a factitious disorder will feign, exaggerate or actually self-induce illnesses and those suffering from a somatization disorder, Rapaport said, will completely exaggerate their supposed disease and will submit themselves to unnecessary and intrusive procedures. He said he didn't interview Melanie McCracken's immediate family. Mark McCracken's own account of what happened the night of his wife's death was finally made public - his voice heard in an taped interview during an investigation by State Police into his wife's death... McCracken told the investigators that his wife had told him in the past that if anything ever happened to her, she didn't want to be taken to the hospital by an ambulance. He said Melanie told him that she wanted him to take her.

HEARING LUMBERS TOWARD END
The Albuquerque Tribune
By Joline Gutierrez Krueger
December 8, 2004
[Excerpts] The bitterly fought preliminary hearing to determine whether retired State Police Lt. Mark McCracken will stand trial for his wife's death in 1995 showed no signs of cooling down as it headed to its conclusion today. Attorneys for both sides were expected to battle this morning over what a domestic violence expert can testify to - if her testimony is accepted at all. Special Prosecutor Randall Harris is seeking to introduce the testimony of Anne O'Dell to advance the theory McCracken's police training taught him how to hide a trail of domestic violence that ultimately ended in Melanie McCracken's death by asphyxiation on Aug. 5, 1995. O'Dell, a former San Diego police officer, calls such perpetrators "sophisticated batterers." But the court on Tuesday heard only snatches from her because Harris and defense attorney Cammie Nichols spent most of the afternoon in heated debate with retired state District Judge David Bonem over O'Dell's credibility. Nichols argued O'Dell would merely introduce "triple quadruple hearsay," calling her testimony a backdoor to let in the rumor and innuendo that has swirled around the case. Defense attorneys say Melanie McCracken, 24, was no victim of domestic violence but of herself. They say she often feigned illness to get attention, telling many people she was dying of leukemia. To keep herself seeming sick, she went to great lengths, including taking promethazine, an anti-inflammatory prescription drug used to reduce nausea. But her charade backfired when she overdosed on the drug, killing her and setting off a mystery that has endured for more than nine years because of the lack of irrefutable evidence. Bonem on Tuesday said he would allow the introduction of O'Dell's testimony and two of her articles, including one specifically on officer-involved domestic violence, but would determine later whether they would remain in evidence... Dr. Ljubisa Dragovic, a forensic pathologist from Michigan, testified that the only logical explanation for Melanie McCracken's death was asphyxiation, and no evidence existed to support defense claims of a drug overdose. Dragovic, who was present at the second autopsy on Dec. 11, 2002, after Melanie McCracken's body was exhumed, said there were ways to kill someone by asphyxiation that would leave no anatomical trace. Dr. Nancy Kerr, an Albuquerque obstetrician and gynecologist, testified that leukemia had never been discussed or diagnosed in the six years she treated Melanie McCracken... Kerr said she last saw McCracken during an appointment Feb. 16, 1995, and remembered the woman's last mysterious words afterward. " 'It was good to see you. It makes me feel like everything is OK,' " Kerr recalled McCracken saying. "That left me with a lingering concern," Kerr said. "I didn't know what she meant." Six months later, Melanie McCracken was dead.

PATHOLOGIST: TROOPER'S WIFE WAS SUFFOCATED: Former State Police Lieutenant May Be Tried For Murder
December 8, 2004
[Excerpts] A forensic pathologist said he believes the 25-year-old wife of a retired state police officer was suffocated. The chief medical examiner for Oakland County, Mich., Ljubisa Dragovic, testified Tuesday in state district court in Albuquerque during a preliminary hearing for Mark McCracken...McCracken's current wife of six years, Leann McCracken, has said that the cloud of suspicion hanging over her husband's head all these years has been pure hell for the family. "At least now Mark's side of the story can come out, not half-truths," she said. "Because Mark is innocent. Mark did not do this. "We've had to listen to lies - I've had to try and console my kids because people are not kind, and they tend to believe the first thing they hear. I've had to answer questions why their dad is plastered all over TV, being accused of such awful things"...

