A federal jury convicted two Eddy County men of the 2019 death of 39-year-old Justin Swenson of Loving, according to the United States Attorney’s Office.
Stetson Shane Barnes, 29, of Loving and Donald Alfred Busch, 33, of Carlsbad were found guilty of conspiracy to commit carjacking, carjacking resulting in death, and being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition.
Busch was also found guilty of using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, read a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The two-week trial resulted in a convicted Nov. 12.
The jury however failed to reach a verdict against Tyson Terrell, 32, also charged with a federal charge of conspiracy to commit carjacking and a charge of carjacking resulting in death in the case.
A co-conspirator in the case, Jehra Lynn Hedgecock, 33, pleaded guilty on July 22 to one count of conspiracy, one count of carjacking resulting in death and one count of using, brandishing and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence and possessing and brandishing a firearm in furtherance of such crime, the release read.
Barnes, Bush and Hedgecock remained in custody pending sentencing, which had not been scheduled as of Nov. 17.
Theft of motorcycle results in Swanson’s death
Loving Police Department officers found Swenson dead inside his home on Nymeyer Road during the morning of May 28, 2019. He suffered a gunshot wound to the head, per a criminal complaint in the case.
Swenson was not identified by name in the federal criminal complaint or press release announcing the conviction of Barnes and Busch. He was identified as J.S. in federal documents. The Eddy County Sheriff’s Office identified Swenson as the victim in several press releases issued following his death.
The criminal complaint alleged Terrell, Busch, Barnes and Hedgecock planned to steal motorcycles belonging to Swenson.
Hedgecock was accused of luring Swenson out of the house, while the men went to a carport to steal the motorcycles, a criminal complaint indicated.
While fleeing the scene, Barnes allegedly fired multiple rounds of ammunition from the backseat of Hedgecock’s pickup. One of the bullets struck Swenson, killing him, the criminal complaint read.
Two years ago, Hedgecock, Busch, Terrell and Barnes were arrested and charged with first degree murder. Terrell was also charged at that time with armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery.
In 2020, the State of New Mexico opted to drop the charges and let federal prosecutors pursue a single count each of conspiracy to commit carjacking.
In New Mexico, a state which revoked the death penalty in 2009, a conviction for murder in the first degree automatically results in a sentence of life in prison. U.S. Department of Justice statutes on carjacking allowed sentences of “any number of years up to life,” the death penalty, a fine of up to $250,000 or both imprisonment and a fine.
Man who harbored suspects convicted
Randall Melton, 53, of Carlsbad was charged by the State of New Mexico in 2019 with harboring or aiding a felon. Melton was accused of aiding Terrell.
He was convicted by a grand jury on Feb. 10 of this year and sentenced to one year in prison by Fifth Judicial District Judge Jane Shuler-Gray.
Melton filed for an appeal in April. No court date was set before the New Mexico Court of Appeals, per online court records.
“It was a complex and labor-intensive case that our folks put a lot of time into,” said Eddy County Sheriff Mark Cage.
“There is still (more) work to be done but so far the outcome is very positive.”
Mike Smith can be reached at 575-628-5546 or by email at [email protected] or @ArgusMichae on Twitter.