By Peggy Mackenzie
A former Hinton man was found guilty of first degree murder and two counts of tampering with evidence on Mar. 18 in Taos, NM, following a week-long jury trial and a four and a half hour deliberation. The first degree murder conviction carries a sentence of up to life in prison. The tampering with evidence charge is upwards of three years.
Ivan Dennings Cales, 51, was accused of killing 33-year-old Roxanne Houston in June of 2014. The tampering with evidence charge stemmed from Cales allegedly moving the body from the crime scene. Preliminary results from her autopsy indicated Houston died of a gunshot to the head. The remains of Houston’s body were found buried in a shallow grave 23 miles away from Taos in Carson, NM, by hikers on Dec. 25, 2014. She was last seen alive six months earlier on June 13.
Cales was a prime suspect early on in the investigation. Law enforcement assumed he had fled the state until they’d received a tip that Cales was only a short ways away in a Santa Fe homeless shelter listed under the name of Joseph Richmond, and, bearing little resemblance to his image on wanted posters, he was identified by the tattoos on his arm.
During the trial, the state argued Cales was guilty for lying to the police in an initial investigative interview about not having a gun, when he had one. The ballistics report, though inconclusive, showed that the bullet found in the victim’s head was from the same class of gun Cales owned, and there were individual markings on the bullet to link it to that gun. He also admittedly had scrubbed the interior of his Jeep clean after the disappearance of the victim. He then left town and changed his appearance by shaving his head and growing a beard.
The verdict was a victory for prosecutors who argued Cales killed Houston because he thought she was a witch who cast a spell on him. The state’s argument hinged on two witnesses who coincidentally spoke of conversations they had with Cales about witches, which proved a motive.
Witness Michael Thebo testified Cales told him that if a Wiccan ever cast a spell on him, he would kill the witch to get rid of the spell.
The other witness was inmate Raymond Martinez, who formerly shared a cell with Cales. He testified Cales told him the victim was a witch. He said Cales told him he was Native American, and that Native Americans believed if a witch cast a spell on them, they needed to kill the witch to break the spell. Artwork sketches of a witch hunt – done in jail and signed by Cales – were exhibited in the courtroom as evidence, as well as a calendar and a map, both with markings made by Cales, indicating the day Houston disappeared and where her body was ultimately found.
Houston, originally from the Colorado Springs area, is said to have struggled with mental illness and was the mother of four children who live with her estranged adoptive parents. She was living with a boyfriend, Johny Hanson, at the time Cales arrived in New Mexico to share housing arrangements with Houston, Hanson and others.
Hanson had told the police that Cales “had run off his girl.” But, according to Cales defense attorney Thomas M. Clark, Hanson had been jealous of another man, Vernon McCune, who was Houston’s former lover and the man who raised her from childhood.
Describing the relationship as a love triangle, Clark suggested both men (Hanson and McCune) had a motive, since both were domestic partners of Houston, casting a “reasonable doubt” Cales was guilty. The defense suggested Taos County detectives made mistakes when they did not search Hanson’s blue truck or gather DNA evidence from a burnt bra found near Houston’s remains. Clark argued his client’s innocence, telling the court there was no evidence linking Cales to Houston’s murder, stating the state’s case was nothing more than speculation.
“It was a difficult case” to prosecute, said Donald Gallegos, the district attorney in Taos. State witnesses were mostly transients and there was little physical evidence. The week-long case, Gallegos said, hinged on forensic and ballistic evidence.
Sentencing will take place at a later date in the 8th Judicial District Court before Judge Sarah Backus in Taos. The defense attorney is expected to file post-trial motions.