NO MCCRACKEN TRIAL
The Albuquerque Tribune
Joline Gutierrez Krueger
December 30, 2004
[Excerpts] Evidence does not support murder charge, judge rules The nearly decade-long nightmare for former State Police Lt. Mark McCracken is over today after a judge ruled he will not stand trial for his young wife's mysterious death. But the nightmare the dead woman's mother, Nancy Grice, has lived since the day Melanie McCracken died in 1995 continues. "She's crushed," Mike Corwin, a private investigator close to the case, said today of Grice after learning retired state District Judge David Bonem will not bind over Mark McCracken for trial... In his ruling, Bonem did question why the State Police and not an independent law enforcement agency investigated Melanie McCracken's death...

EDITORIAL: MCCRACKEN CASE MUST LEAD US TO MAKE CHANGES
Albuquerque Tribune
January 8, 2005
[Excerpts] The end - in dismissal of all charges - of the almost-decade-old murder case against former State Police Lt. Mark McCracken likely means the public never will know for certain what happened to his wife, Melanie McCracken... Melanie McCracken, her family, Mark McCracken and all other New Mexicans deserve better than a lingering cloud of speculation. The evidence in this case and in the court ruling ending it suggests it is time to reform New Mexico State Police regulations to ensure its officers are not - and are never thought to be - above public accountability. At the minimum, Gov. Bill Richardson and the Legislature should consider establishing mandatory independent investigative procedures that require outside and credible investigation when state officers are potential suspects. At best, state officials should consider establishing a completely independent state bureau of investigation, such as those created in several other states. That not only would allow an arms-length investigation of cases in which State Police officers might be under suspicion, but it also could provide highly dedicated, professional investigative capabilities for the State Police, the state's counties and its many small cities and communities - including internal affairs investigations in any of New Mexico's many local police agencies.... [State District Judge David Bonem] rightly observed, "I believe it is clear to all that the failure to involve an independent agency early on to conduct the investigation was not provident. Hopefully, the lesson has been learned." New Mexicans should not assume it has. They should press the Legislature and Richardson to implement reforms to assure New Mexicans that justice will prevail in cases with such questionable circumstances...

DECISION UPHELD IN MCCRACKEN, HOUSTON CASES 
Source: AP
9/16/2005
[Excerpts] The state Supreme Court has upheld a lower court's dismissal of a petition for a grand jury to look into the alleged mishandling of death investigations in Valencia County. The high court said today that a state district judge was right to reject the petition because it did not contain enough information. The grand jury had been sought by family members of Melanie McCracken and Stephanie Houston.

FAMILY DISAPPOINTED WITH HIGH COURT'S REJECTION 
KVIA
Sep 16, 2005
[Excerpts] Two families who wanted a grand jury to investigate alleged mishandling of death investigations in Valencia County say they're disappointed with the state Supreme Court's decision to reject their petition. The high court yesterday upheld a lower court's dismissal of the families' petition... Today, the families said they would craft a new petition specific to individuals and allegations of criminal conduct and malfeasance. The families say they will also seek a federal investigation into the actions of current and former state employees who they believe conspired to obstruct justice in their daughters' cases.
[police officer involved domestic violence oidv intimate partner violence ipv abuse law enforcement public safety lethal fatality fatalities alleged suicide said suicide murder new mexico state politics unsolved unresolved]

10 comments:

  1. I lived across the street from Mark Mccracken since I was a little girl. I always knew him to be a stern but kind man. However, I think with the evidence presented that he did in fact kill Melanie. The other thing that is never mentioned anywhere here is that he got rid of the trailer that the crime was commited in almost right after this happened. It happened within three months of the murder. Isn't that strange? Also the woman that he married afterwards began visting him within two months of Melanies death. I don't know why none of us neighbors were ever questioned. I was just a teenager then but I watched everything.

