Court of Appeal reinstates murder charge against Uber driver
A split appeals court in New Mexico overturned a district court ruling on Monday and reinstated a second-degree murder charge against an Uber driver who fatally shot a passenger in 2019.
Lawyers for Clayton Benedict, 34, plan to appeal the decision to the New Mexico Supreme Court, attorney Raymond Maestas said Monday.
The Court of Appeals 2-1 opinion ordered that the case be returned to the 2nd Judicial District Court with the second degree murder charge reinstated.
Benedict was originally charged with second-degree murder and another count of intentional homicide in the fatal shoulder shooting of 27-year-old James Porter on Interstate 25 on St. Patrick’s Day in 2019.
Benedict was driving for Uber when he picked up Porter and a friend from a bar in northeast Albuquerque. Prosecutors allege an argument escalated after Porter’s friend threw up in the back seat of Benedict’s car.
Benedict pulled over to the side of I-25 and ordered the two out of his car. Benedict later told detectives he opened fire after Porter threatened to run him over with his own car, according to court testimony.
Maestas said in a written statement that Benedict “has the natural human right to defend himself against the madness and chaos of a person with toxic levels of ecstasy and nearly triple the legal alcohol limit that was on the point of running it over with a car”.
Attorney General Hector Balderas, whose office handled the appeal, said Monday he was “pleased the Court of Appeals got it right and I look forward to it going to a jury to decide.”
At a preliminary hearing in August 2019, District Court Judge Neil Candelaria found that the evidence in the case only supported the manslaughter charge. The decision was appealed.
On appeal, Benedict argued that the Court of Appeals lacked jurisdiction to consider the appeal because the district court did not dismiss the charge of second-degree murder, but merely “diminished it. “in intentional homicide.
Appeals Court Judge Jane Yohalem, writing for the majority, dismissed the argument and ordered the case returned to the district court with the second-degree murder charge reinstated.
The trial court’s dismissal appeared to be based on its finding that the evidence “was not sufficient to convict (Benedict) of second-degree murder, but only sufficient to convict him of voluntary manslaughter,” Yohalem wrote.
“This decision should be made by a jury,” she wrote.
In his dissent, Court of Appeals Judge Gerald Baca wrote that a district court judge had the discretion to determine probable cause to charge a defendant.