GALLUP, N.M. – It's been more than two years since authorities found Dr. James Nordstrom's bludgeoned body stashed in a wood pile in his backyard in the foothills near Farmington, in northwest New Mexico. He had been beaten to death with a pool cue.
Now, John Mayes, the adopted son of Farmington's city manager, is going on trial for the June 2011 slaying. Mayes, who was 17 at the time, faces first-degree murder, aggravated burglary, tampering with evidence and other charges.
The trial is set to begin Wednesday and is expected to last several days.
Prosecutors have described it as cold-blooded murder.
Defense attorneys argue their client was protecting himself and was influenced by a rare behavioral disorder that can affect people who have been neglected, abused or orphaned as children.
According to arrest records, Mayes first told police he was running away from home when he saw the man's secluded house and broke in. He said he hid in a bedroom in the house while Nordstrom watched television. Mayes said he struck Nordstrom about eight times with the thick end of a pool cue when the man came into the bedroom.
Mayes told police he wrapped Nordstrom's body in a rug, tried to clean up, then watched television and ate a tomato. Then he left the house and slept in the victim's truck for about four hours before returning and trying to bury the body.
When he got tired of digging, an arrest warrant says, the teen told police he dragged the body to the wood pile.
Police say Mayes then ate at a Burger King and shopped with the doctor's credit card.
Mayes later pleaded not guilty and testified at a preliminary hearing that he approached the house while Nordstrom was washing his truck and asked if he could spend the night.
After a tour of the home, Mayes said the two watched the end of a James Bond movie, ate and played some pool. Mayes alleged it was at the end of the pool game that the doctor made sexual advances toward him.
The teen said Nordstrom continued to advance toward him so he kept hitting him until he fell and then died.
State District Judge William Birdsall granted a defense motion in August to move the trial to Gallup. The decision came after potential jurors in San Juan County returned a questionnaire, with more than half of them saying they believed Mayes was guilty.
On Friday, Birdsall made his final pretrial ruling on what photographs jurors would be allowed to see. Mayes' attorneys argued the autopsy report and trial testimony would be enough evidence to explain how Nordstrom died.
The photos "would be unduly prejudicial to the jury," defense attorney Stephen Taylor said. "And they would be shown to the jury just for that effect."
Birdsall said he would not allow pictures that were taken of Nordstrom's body at the crime scene. One of those images showed the doctor had a nearly severed finger, which prosecutor Brent Capshaw said indicated the doctor had his hand up in self-defense as he tried to protect himself from Mayes' blows.
"No one's disputing the fact that Mr. Mayes beat him to death with a pool cue," the judge said. "And no one is disputing that was the cause and manner of death. The issue is self-defense."