    ReplyDelete
  2. AnonymousMay 02, 2012

    July 6, 2004 letter directed to US Senator Jeff Bingaman regarding the McCracken case, from the New Mexico Victim's Rights Project, prepared by Mike Corwin.
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1JQxy5X7KM0A53HviFksyFiCOdrDVg5qL4kDTKBCXJnI/edit?pli=1

    MEMORANDUM

    TO: Linda Atkinson
    Melissa Stevenson

    FROM: Mike Corwin
    DATE: July 6, 2004
    RE: Info for Senator Bingaman

    Melanie McCracken: Melanie McCracken was found dead on August 5, 1995 following a single car rollover accident when a car driven by her state police sergeant husband Mark McCracken suddenly veered from the left lane, left the roadway, glanced off a small tree and rolled over. The accident occurred within the Isleta Indian Reservation just south of Albuquerque and the Bernalillo County line. Moments before the accident, Mark McCracken had driven at a high rate of speed passing a Bernalillo County Sheriff's Officer who then witnessed the accident.

    A second witness heard the crash and immediately called 911. It was 8:33 PM just after sunset. Within moments, a nurse arrived at the scene and started CPR on Melanie. Mark McCracken was uninjured and breathing on his own.

    However, within a few hours of the accident, the Office of the Medical Investigator "OMI" determined that Melanie McCracken was actually dead prior to the accident. This determination was based on the lack of blunt force trauma to Melanie's body that is typically associated with this type of accident. Luis Brown a field investigator and acquaintance of Mark McCracken's determined that Melanie McCracken died in the bedroom of the McCracken's home in Bosque Farms, New Mexico and had been removed from the residence by Mark McCracken.

    In a statement to Luis Brown, Mark McCracken stated that he found Melanie "blue pulseless and not breathing" in their bed at 7:45 PM. Approximately forty-five minutes prior to the auto accident. He did not call 911 when he found her and did not place her into his patrol vehicle equipped with an emergency radio, siren or lights. The accident location was approximately a five-minute drive from the McCracken residence.

    Two New Mexico State Police Officers, Art Ortiz and James Keryte, both of whom were close personal friends of Mark McCracken, and who worked directly under his supervision, accompanied Luis Brown to the McCracken residence. Ortiz and Keryte were with Brown when he notified his superior at OMI that the residence was the place of death. However, neither Ortiz nor Keryte requested a criminalistics team, or notified local law enforcement, as is the policy for unattended deaths. As a result of Ortiz and Keryte failing to follow standard procedures, no physical evidence was preserved from the crime scene.

    Melanie died within a very narrow window of time, for Mark McCracken out of town for the entire week prior to Melanie's death, and Melanie was due at her grand mothers in T or C the next morning. Melanie had made a decision to leave Mark McCracken.

    The Office of the Medical Investigator noted injuries to Melanie that were consistent with a struggle and also bruises in various states of healing. OMI suspected that Melanie died from asphyxia, possibly from being smothered by a pillow, but could not rule conclusively due to the auto accident possibly altering the injuries detected.

    Yet, for fifty-one days, no police investigation took place.

    Art Ortiz attended a meeting at the Office of the Medical Investigator, and identified himself as an investigating officer who worked for Mark McCracken. He attended this meeting prior to the New Mexico State Police formally opening an "inquiry" into Melanie's death. Several years later, while under oath in a deposition in a civil lawsuit, Ortiz, denied he that he was ever an investigating officer on the case...

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  3. AnonymousMay 02, 2012

    ...Despite concerns about a conflict of interest expressed by Melanie's parents, the NMSP refused to turn the case over to an outside agency. Melanie's mother requested help from the state attorney general's office, the FBI and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Melanie was part Cherokee Indian. The state AG's Office expressed a willingness to investigate the case but later wrote to Melanie's parents that the state police told the AG that the investigation had already been assigned to an outside agency. The FBI declined citing that the death did not occur on the reservation. (The FBI failed to treat the auto accident as an intentional effort to conceal Melanie's death i.e. evidence tampering, which amounted to a felony occurring on the reservation involving a person of Indian descent).

    However, there was no outside investigation. A district attorney investigator from Santa Fe was brought in to assist a state police investigator. However, in his own report, the DA investigator referred to the investigation conducted as being the state police's. His role was only to serve as a witness to interviews conducted by the state police.

