Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Man receives suspended sentence


May 22, 2019

A Tucumcari man received a suspended prison sentence last week for voluntary manslaughter for his role in the 2017 killing of a man at a home north of Tucumcari.

John T. Coston, 27, initially was charged with first-degree murder and felony tampering with evidence for the shotgun death of Joseph T. Burgess, 25, of the 4200 block of Quay Road 65 on April 5, 2017.

A Quay County jury in February found Coston guilty of voluntary manslaughter and not guilty of murder and the tampering charges. During the sentencing hearing May 15, Coston's attorney, Michael Garrett of Clovis, said jurors said his client “acted on sufficient provocation” during the killing.

Julie Brovko, a clinical physiologist, also testified Coston suffered from social phobia, post-traumatic stress syndrome and suicidal issues but was “low risk” of committing a similar violent offense. She said Coston likely would benefit from mental-health treatment for his social anxiety disorder, and “he needs to get out around people; that would be the thing to minimize some of those symptoms.”

She also urged he continue to take mental-health medication and that weapons be removed from his residence.

The victim’s brother, sister, mother, father and grandparents addressed the court before sentencing, giving impact statements.

Prosecutor Ozy Adams recommended seven years in prison, with credit for time served.

“For me, there is a single defining moment that would justify the seven-year prison sentence,” Adams said. “After the initial shot, the defendant reloaded and shot Tyler Burgess in the head. He was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter. That act alone shows malice and a plan that takes this case out of what we think as self-defense.”

Garrett retorted: “John thought he had to defend himself. Taking a life doesn’t mean you go to prison or you have to be subjected to additional punishment. … Rehabilitation supervision is what this young man needs and should continue to have.”

He recommended Coston get credit for time served for wearing his ankle bracelet since his arrest in 2017.

District Judge Albert Mitchell gave Coston a suspended six-year sentence with credit for time served in the county jail, time used at the New Mexico Department of Corrections for his mental-health evaluation and his wearing an electronic-monitoring bracelet on his ankle for more than two years.

Mitchell also ordered Coston to supervised probation “with absolutely no firearms” and continue with at least weekly psychiatric counseling. The judge also wanted a detailed plan within 90 days from the Adult Probation Office on Coston's evaluation and therapy. Mitchell also ordered a social worker be assigned to Coston to get him the proper counseling services.

He also ordered Coston to community service and that he enroll at Mesalands Community College within two years.

“They talk about your ability to function in a world,” Mitchell said. “Your were as an isolated individual. You didn’t know to reach you to people, and you have to start that no later than 12 months from now. You will do community service, and you have to deal with people and helping people in society.”

District Attorney Tim Rose said he was disappointed with Mitchell’s sentence.

“While I respect the verdict of the jury, I remain convinced that John Coston committed murder when he fatally shot his cousin, Tyler Burgess, in the chest with a shotgun and then shot him again in the head to make sure the job was finished,” Rose stated in an email Monday. “The defendant's allegation of an accidental shooting was not plausible, nor the allegation that he was in fear for his life due to Mr. Burgess raising his voice or calling him names. While Mr. Coston certainly is in need of treatment that can be offered through probation, I am disheartened that the sentence imposed by the court did not mandate a term of actual imprisonment (punishment).”

Garrett declined to comment further about the case Monday.

According to an affidavit filed after Coston’s initial arrest, Coston was sitting on the porch of the Quay Road 65 residence when sheriff's deputy Ben Gates arrived on the scene. Gates asked what had happened. Coston stated he had shot his cousin, Burgess.

During an interview with police, Coston said he was having an argument with the victim because Burgess was not supposed to be at the residence, the affidavit stated.

Coston said he told Burgess to leave, went into his bedroom and closed the door. He said he called the owner of the residence to tell them Burgess was there, then he blacked out. Coston told officers he was afraid because when they were younger, Burgess bullied him.

Coston said the next thing he remembered was standing in the hallway with a shotgun lying on the floor next to him and Burgess on the floor and bleeding. Coston told officers "he must of shot Burgess because there was no one else inside the residence," the affidavit stated.


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