DA Henry Valdez speak to an AP reporter at a murder crime scene.
An Hour In The Life Of A Death
Steve Terrell, the portly veteran Santa Fe reporter, doesn’t usually cover the crime beat anymore except on Fridays, Daniel Chacon’s day off. On Fridays, the New Mexican has Terrell assigned to both courts and crime. So on that tragic Friday August 13th, as he arrived at the courthouse, it was ironic that it was yellow plastic crime scene tape that greeted him, from a newspaper’s point of view both fortuitous and fortunate.
Segura, Terrell, and Goldberg
Back at the New Mexican’s newsroom, listening to the police band radio was Bob Quick, business reporter. He Hears ‘Shot fired on Staab Street’ and says, “I’m going down there.”
The story breaks over KOB radio. ‘Associated Press says attorney Carlos Vigil was killed in what being called a drive-by shooting.’ The report said six shots were fired.
Coming upon the scene, Terrell sees Bob Quick, some new photographers, TV cameras, A.P. reporter Deb Baker, and many people he knows from the courthouse. For some reason, he asks one of the photographers, “What’s going on? The guy, who actually had taken bad wedding pictures for one of Steves notoriously bad marriages, says, “Some lawyer named Carlos was shot. Killed.”
Terrell was at the court to cover a hearing on controversial cases where Carlos Vigil was to be a defense attorney and there, a hundred feet down the sidewalk was his dead body. Terrell knew this victim; he knew all the shocked and numb people around him in the crowd and he knew he had to do his job.
All of a sudden there is a commotion. The family arrives. The poor dead man’s wife yells out, “Tell me it’s not my Carlos. Tell me it’s not my Carlos!” The television crews close in like sharks, surrounding and pushing in on her at his moment of grief.
Although the crowd, made up of the victim’s colleagues, friends and family were furious at the TV media people, and later an Albuquerque station broadcast the wife’s “actual screams” of horrid recognition, Steve Terrell was the first top defend his fellow new journalists. “They’re just doing their job,” he said. He pointed down to his yellow legal pad with notes in his own cryptic writing and as if in some kind of defense of the TV crew he said, “I’m glad this is my weapon.”
“He’s a war-horse,” reporter Miguel Narvot from the Journal North said of Terrell. “He’s been around for ever. He’s a professional and knows what he’s doing.” Miguel laughed and added, “But you know we journalist always cover each other’s asses.”
Captain Segura of the police gives a press briefing from behind te crime tape. Now much to his distaste, Terrell has to becomepart of “pack journalism; a group of reporters receiving the same information at the same time from the same person. He’s got to get his own sources and angle on this story.
Without talking to his editors, his superiors, Steve knows he has to cover the story from “the victim as a man” point of view. Who is he? At this point Terrell’s deep throat sources in the police department are not going to give him any leads; they don’t want to blow their own investigation.
Terrell starts to interview some of Carlos’ attorney friends; Bob Sena, Aaron Wolf, and Steve Farber. At one point Bob breaks down crying. There a poignant silence for a few seconds and in a quiet voice Terrell says, “I’m sorry to be bothering you at a time like this…”
“No, it’s OK.” Bob says, gathering his emotions.
Working with these people on a regular basis Terrell has an advantage over the other reporter, except for maybe the A.P. correspondent Deb Baker. She’s talking to D.A. Henry Valdez as Terrell starts to walk over to them. Maybe the D.A. didreally have to go check on something, but as soon as Steve called out,
“Henry, could I …”, The District Attorney turned to go back to his office, waving off Terrell’s request with, “I gotta…”
Now Terrell has to question people in the crowd but does not want to tip-off the competing journalist as to the direction of his story, so he does a little slipping away of his own. He tries to catch Judge Ellington or Assistant D.A. Angela ‘Spence’ Pacheco or prosecutor Robin Hammer alone, away from the other reporters.
After about an hour at the scene, Steve Terrell returned to the newsroom. He probably has a good twelve hours before the paper is put to bed. In fact, later that night, after filing his part of the story, he drives down to some God forsaken place like Rio Rancho chasing a false sighting of a possible suspect.
The 45-year-old Steve Terrell has been in the business of newsgathering for over twenty years. He has a reputation of using humor in all his writing; in his mock rock music, in his column and in his radio show. Fellow journalist Mark Hummels puts it this way: Terrell doesn’t make fun of people with his writing, he just quotes them making fun of themselves.”
Like the character Hawkeye Pierce of M.A.S.H. fame, Terrell’s humor is really anger turned sideways. For Steve Terrell. Reporter, it is needless to say, there was absolutely nothing funny about any part of covering this tragic story.