    Dr. Ross Zumwalt, the head of the Office of the Medical Investigator, requested that the case be reassigned to an outside agency. However, Darren White, the DPS secretary at the time refused to pull the case from the state police. Dr. Zumwalt told White that there was a conflict of interest and that the state police were doing an inadequate job of investigating. In particular he cited the state police's refusal to look into any history of domestic violence.

    The state police refused to interview Melanie's younger brother Ryan, who had in fact witnessed multiple incidents of domestic violence.

    To close out the investigation, the state police sent Mark McCracken to James Wilson, a polygrapher retired from the state police. Mark McCracken nearly failed his polygraph, scoring –4 when –6 was considered deceitful and +6 truthful. However, in violation of national polygraph standards, Wilson immediately administered a second test in which no direct questions were asked concerning Melanie's death. Instead Wilson dictated two statements to Mark McCracken, who then wrote the statements down. McCracken was only asked if what he wrote down was true. This action appears to be an intentional effort undertaken specifically to get McCracken to pass the test. Dictating sentences and asking about those sentences is never a permissible polygraph technique when questioning a possible murder suspect. McCracken then passed this slanted polygraph...

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  4. AnonymousMay 02, 2012

    ...The state police stated that since he passed a polygraph, Mark McCracken was "cleared of any wrong doing in Melanie's death" and dropped any further investigation. Throughout the course of the state police's inquiry, Melanie was described as a Psycho, and it was learned that Art Ortiz had disparagingly nicknamed Melanie "FA" short for fatal attraction.

    In 1998, Nancy Grice, Melanie's mother, undertook a pro se civil lawsuit in Federal Court against Mark McCracken and several individuals from the New Mexico State Police. During the lawsuit, the lawyers for DPS and State Risk Management refused to produce documents and a witness that had been subpoenaed. On the record, DPS cited the refusal to produce this information as being based upon the fact that the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution of McCracken had not told. (First degree murder has no statute of limitations; however, second degree murder may have a six-year statute of limitation). Thus it appears that the state's lawyers had made an assessment of Mark McCracken's exposure to criminal charges and intentionally chose to prevent the release of information that could be used against him in a criminal case. Of course, since the state police refused to relinquish the case, and refused to release information that might be useful in another investigation, the NMSP effectively shut down the possibility of getting another agency to investigate.

    During the civil suit, Dr. John Smialek, the chief coroner for the state of Maryland, who had been hired as an expert on cause and manner of death, ruled that Melanie died from "homicidal suffocation". Smialek was so highly regarded that he co-authored the US Dept. of Justice's field guide on death investigations.

    In addition, a paramedic testified in a deposition to attending multiple calls to the McCracken residence on what appeared to be domestic violence calls. Former state police officer and then Valencia County Sheriff Juan Julian, in violation of state law destroyed the records of those calls.

    The state of New Mexico decided to settle Nancy Grice's lawsuit for $ 70,000. However, in violation of public policy, as a condition of settlement, the state required that Nancy Grice be permanently barred from speaking to anyone including law enforcement about the events leading up to Melanie's death unless she was under a court order to do so. The state attorneys told Nancy's attorney that the confidentiality agreement was designed to allow Mark McCracken to move on with his life and career. Nancy would be unable to pursue any criminal investigation into her daughter's death. It appears that the State of New Mexico tried to use a civil lawsuit settlement to try to protect Mark McCracken from prosecution.

    The state police did not re-open their own investigation despite the new information developed during the lawsuit. Instead, Frank Taylor, the chief of NMSP, promoted Mark McCracken to lieutenant approximately three months after the case settled...

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  5. AnonymousMay 02, 2012

    ...In January 2000, I met with investigators from the New Mexico Attorney General's Office and formally asked them to open an investigation into Melanie's death and to investigate whether any state actors involved with the case had sought to cover up her death. However, I was told by the AG's Office that they would not investigate officers they worked with. No effort was made by the AG's Office to request a special prosecutor or to forward the information on to another agency that could investigate such officers.

