DA’s office recuses itself from Candelaria shooting case

PRESIDIO COUNTY – Judge Roy Ferguson of the 394th State Judicial District has granted a motion by 83rd Judicial District Attorney Sandy Wilson to recuse the DA’s office from prosecuting two New Mexico hunting guides involved in a shooting incident that wounded one of their clients and one of the hunting guides on a ranch near the Presidio County border community of Candelaria in 2017.

“On or about September 17, 2018 there arose a conflict with the case that causes the 83rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office incapable of continuing to prosecute this case,” Wilson wrote in a motion to recuse her office and transferring the case to an attorney pro tem. The motion was filed October 10. Also in September, Assistant District Attorney Bart Medley of Fort Stockton resigned from the 83rd DA’s office.

Ferguson signed the order on Tuesday, and it was filed with the Presidio County District Clerk’s Office on Wednesday, according to court records. Wilson couldn’t be reached for comment as to what the conflict is.

New Mexico hunting guides Walker Daugherty and Michael Bryant were indicted by a Presidio County grand jury on third-degree felony charges of deadly conduct by discharging a firearm, court records indicate. Both men have pleaded not guilty and are free on bond.

Daugherty suffered a gunshot wound in the incident as did a hunting client, Florida chiropractor Edwin Roberts. Both men were hospitalized at the time, Daugherty longer than Roberts.

Ferguson appointed 452nd State Judicial District attorney Tonya Spaeth Ahlschwede as prosecutor in the case. The 452nd includes McCulloch, Menard, Mason, Kimble, and Edwards counties, and she has been that district’s DA since 2013.

At the time of the incident, an internet post appeared purporting to detail the incident from the perspective of those on the ranch. The shooting started after what appeared to be an attempted theft of a recreational vehicle (RV) parked near the hunting lodge where Roberts and his wife were staying as potentially an attempt at kidnapping or killing the hunters sleeping in the vehicle.

In this telling, Daugherty was wounded while attempting to stop assailants from shooting at and stealing the RV and the “assailants got away and likely returned to Mexico.”

The account has been shared around social media and several blogs where the incident is described as a “border ambush.” Another blog claims the attack was launched by “Mexican kidnappers.”

After a week-long investigation with assistance from the Border Patrol and other law enforcement agencies, the Presidio County Sheriff’s Office quickly debunked that scenario as all the spent cartridges found at the scene came from the firearms in the hunting camp, the sheriff’s office said at the time.

The injuries to the men were caused by friendly fire, the sheriff’s office said at the time. “There were no bullet casings or projectiles from weapons other than those belonging to the individuals hunting on the ranch nor in the RV belonging to the hunting party,” the sheriff’ office said in a statement.

However, defense attorney Liz Rogers maintains the incident wasn’t caused by friendly fire and that the shooter, or shooters, weren’t in the hunting party.

The incident sparked state and national controversy when Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, riffing on fake news by Trump, said the shooting was caused by bad guys from Mexico.

In addition, Roberts and his wife have filed a $1 million civil lawsuit against the hunters and their hunting guide company.

The incident occurred at the Circle Dug Ranch, formerly known as the Chambers Ranch, which is about 10 miles northwest of Candelaria near the border with Mexico and hosts hunting for aoudad, javelina, mule deer and other game.