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Gregory Hobbs

Other New Mexico Exonerations
On June 15, 2012, Gregory Hobbs shot Ruben Archuleta Sr. and his son, Ruben Archuleta Jr., to death during an altercation in Roswell, New Mexico.

According to witnesses, Hobbs was talking with several friends, including Juan Gonzales, when Ruben Sr. drove up and began yelling at Gonzales. A few minutes later, Ruben Jr. arrived, carrying a shotgun. Gonzales got in the passenger seat of his car, pursued by the Archuletas. Ruben Jr. pointed the shotgun at Gonzales. Hobbs pulled out a gun and shot Ruben Jr. Then, Hobbs and Ruben Sr. fought. During the struggle, Hobbs shot Ruben Sr. four times.

No charges were filed against Hobbs in the death of Ruben Jr., who was 21 years old. But on September 5, 2012, Hobbs was charged with voluntary manslaughter in the death of Ruben Sr., who was 49 years old.

Hobbs, who was 22 years old, said he shot Ruben Sr. in self-defense, and his case went to trial in Chaves County District Court.

A pathologist with the state’s Office of the Medical Examiner testified that an autopsy showed Ruben Sr. was shot four times. He said the fatal shot was fired at a downward angle into the left side of Archuleta’s chest from a distance of six to eight inches. A second shot entered the bridge of Archuleta’s nose from two to three feet away. A third shot grazed Archuleta’s right shoulder, and a fourth shot hit him on the right side of the chest.

The pathologist also testified that Archuleta’s shirt had to have been pulled down in order to match a hole in the shirt with the wound on the left side of his chest. He said this suggested that Hobbs was holding the shirt.

Two eyewitnesses testified they saw Hobbs and Ruben Sr. “wrestling” or “fighting” for the gun.

Hobbs testified that Ruben Sr., who was eight to nine inches taller and approximately 60 pounds heavier than him, attacked him and tried to take his gun. He said that he tried to retreat but that Ruben Sr. grabbed him and began wrestling for the gun. Hobbs said he and Archuleta were so close that Hobbs felt Archuleta’s blood after he shot him the first time. He said he continued firing until he was out of ammunition.

The state introduced Hobbs’s T-shirt into evidence. The shirt appeared to be in good shape, bolstering the state’s contention that Hobbs’s account was inconsistent with other facts.

During closing argument, the state urged jurors to reject Hobbs’s claim of self-defense. Ruben Sr. was unarmed, and the physical evidence—the T-shirt and the lack of scrapes and bruises on Hobbs—didn’t “suggest a life-and-death struggle.”

The jury convicted Hobbs of voluntary manslaughter on February 1, 2013, and he received a sentence of seven years in prison. Separately, Hobbs pled guilty on March 26, 2013, to a charge of aggravated assault in an unrelated 2011 case. He received a four-year sentence that ran concurrently with the manslaughter sentence.

On August 6, 2015, Hobbs, represented by the New Mexico Innocence and Justice Project, filed a petition in Chaves County District Court seeking DNA testing of his gun and his T-shirt. The state did not oppose the motion.

After the New Mexico Department of Public Safety Forensic Laboratory completed its testing, Hobbs filed a motion to vacate his conviction. He said the results showed that Ruben Sr. could not be excluded as a contributor to DNA mixtures found on the gun and the shirt. He said this was exculpatory evidence that supported his claim of self-defense because it contradicted the state’s claim that there was no physical evidence of a struggle.

The state opposed the motion. It said the testing results relied on so-called “touch DNA,” which involved the transfer of genetic material through either touching or secondary transfer of skin cells. The state said this evidence didn’t corroborate Hobbs’s claim; the transfer could have happened in several ways. In addition, the new evidence still didn’t justify Hobbs shooting Archuleta four times.

At an evidentiary hearing, Eve Tokumaru, a scientist at the state crime lab, testified that Archuleta could not be eliminated as a possible contributor to the DNA recovered from the handgun’s ejection port or the T-shirt. She testified that she could not say “to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty” that the samples contained Ruben Sr.’s DNA because the lab didn’t use that terminology. Judge Freddie Romero pressed Tokumaru, asking her whether she could say that there was more than a 50 percent probability that Archuleta’s DNA was on the items. Tokumaru said she could not.

On April 26, 2017, Judge Romero denied Hobbs’s motion. He said the new evidence, based on Tokumaru’s inability to conclude that Archuleta’s DNA was more likely than not on the gun and the shirt, was of “low probative value” and was insufficient to “reasonably support Hobbs’s claim of self- defense.”

A month later, Hobbs’s attorneys moved to reconsider, based on a more rigorous analysis of the DNA evidence by Greg Hampikian, a professor at Boise State University. Hampikian had run the DNA results through a computer program that performed probabilistic genotyping. He said that this analysis would “produce likelihood ratios for the DNA inclusions and exclusions that may satisfy the court’s desire for statistical clarification.”

At an evidentiary hearing, Hampikian testified that Archuleta’s DNA was a “very strong match” with the DNA found on the ejection port. He said there was a one in 10 million chance that someone else contributed that material. This level of certainty, he said, was far beyond what was used in a typical paternity test.

On May 24, 2018, Judge Romero vacated Hobbs’s conviction and ordered a new trial. He said that the DNA evidence is “probative to Defendant’s claim of self-defense and could be exculpatory.”

The state appealed. The New Mexico Court of Appeals reversed Judge Romero on June 16, 2020. It said that to be exculpatory, post-conviction DNA evidence needed to be material, to not be cumulative, to not be merely impeaching, and to raise a reasonable probability of a different outcome at trial. Judge Romero had not entered findings of fact on these four issues, the court said.

Hobbs appealed. The New Mexico Supreme Court reversed the appellate court ruling and vacated Hobbs’s conviction on July 21, 2022.

The court said the appellate court had put the cart before the horse and incorrectly conflated two separate issues—whether evidence was exculpatory and whether that evidence warranted granting a new trial—when it created its fact-finding rules. The first had to be established before the second could be considered.

The ruling also said the state’s filings misstated the meaning of “exculpatory” used in New Mexico’s post-conviction testing law by arguing that the new evidence needed to prove innocence.

“Put simply, had the Legislature intended to limit post-conviction relief to when the DNA test results in fact exculpate the petitioner—rather than when they are merely exculpatory—it would have clearly said so,” the court said.

The court said that the new evidence was exculpatory and that Judge Romero did not abuse his discretion in granting Hobbs a new trial.

“While there was eyewitness testimony at trial supporting Hobbs’s claim that he and Ruben Sr. struggled before the fatal shot was fired, given the complete absence of any other physical evidence to corroborate Hobbs’s version of events, we agree with the district court that the test results would have been admissible on the question of whether Hobbs acted in self-defense,” the court said.

Hobbs had already been released from prison in 2019. The state dismissed the charge on April 18, 2023.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 9/22/2023
Last Updated: 9/22/2023
State:New Mexico
Most Serious Crime:Manslaughter
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2012
Sentence:7 years
Age at the date of reported crime:22
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes