Witness against violent New Mexico prison gang gunned down outside home

A former member of a violent New Mexico prison gang who testified against some of its members last year was shot and killed outside his home earlier this week, authorities said.

Las Vegas, N.M. police told the Albuquerque Journal that 48-year-old Leroy “Smurf” Lucero, a former member of the Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico (SNM), was shot multiple times on the night of July 22.

Las Vegas police investigator Caleb Marquez told the paper that a motive for the killing hasn’t been determined and no one has been arrested.

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“We have no reason to believe anybody else is in danger,” he added.

In May 2018, Lucero testified about SNM crimes — including a directive that led to the 2001 strangulation deaths of two inmates at the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility in Las Cruces — during the trial of seven defendants. The murders had gone unprosecuted until the FBI began building a racketeering case against the gang in 2015.

Defendants Joe Gallegos and Billy Garcia were found guilty of one of the murders, while Garcia was also convicted of the second murder. Both were sentenced to life in federal prison last month.

Lucero said had transferred to another prison when the crimes were committed, but he was aware they were being planned, according to the Journal. FBI case agent Bryan Acee testified Lucero had been a senior member of the gang but left around 2007 or 2008.

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“I just threw in the towel,” Lucero said.

Federal prosecutors were aware of the gang’s potential to retaliate against witnesses.

“If you snitch, you get killed,” one witness said on the stand.

The FBI also investigated threats against the family of another witness against the gang. Last summer, Lucero told a federal judge he didn’t want to testify in a racketeering case against Anthony “Antone” Cordova.

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“Someone came to his door with a gun asking for Smurf,” Lucero’s attorney told the judge.

He was allowed to leave without taking the witness stand. Cordova was convicted of racketeering and murder charges in July 2018 and faces a mandatory penalty of life imprisonment.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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