    In the Summer of 2000, Dateline NBC decided to do a story on Melanie's death and whether public employees covered up her manner of death. One day after being contacted by Dateline, Robert Meireles, the manager of the local ambulance company who allegedly possessed copies of records regarding domestic violence calls to the McCracken home turned up dead of an apparent suicide. Just prior to his death he told his brother and his ex-wife that he intended to turn those documents over to Dateline.

    In November 2000, I wrote a letter to Federal Magistrate Judge Lorenzo Garcia regarding the McCracken case, the confidentiality agreement and supplied him with information that I believed showed Mark McCracken and Art Ortiz covered up a second domestic violence killing in Valencia County, that of Stephanie Houston. Judge Garcia responded immediately to my letter and wrote that he was forwarding a copy of my letter to the State Risk Management Contract Attorneys from the case.

    However, once again, the state failed to initiate an investigation.

    In January 2001, I personally requested that the newly elected district attorney for Valencia County, Lemuel Martinez re-open the investigation into Melanie McCracken's death using his own staff to investigate the case. In February 2001, he agreed to do so and assigned DA investigator Larry Diaz to the case.

    In the Spring of 2002, I formally requested that the AG's Office investigate McCracken and Ortiz's role in covering up both Melanie's and Stephanie's deaths, under NMSA 1978 29-1-1. This statute makes it illegal for peace officers to fail to investigate a crime when a reasonable person believes a crime has occurred. Despite AG Patty Madrid personally calling to offer her offices assistance, Michael Cox from her office refused to initiate such an investigation or to refer the investigation to another agency.

    Over the course of several months Dateline conducted its own investigation into Melanie's death. However, at least one state police officer conducted surveillance of the producer following her from meeting to meeting to determine which individuals she spoke with during her investigation. This surveillance also included a meeting the Dateline producer held with current and former state police officers who had expressed concerns about the state police's handling of the investigation into Melanie's death. The producer filed a report detailing the surveillance with the legal department at General Electric, the parent company of Dateline NBC...

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  6. AnonymousMay 02, 2012

    ...Dateline aired the show, "Mystery on Highway 47" on May 3, 2002. The showed was watched by an estimated audience of 16 million viewers and made the Gallup poll's list of the top 25 most watched shows in the country.

    A second witness, Dale Claycomb, a life guard paramedic who appeared on the Dateline program where he stated that Mark McCracken feigned unconsciousness at the accident scene was later also found dead in suspicious circumstances, again ruled self-inflicted. Art Ortiz was part of the death investigation team that investigated this death.

    Lemuel Martinez requested that Michael Cox of the AG's office take over the case. However, in a meeting with Michael Cox to discuss the case Michael Cox told Nancy Grice that he would not look into any wrongdoing committed by the state police, as he would not investigate any agency that he worked with. He made no effort to refer the case to someone willing to prosecute the state police who may have broken the law to protect their own officer. Cox then withdrew from the case.

    In February 2003, Lemuel Martinez appointed Randall Harris as a special prosecutor on the case to review whether charges could be brought against Mark McCracken.13th judicial district attorney investigator Larry Diaz was assigned by Martinez to continue on the case and to work with Randall Harris. Therefore, the 13th still remained involved with the case.

    Another top forensic pathologist from out of state, Dr. Dragovich, the chief coroner for Detroit, Michigan was hired as an expert and he too ruled the death a homicide.

    Grand jury dates were set on multiple occasions and then dropped. Finally at the end of October 2003 a grand jury was convened and Mark McCracken was indicted for first degree murder and evidence tampering.

    The grand jury officially requested that Lemuel Martinez convene a second grand jury to investigate whether the state police had covered up Melanie McCracken's death. He refused to do so.

    Judge William Sanchez was assigned the case.

    In March 2004, Randall Harris told me that Lemuel Martinez had requested that he find a way to postpone the McCracken trial until after the November election in which Martinez was running to keep his DA position.

    In April 2004, William Sanchez dismissed the murder indictment citing that another DA staff person's presence in the grand jury room had the potential to influence grand jury deliberations. No effort was taken to poll the grand jurors or to see if in fact any undue influence had occurred...

