I am writing today to announce the closure of the New Mexico Independent. After three and a half years of operation in New Mexico, the board of the American Independent News Network, has decided to shift publication of its news…
The Tenorio family has connections, too
In the year since William Tenorio of San Felipe Pueblo was struck and killed by Santa Fe attorney Carlos Fierro, much has been made of Fierro’s influential family, his fine education, his impressive job history and his extensive political connections.
Fierro, a former lobbyist and staffer for Rep. Tom Udall, was drunk and speeding when he hit Tenorio outside a Santa Fe club on Nov. 26, 2008 and kept driving. With him in the car when he was arrested was New Mexico State Police Sergeant Alfred Lovato, who was then a member of Gov. Bill Richardson’s security detail.
Recently Santa Fe was gripped by Fierro’s trial, which many feared would become a referendum on political influence in New Mexico’s capitol. It didn’t. The jury found Fierro’s conduct reprehensible and convicted him of vehicular homicide. He will be sentenced soon and could receive up to six years in prison.
When I think of the strength of family ties and societal connections- and other concepts like the value of life experience and the importance of true character - I sure don’t think of Carlos Fierro.
I think of the Tenorio family.
I am lucky enough to know some of thefamily – William Tenorio’s sister, Charlotte Little, is on the board of the nonprofit for which I work – and now that the trial is over, she and her husband Joseph agreed to talk about the events surrounding the death of her little brother.
Little told me about some ways in which her brother was a lot like Carlos Fierro – and the one important way he was not.
To the extended Tenorio family, the case that riveted Santa Fe was first and foremost, a family tragedy – one that began with a frantic call in the middle of the night.
William Tenorio, a DJ, lived with his mother, Rose Tenorio, and his three children on San Felipe Pueblo.
Little remembers getting a call from her mother telling her that William had been hit by a car.
Family members who rushed to the hospital immediately learned that William’s head injuries were grave. Doctors put him on life support and he never regained consciousness.
As day broke, the family was dealing with its grief and was oblivious to the “high-profile” aspect of the case. They heard that the person who hit William was well-connected, but when they heard the name Carlos Fierro, their reaction was, “Who?”
It wasn’t until after William was taken off life support and passed away, around noon, that the family learned about the outside interest in the case.
My mother got a call on her cell phone from Bill Richardson,” Little said. “He offered his condolences. And then someone said, ‘Yeah, that makes sense, because Alfred Lovato is his chief of security.”
Then the private drama became a public spectacle.
The family took William’s body to San Felipe Pueblo for a traditional, four-day burial service. No members of the press were allowed, and the family made no statements. But a team of reporters showed up at their home anyway, and had to be schooled on tribal protocol.
Behind the scenes, there was an intense family debate, Little said. Should they mourn quietly and protect their elderly mother, as was “their traditional way,” or should they go all out to pursue justice?
In the end, the family was influenced by the long-ago murder of another family member, said Little. Back in the 1970’s, the man was murdered and his killers were never prosecuted – in a large part, because the family didn’t take an active role in the legal system.
Little began compiling the long email list of family members who wanted to be engaged in the fight for justice.
“We decided we were all in, for whatever it would take,” Little said.
After the mourning period, the family – including William’s two grown and fierce daughters, Adrianne and Diana, held a press conference at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center to discuss their father’s death.
Part of what they wanted to get out was the fact that William Tenorio was a man who graduated from the school of hard knocks and thrived. He was a father and a soccer coach and a DJ who relished his role as an unofficial counselor to the young people of the pueblo. He was outgoing and kind; he had a big ego (in a good way) and was never afraid to talk about his mistakes and help others avoid them.
More importantly, the family believed there was one crucial difference between Tenorio and Fierro – one the media overlooked in their frenzy to contrast the victims.
Little puts it this way:
“As his daughter Dianna said, ‘If the shoe were on the other foot, my father would have manned up. He would have accepted responsibility and asked for the forgiveness of the family. He would have accepted the consequences.’”
In the bazillion TV and newspaper stories about the accident, much was made of Carlos Fierro’s connections – but the Little family had some admirable connections of their own.
William’s daughter, Dianna, 24, teaches Head Start at San Felipe. Adrianne, 21, is a full-time student at Highlands University, where she is on the basketball team. James, 16, attends Santa Fe Indian School.
Charlotte, the oldest of the Tenorio siblings, is a well-known consultant in the state and nationally.
The other Tenorio siblings include David, who is a police officer and accident reconstructionist in St. Louis, and Michael, who is an aircraft mechanic in the Washington D.C. area.
Charlotte’s husband, Joseph Little, is a well-known attorney who works for the U.S. Interior Department and oversees all tribal court systems in the United States.
It’s funny, Joseph Little says – one of Fierro’s vaunted “connections” was that, as an attorney, he played a large part in the historic Jicarrilla Water Settlement.
“I was the federal chairman of that team, for the water settlement,” said Little. “I worked with the Nordhaus firm that represented them. I had numerous meetings with Les Taylor, the lead attorney. He and I were good friends. And I never met Carlos Fierro, never saw him and to this day, I have no idea where he fit in.”
Fierro’s recent trial seemed endless for the family, but they attended every single day.
Though the prosecution drew criticism at times from others, Little says she has nothing but praise for the team and for the victim’s advocates, who let the family know what kind of things the defense planned to say about William.
And it was pretty bad.
A large part of the defense was built on blaming William…for allegedly walking backward, for wearing dark clothing, for not being in the crosswalk, for being intoxicated himself.
“It was insulting. The DA was embarrassed and insulted for us that they would dare to blame my brother for the accident,” said Little.
A painful moment for the family came as Fierro took the stand in his own defense.
Throughout the trial, the Fierro family had constantly let the Tenorios know how terrible they felt, said Little.
But Fierro himself had never apologized to the Tenorio family and continued to reject his responsibility in court, Little said.
From the stand, however, through his tears, Fierro appeared to apologize to the Tenorio family.
“I thought, did I just hear that? Did he apologize? I’d love to see the transcript,” Little said.
In the end the jury rejected Fierro’s tearful pleas and convicted him.
The Tenorios are relieved that justice was done, but the family email list is still active. They’re getting ready fors Fierro’s sentencing later this month (his attorneys have filed a motion for a new trial). There’s Lovato’s preliminary hearing on Nov. 13. And there is a memorial mass at San Felipe Pueblo for William Tenorio on Nov. 22.
The Tenorio family sure didn’t ask for this horrible thing to happen, but when it did, they handled it with love and class and faith and responsibility. Unlike the guy who, on paper, had it all.
And I think that’s the real story to tell about all those connections in the Carlos Fierro case.