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Appeals court upholds Artesia man’s manslaughter conviction

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Jess Carpenter
Jess Carpenter

Attorney General Hector Balderas announced last week the upholding of an Artesia man’s 2014 conviction on charges of involuntary manslaughter.

Jess Carpenter, 31, was arrested in 2011 and charged with second-degree murder in the May 20, 2011, shooting death of Joseph Darras. The charge was later amended to involuntary manslaughter, and Carpenter was found guilty in 2014 and sentenced to nine months in prison.

Carpenter subsequently appealed the conviction, arguing there was insufficient evidence to support the fourth element of the jury instruction given at his trial – that he committed an unlawful act not amounting to a felony. Carpenter also contended the state’s failure to prove each element of involuntary manslaughter implicated his constitutional right to a jury trial.

The 2011 shooting occurred when Carpenter and Darras, who were friends, returned to Carpenter’s home following an evening of drinking and an altercation with two other men. Carpenter removed two firearms from his closet in an attempt, he said at the time, to make Darras believe he attended to take revenge against their aggressors, placing one of the weapons – a .357 single-action revolver – in his waistband.

When Darras entered the room, Carpenter pulled the revolver from behind his back and moved, he said, to place it on the bed, at which time it discharged, fatally wounding Darras.

The State of New Mexico stated during the trial that the nature of the revolver prevented it from being fired without the hammer having been deliberately cocked and the trigger pulled. A private investigator called as an expert witness by the defense alleged there was a possibility the gun had become unintentionally cocked when Carpenter slid it into his waistband.

“This case highlights the importance of gun safety and, in particular, how dangerous it is to handle firearms while intoxicated,” Balderas said last week. “I applaud the decision, the Criminal Appeals division, and the Court of Appeals for being cognizant of recent United States Supreme Court precedent that was key to appropriately resolving this case and affirming Mr. Carpenter’s conviction.

“My thoughts are with the family of the victim, Mr. Darras, and the Eddy County community.”

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