Chimayó trapper Marty Cordova was acquitted by a jury this week of 10 counts of illegal trapping, three years after state officials alleged that he set a snare that strangled a dog near Española, his attorney said Thursday.
The death of the dog, named Roxy, attracted widespread media attention and led to passage this year of a state law – “Roxy’s Law” – that outlaws the use of traps, snares and wildlife poison on public lands in New Mexico.
The 1st Judicial District Court jury found Cordova not guilty of trapping within 25 yards of a road and other violations of state Department of Game and Fish trapping regulations, said Yvonne K. Quintana, Cordova’s attorney.
Problems with evidence, including the failure to collect snares and traps from the field, and the destruction of photographic evidence, contributed to Cordova’s acquittal, Quintana said.
“Mr. Cordova was the one accused, but they really couldn’t identify that he was the one who set the traps,” she said. “That’s one of the required elements of these trapping charges, that the trapper has to land-set the traps.”
Jennifer Padgett Macias, 1st Judicial District chief deputy district attorney, said the federal Bureau of Land Management retained and ultimately destroyed some evidence in connection with its own investigation.
“There was some evidence destroyed as it was in the custody of (BLM) when their case was settled,” Padgett Macias said. Traps in BLM custody “were not turned over to the Department of Game and Fish but were destroyed per their policy when a case is resolved.”
The snare involved in Roxy’s death was destroyed when it was cut off the dog’s body, she said.
The Department of Game and Fish initially charged Cordova with 34 counts of illegal trapping in February 2019, three months after a neck snare strangled the dog near a hiking trail at Santa Cruz Lake Recreation Area north of Española.
Roxy, an 8-year-old blue heeler mix, choked to death while her owner, Dave Clark, desperately tried to free her from the snare.
The case drew public attention and prompted lawmakers in 2019 to introduce the Wildlife Conservation and Public Safety Act, an anti-trapping law dubbed “Roxy’s Law.”
After several failed attempts, the bill was signed into law in April by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham after it passed the House by a single vote, 35-34. The law will take effect April 1, 2022.
Officials with state Game and Fish and BLM set up trail cameras and alleged in court records that they captured images of Cordova in the area where Clark’s dog was snared. Officials also searched his home and allegedly found numerous traps and animal pelts, according to court records.
Quintana alleged in court records that state officials destroyed thousands of photos and made other missteps that made it impossible for Cordova to formulate a defense.
All but 10 of the original charges were dismissed before jurors began deliberations this week, she said.