New Mexico man accused of decapitating acquaintance in park, ‘playing soccer’ with head

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — A New Mexico man who dodged a murder charge in 2017 is now accused of decapitating a man in a public park and using his head to play soccer in the street.

Joel Arciniega-Saenz, 25, of Las Cruces, was arrested Sunday night and charged with first-degree murder in the killing of 51-year-old James Garcia. He remained jailed without bond Wednesday in the Doña Ana County Detention Center.

Editor’s note: This story contains graphic information about a violent crime.

Court documents obtained by KTSM in El Paso describe the grisly scene Las Cruces police officers found when they responded Sunday to Apodaca Park.

According to the records, police officers were called to the park after passersby reported a body lying on Madrid Avenue. When they arrived, they found Garcia’s remains, minus his head.

An officer found Garcia’s head about 10 yards from the rest of him, the news station reported.

Garcia had suffered multiple stab wounds and was also missing the middle finger of his right hand.

ABC 7 in Las Cruces reported that police allege Arciniega-Saenz, who was found nearby, had “significant bloodstains” on his clothing and a “bloody knife (was) stuck in the ground near where he was seated.”

According to the probable cause affidavit, Arciniega-Saenz alleged that Garcia had raped his wife four years ago, KTSM reported.

He did not identify his wife for investigators, however.

Arciniega-Saenz told police that he, his wife and Garcia had been hanging out together several days before the crime and when he and his wife fell asleep, Garcia stole their belongings. According to the court documents, he said he tracked Garcia to the park, where he confronted him about the alleged theft.

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He told detectives he grabbed a switchblade from Garcia, stabbed him several times and cut off his head. Arciniega-Saenz said he then dragged the man’s body into the street and “played soccer with his head.”

Arciniega-Saenz said he kicked Garcia’s head at more than a dozen cars that drove by, KTSM reported.

Garcia’s slaying is not the first time Arciniega-Saenz has been charged with murder. A June 2017 indictment accused him of first-degree murder in the fatal April 22, 2017, shooting of Benjamin Isaac Montoya, 21, at the Town House Motel in Las Cruces.

According to a criminal complaint in that case, Montoya and his girlfriend, Dakota Ocampo, came to the motel, where Arciniega-Saenz was living, to spend the night. At some point, a fight apparently broke out and Montoya was fatally shot in the chest.

Arciniega-Saenz told detectives he was outside smoking when the gunshot was fired. When Ocampo was questioned, however, she indicated that Arciniega-Saenz may have been the shooter.

Authorities charged him based on witness statements, as well as blood allegedly found on his clothing.

It was later discovered that Ocampo, who had been arrested in a separate case, had a .38-caliber pistol, which matched the caliber of the weapon that had been used to kill Montoya. According to court records, the murder weapon was never found.

Joel Arciniega-Saenz who was arrested in connection to the murder at Apodaca Park last night, was also arrested in 2017...

Posted by Salina Madrid on Monday, June 21, 2021

Prosecutors dropped the murder charge in April 2018, citing the need for further investigation of the case.

The dismissal delivered a harsh blow to Montoya’s loved ones.

“I just was very angry because they let a monster out,” Montoya’s sister, Krystal Montoya, told KFOX in El Paso, Texas, following Arciniega-Saenz’s latest arrest. “I prayed he wouldn’t do it again and ruin someone else’s family.”

Montoya told the news station that the news of Garcia’s killing is upsetting.

“At first, I read it and I was, like, ‘Oh, God, there is another one,’” she said. “When the name was said, I was, like, ‘That name sounds very familiar.’”

She said she felt sick when she realized Garcia’s accused killer is the same man accused of shooting her brother four years ago.

“I just got angry,” Montoya said. “I stared at my phone and at the floor and got angry.”

Arciniega-Saenz was also arrested in April for allegedly causing damage to a local coffee shop. He was later released.

Doña Ana County District Attorney Gerald Byers told KFOX that his staff tried in vain to have Arciniega-Saenz kept in jail on the April charges.

“Our office has diligently argued to keep this guy in jail on the most recent charges for vandalizing Beck’s Coffee House, but District Court Judge (Kent) Wingenroth ‘didn’t find him dangerous’ and released him on a $2,000 bond,” a statement from prosecutors said.

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Krystal Montoya expressed hope that Garcia’s family can someday find the peace and closure she still struggles to obtain.

“I don’t want this guy to be released again, and go do something stupid again, and go hurt another family again,” Montoya told the news station. “No matter how much I hurt from my brother, I can say that I hurt for this person’s family.

“(Arciniega-Saenz) needs to be put away, period.”