A Shiprock, New Mexico, man was sentenced to 12 years in prison Thursday in 6th Judicial District Court for stabbing a man in the neck last August in downtown Durango. He pleaded guilty to second-degree assault, a class four felony.
Bill Smith stabbed Jose Luis Delucio Diaz, 34, who was sitting on the corner of 10th Street and Main Avenue about 11 p.m. Aug. 19. Police called the assault “unprovoked.”
Diaz had been kicked out of a bar and separated from his cousin the night of the stabbing and was on the phone trying to locate his relative when Smith approached. Diaz told police that Smith appeared “aggressive” before stabbing him in the neck with a knife.
Police recovered a bloody knife from the trash can in front of El Rancho Tavern.
The 12-year sentence handed down by District Judge Suzanne Carlson was the maximum allowed under the terms of a plea agreement reached between Smith and the District Attorney’s Office.
According to Durango Police Department investigator Mike Kelly, who testified at Thursday’s sentencing, Smith offered multiple versions of the events leading up to the stabbing. The basis of Smith’s explanation, Kelly testified, was that he had been attacked by a group of people and was worried that Diaz, who was speaking on the phone in Spanish, was a member of a drug cartel to which Smith owed money.
“The only motive we were able to find was that he believed the cartel was after him for a drug debt of $300,” Kelly said.
Kelly said that his investigation, in which he listened to eyewitness accounts and reviewed footage from three security cameras, revealed no evidence of any individual or group attacking Smith the night of the assault.
The knife came close to hitting Diaz’s carotid artery, which could have led to a fatal outcome.
“Mr. Smith is fortunate that he’s not here on a first-degree murder charge, based on his conduct,” Assistant District Attorney Sean Murray told the court.
In a plea for leniency, defense attorney Christian Hatfield noted Smith’s previous trauma and associated mental health concerns. Hatfield argued that Smith had been attacked in downtown Durango a month before the incident, calling Smith’s conduct “imperfect self-defense” and said that Smith was clearly in need of inpatient treatment.
Murray noted Smith’s lengthy criminal history, which dates back to 1984, in his request for the maximum agreed upon sentence of 12 years. He also noted that apparent prejudice with which Smith acted.
“It appears Mr. Diaz was stabbed for being a Spanish speaker,” Murray said.
Hatfield called the sentence unfortunate, but “not unexpected.”
Smith, who stood shackled in jail garb, offered little in the way of comments other than to say “I’m sorry for everything that happened.”
Carlson said probation and treatment, the requested sentence of the defense, would not be appropriate given Smith’s criminal history, which she characterized as “extensive” and “violent.”
After handing down her sentence, Carlson wished him luck.
“I don’t need any luck,” Smith responded.
Smith will be required to pay $4,078.86 in restitution to cover medical expenses. He will serve three years on parole upon his release.