Albuquerque Journal

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Man Freed After 24 Years in Prison in Carlsbad Killing

Associated Press

CARLSBAD A man who spent more than 24 years in prison in a Carlsbad slaying was released Tuesday.

Ralph Rodney Earnest, 59, had won the right to a new trial last year in the 1982 murder of oil field worker David Eastman.

State District Judge Jay Forbes in January 2005 tossed out Earnest's convictions of murder, kidnapping and other crimes because of a statement to police by a co-defendant who then refused to testify at Earnest's trial.

The Supreme Court affirmed Forbes' ruling, saying a tape-recorded statement from co-defendant Phillip Boeglin could not be used as evidence because Earnest had no opportunity to cross-examine his accuser.

Boeglin again refused to testify shortly before Earnest's new trial was to begin Tuesday.

Earnest then pleaded no contest to a single charge possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute, and was sentenced to three years in prison time he had already served.

Lesley Williams, chief deputy district attorney in the 5th Judicial District in Carlsbad, was not immediately available for comment Tuesday.

Earnest originally was sentenced to life imprisonment plus 22 1/2 years in the killing.

Earnest and co-defendant Perry Conner testified Earnest wasn't at the scene of the murder. But Boeglin's statement to police accused Earnest of shooting Eastman.

The state Supreme Court originally overturned Earnest's convictions in 1985, saying Boeglin's statement violated Earnest's rights to confront his accuser. In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated that ruling and sent the case back for reconsideration. The state justices reinstated Earnest's convictions in 1987.

The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently ruled in 2004 that out-of-court statements to police like the tape-recorded statement used against Earnest cannot be used as evidence against defendants if they had no opportunity to cross examine their accusers. That decision prompted another appeal by Earnest and the state court ruling overturning his convictions.