ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The photographs of the beating victim's injuries are horrific, with wounds so severe that bone protrudes through a laceration under the deceased's right eye and fractures are almost too numerous to count.
The injuries that authorities say Allison Gorman suffered during a brutal attack that killed him and Kee Thompson in a vacant lot in Albuquerque last year were described by a medical examiner Wednesday, during the first day of the murder trial for Alex Rios, one of three suspects in the killings. Autopsy photographs of Gorman's injuries were also shown to jurors.
"They attacked these two gentlemen viciously and it caused their death," prosecutor Vincent Martinez told jurors during opening statements. "You're going to hear about how the boys tried to cover for themselves."
Rios faces 27 charges for multiple crimes that include two counts of first-degree murder, contributing to the delinquency of a minor, tampering with evidence, assault and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.
Both of the victims were Navajo, in their 40s and sleeping in a vacant lot when they were attacked with a cinder block, metal pole and other objects, authorities said. The July 2014 killings shocked many in Albuquerque and led Mayor Richard Berry to assemble a task force on homelessness related to Native Americans.
Ben Shelly, then-president of the Navajo Nation, called the killings appalling.
Prosecutors said the grisly murder was planned and carried out by the three teens, including Rios. But defense attorneys for Rios, now 20, argue he did not participate in the fatal beatings.
He only watched from a distance, scared and in shock, as the attack unfolded, the defense said.
"We say this because the other two boys are literally covered in blood from head to toe. Alex Rios wasn't," defense attorney Daniel Salazar said.
Salazar contended the state has no physical evidence proving Rios struck the victims, as he criticized the character of the prosecutors' key witness — the youngest of the three suspects accused in the case who was 15 when the men were killed.
Now 16, he has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and other charges under a plea deal that offers him the possibility of release when he turns 21 in exchange for testimony against the other defendants. He is expected to testify Thursday.
Rios turned down a plea agreement, triggering the jury trial in state district court.
"This case is almost literally about making a deal with the devil," Salazar said. "We are here today because Alex Rios is a friend of (the youngest suspect)."
Prosecutors haven't said the victims were targeted because of their race. However, they did describe the attack by Rios and his friends as vicious, saying the suspects gathered weapons and planned the assault.
One of the defendants told investigators that the beating lasted more than an hour, according to a criminal complaint.
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