Trial set in slaying of motel clerk

By Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

The case against James Benuska, 39, who was arrested and charged in the slaying of a Tucumcari motel clerk last fall, was bound over Thursday for trial in district court.

District Court Judge Don Schutte said there was probable cause to try the case in district court following testimony in a preliminary hearing on Thursday.

Benuska is charged with first-degree murder and tampering with evidence in the death of Nancy Archibeque, 60, who was found dead Sept. 19 in the employee laundry room of the Microtel Inn, according to testimony at the hearing.

Benuska’s defense attorney, Robert J. Gorence of Albuquerque, entered a not guilty plea on behalf of his client.
District Attorney Len Walker questioned witnesses for the prosecution, including a former motel clerk and police, criminal and forensic investigators who were at the scene or examined evidence from the scene.

Defense attorney Gorence cross examined witnesses, but did not present any witnesses and Benuska did not testify.

Benuska had checked into the motel on Sept. 18, 2007, before Betty Greenwood, a front desk clerk, came to work for her 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift at the motel near Interstate 40 on First Street, Greenwood told the court.

Greenwood said she encountered Benuska several times during her late shift and some of Benuska’s questions seemed weird.
Benuska asked her questions about where and how he could get his hair cut, and if she would cut his hair, Greenwood said.

“I didn’t feel comfortable” with the way he was saying certain things, Greenwood said. “I didn’t feel afraid of him, but he was weird.”
Archibeque, who worked the night shift as a front desk clerk, came to the motel shortly before 11 p.m. on Sept. 18, Greenwood said.
Archibeque and Benuska had a short exchange before Greenwood clocked out at 11:18 p.m., Greenwood said.

Benuska had asked to be awakened in time to catch a 12:30 a.m. bus at the Greyhound Station across the street from the motel, Greenwood said.

Greenwood said she set the automatic wake-up to midnight so that Benuska would have enough time to get the station.

Benuska came to the front desk area to ask about his wake-up call while both women were there, Greenwood said. When Archibeque walked away, Greenwood said, Benuska “Whistled and hollered,” at Archibeque and said, “Hey you, you will wake me up.”

Greenwood said Archibeque “didn’t seem alarmed” by Benuska.

The following morning, about 7 a.m., Archibeque was found dead in the motel’s laundry room, testified Tucumcari Police Department detective Jack Hendrickson.

Benuska was found about 9 a.m. that morning at the bus station, and a black suitcase with his name on it containing bloody towels and clothes was recovered from the dump that day, according to court testimony.

Hendrickson said he went from the motel to the bus station and said he told an officer that he thought Benuska had blood on his shoes.
The state’s autopsy report found that Archibeque died from blunt force trauma caused by wounds that matched the broken end of a broom handle, Walker said.

A broken metal broom handle was found in the laundry room and chlorine beach was poured over the victim, testified a senior agent with the New Mexico State Police crime scene team.

Shirley Garcia, a forensic scientist, testified that footprints found in the laundry room matched shoes that were presented as evidence in the hearing.

Walker said that evidence was still being processed and that DNA tests on items would be made.

The trial for Benuska, who is in the Quay County Detention Center, will be sometime in December, Schutte said.