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  7. AnonymousMay 02, 2012

    ...(CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS FROM DEFENSE WITNESSES: Two individuals whose names appeared on the defenses' witness list contributed money to Lemuel Martinez's re-election campaign. Bob Casey- who was the risk management investigator who represented Mark McCracken during the civil case brought by Nancy Grice contributed money three days before the grand jury was convened that indicted McCracken. Geraldine Rivera a Republican district court judge in Bernalillo County and who is Mark McCracken's wife's best friend contributed money to Lemuel Martinez' campaign approximately three days before the defense filed the motions to dismiss the McCracken case that ultimately led to the dismissal of the case).

    RE: Stephanie Houston: On February 27, 2000, Stephanie Houston was run over and killed by her boyfriend Patrick Murillo. They had argued and she was walking in the shoulder of the roadway after having refused several of his attempts to get her to get back into his vehicle.

    A field investigation report prepared telephonically from the scene based upon a call received at OMI headquaters from OMI field investigator Luis Brown documented that "LE believe it was intentional". LE is OMI's standard abbreviation for law enforcement. In addition, the physician who pronounced Stephanie dead at UNM Hospital reported the death to OMI as a "possible homicide".

    However, once Stephanie was pronounced dead, Art Ortiz was called to the scene as a criminal investigator and Mark McCracken became the scene supervisor. Without interviewing an eyewitness or performing an accident reconstruction, Ortiz and McCracken declared that Stephanie's death was accidental. McCracken then made a series of comments to the media that the accident was in fact Stephanie's fault.

    Despite Patrick Murillo being considered by some law enforcement officers to be a murder suspect, Mark McCracken, the highest-ranking officer at the state police Los Lunas office personally drove Patrick Murillo back to his hotel in Belen.

    Within a day of Stephanie's death, her parents, William Houston and Joyce Fisher began receiving telephone calls from different people that were with Stephanie the night she was killed and the night prior to her death. These people reported that Patrick Murillo had publicly beaten Stephanie and that he had gotten into an altercation with a male friend of Stephanie's just a few minutes before Stephanie's death.

    Next, several of Stephanie's friends contacted the parents to tell them that Stephanie had been beaten many times by Patrick Murillo and in fact had been treated multiple times at the hospital because of those beatings...

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  8. AnonymousMay 02, 2012

    ...At that time, the state police re-opened the case. A new supervisor, Pete Kassetas over saw the investigation. Patrick Murillo agreed to take a polygraph exam, which he failed. He was then re-interviewed and admitted to knowing that Stephanie was in harm's way when he gunned his truck forward.

    The state police contacted the DA's Office to find out what charges they could file against Murillo. However, Ron Lopez and another DA in the Valencia County Office declined to press charges. The state police asked Lemuel Martinez to appoint a special prosecutor. Again, Martinez declined, but turned the case over to the Sandoval County District Attorney's Office citing a conflict of interest within his Valencia County Office, which he also supervised. The case was assigned to Joe Arite in August 2003.

    Arite initially reported that he believed that he could bring a second-degree murder case against Patrick Murillo. However, over time Arite began to criticize the case to the victim's family. It took until late December 2003 for Arite to present the case to a grand jury, despite the fact that no new investigation was conducted on the case. He did not present any of the domestic violence testimony to the grand jury, who turned down Arite's request to indict for second degree murder and instead indicted Murillo on one count of homicide by vehicle.

    At Murillo's bond hearing, the DA failed to present any of the domestic violence evidence including Murillo having been arrested on two occasions for domestic violence. The DA's representative actually told the judge that he wanted to wait until trial to present the issues that could be considered at the bond hearing. As a result Murillo was released on his own recognizance, when in other cases of homicide by vehicle bond can range from $30,000 on up to $200,000.

    Following the bond hearing Lemuel Martinez was asked to appoint a special prosecutor and again he denied the request. Another request for a special prosecutor was made in early March 2004 after it became clear that Joe Arite had not adequately reviewed the file with the trial being only three weeks away. Once again, Martinez declined citing the lack of time although the trial eventually was re-set for late June.

    Lemuel Martinez promised that his office would do everything possible to secure a conviction against Murillo. But, Joe Arite continued to refuse to incorporate the domestic violence evidence into the case.

