Feb. 25-The New Mexico Supreme Court has upheld the murder conviction of a man whose public defender argued he had a genetic predisposition to impulsive violence sometimes referred to as the "warrior gene."
Anthony Blas Yepez was convicted of second-degree murder in 2015 for the 2012 beating death of 75-year-old George Ortiz of Santa Fe.
After killing Ortiz - his girlfriend's stepgrandfather - during an argument, Yepez, then 26, doused Ortiz in cooking oil and set his body on fire.
Yepez's public defender, Ian Loyd, sought to introduce evidence at trial that Yepez's history of childhood abuse and genetic makeup made him less able to control his violent impulses and incapable of forming the intent to deliberately kill Ortiz.
But state District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer rejected the argument and didn't allow jurors to hear expert testimony on the topic. She said she felt "iffy' about whether it was "reliable enough to prove what it proposes to prove."
The theory had been introduced in criminal proceedings fewer than a dozen times worldwide at the time.
Following his conviction, Yepez appealed to the state Court of Appeals, which found Sommer had erred when she excluded the testimony. But the court said the error was harmless because Yepez was convicted of second-degree murder, which didn't require a finding of premeditation.
The Attorney General's office appealed the ruling, asking the State Supreme Court to vacate the portion of the appellate opinion finding Sommer erred in keeping out the warrior gene testimony. He argued it would create confusion in state and federal courts going forward.
The Supreme Court did just that in its ruling issued Thursday. The decision reversed the Court of Appeals opinion that Sommer should have allowed the testimony and rejected Yepez's request for a new trial.
The Supreme Court found "the district court was within its discretion to exclude as lacking in scientific reliability an opinion that Yepez is predisposed to impulsive violent behavior," a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the Court's wrote in a news release Thursday.