    In May 2004, Arite met with Linda Atkinson, who appeared as Bill Houston's victim's advocate and myself. At that meeting, Arite promised to call the domestic violence witnesses including Stephanie's son Jonathan should Patrick Murillo take the stand and testify that Stephanie's death was an accident. In addition, Arite promised to call a witness who could testify to the fact that Stephanie contacted a law firm to find out about getting a restraining order against her killer just two days before her death. Further, he also promised to call a witness who could testify that Stephanie had made an appointment to come into a battered woman's shelter on what turned out to be the day after her death. No effort was undertaken to get that information in front of the jury. Further, witnesses who could corroborate that Murillo beat Stephanie the night before her death and who could testify to Murillo's jealous state of mind the night of Stephanie's death were not called to testify either...

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  9. AnonymousMay 02, 2012

    ...At trial just like at the grand jury, Joe Arite refused to present the evidence that could have led to a conviction. Arite even refused to call Stephanie's son as a rebuttal witness despite his being present in the courtroom when Patrick Murillo lied on the witness stand.

    And in an unbelievable turn of events, Art Ortiz testified at trial as a defense witness and intentionally withheld information from the jury that would have helped to convict Murillo. Despite only having spent two days on the case and having nothing to do with any investigation that took place after the case was re-opened, Ortiz opined on the stand that the death was an accident. He then went on to blame Stephanie who he described as jealous of Murillo's wife for causing her own death. Dr. Enstice flew in from Alabama to testify without even charging her standard fee. However, despite getting Dr. Enstice admitted as an expert, Arite did not ask her opinion as to the cause and manner of death or whether the injuries she observed were consistent with Patrick Murillo's statement of how Stephanie was killed. Arite also did not ask Dr. Enstice about the difficulty she had in getting the state police to investigate the case.

    After the jury came back with a not guilty verdict, Lemuel Martinez complained about a shortage of time to prosecute do to the statute of limitations, but stated that he was glad that the case went to trial so the defendant could move on with his life.

    The trial originally was assigned to Judge Pope; however, William Sanchez had himself assigned as trial judge since he was chief judge in the 13th Judicial District. The case was moved out of Valencia County to ensure that the media was not present during the trial. The defense cited the publicity around the criminal charges against Mark McCracken, who the defense listed as a "key witness" as the reason for needing to move the trial out of Valencia County. Mark McCracken was never called as a witness at trial, and was not mentioned by the defense counsel at the different times when he discussed witnesses he might call during the defense portion of the case.

    RE: Request for Federal Investigation: In 2002, I requested that the US Dept. of Justice civil rights criminal division conduct an investigation. However, I received a form letter back stating that US DOJ was only investigating cases involving beatings by police officers.

    RE: Citizens Grand Jury Petition: Because the DA and AG refused to investigate the allegations of misconduct stemming from the handling of both cases, a citizens grand jury petition as authorized pursuant to Article Two, Section 14 of the New Mexico State Constitution was drafted and a petition drive commenced. Under the state constitution, citizens of a given county can have a grand jury convened upon the submission of petitions bearing signatures of 2% of the registered voters of a county...

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  10. AnonymousMay 02, 2012

    ...Nancy Grice and Bill Houston submitted enough signatures (701) that were qualified by the Valencia County Clerk in accordance with the state constitution to have a grand jury convened to investigate whether government employees were covering up domestic violence homicides that occurred in Valencia County. The 701 signatures qualified are beyond challenge and were verified by registration and by address. Approximately 1000 signatures were submitted in total. The petition's wording was based upon petition that had successfully fought off a challenge in other county. The state constitution provides that a judge "shall order" upon presentation of the appropriate amount of signatures.

    The petition was filed on April 23, 2004 in Valencia County District Court and assigned case number D-1314-CS-04-036. However Judge William Sanchez following discussions with Ron Lopez and other attorneys from Lemuel Martinez's Office has refused to convene the grand jury. Lemuel Martinez despite having no legal authority to do so, has requested a non-binding legal opinion from the Attorney General's Office.

    To date, Judge William Sanchez has declined to order the grand jury.

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