It has been more than two years since Karl Jürisson was gunned down in the driveway of his partner Julia Clark Downs’ southeast Albuquerque home on Father’s Day in 2021.
In a twist of fate four months later, Downs was killed in a tragic car crash in early October on a rural highway in Taos. She had moved to Taos to take a job with the 9th District Attorney’s office after Jürisson was killed.
Then a curve ball was thrown into this already tragic story when the man charged in Downs’ crash died while awaiting trial on vehicular homicide charges. Jürisson’s accused killer is sitting in the Metropolitan Detention Center, awaiting trial in a court case that seems to be moving at a snail’s pace.
Downs was an attorney who at the time of her death had just started working for the 8th Judicial District Attorney’s office. She also was a legal consultant for “Better Call Saul,” the popular prequel to “Breaking Bad.” Season 6, Episode 9 of the former was dedicated to her. Downs was also previously an assistant District Attorney in Valencia County and worked for Isleta Pueblo prior to moving to Taos.
Downs was struck by Frank McAleer, 74, who slammed into the back of her Volvo with a 1999 Ford Expedition. Police believed she was stopped to make a left turn from U.S. Route 64, west of Taos, into a doggy daycare to pick up her furry companion. She died at the scene. Reports say McAleer was traveling at about 80 miles an hour when he struck her car. Reports say that he told police he did not see her brake lights. McAleer had not had a driver’s license since 2007, and was driving someone else’s car. He was airlifted to the University of New Mexico Hospital and later charged with vehicular homicide among other crimes.
McAleer’s public defender John Hartley said in an email to The Paper. that McAleer died in July, partly from injuries he sustained in the crash. Court documents show that it was also disclosed in March that McAleer also had cancer. Court transcripts show he was in hospice by June.
“Unfortunately, Frank passed away in July. He too suffered injuries in the crash which took Ms. Downs’ life and I believe those injuries contributed to his death,” Hartley says.
Hartley says McAleer lived extremely primitively in a school bus in the hills west of Taos and has no o children or known family. No one claimed his remains and he was buried in an indigent grave site. Hartley adding some humanity to this tragic case, says McAleer was a guarded but pleasant, respectful and affable person to deal with.
Tragic Father’s Day
Jürisson was a well-known engineer and rocket scientist, who retired from Northrop Grumman. He was one of those smart scientist guys. He worked on the spectacular James Webb Telescope project.
Jürisson was leaving Downs’ house after checking on it while Downs was out of the country. Prosecutors say hee was confronted by Felix Vigil. Vigil, his then friend John Kasi, both 18 at the time, and at least one other person were allegedly cruising a residential area south of Central and UNM in a borrowed car. One of them had to urinate, as the story goes, so they pulled over near the house Jürisson, 64, was at while he was getting into his car. According to case documents, Vigil came up on Jürrison with a gun while Jürrison was sitting in the car. Jürisson, being the kind of guy who wouldn’t put up with that kind of behavior, got out of the car to confront the gunman. Vigil allegedly shot him, jumped in the car and sped off. According to case documents eyewitnesses saw someone confront Jürisson in the driveway in what appeared to the witness to be a carjacking. They saw a man flee and found Jürisson lying in the street. He later died at the hospital.
Kasi was picked up on a separate charge shortly after the killing. Vigil was jailed on another charge a couple of months later. Someone did some tattling, and cops did some good work with cell phone towers and social media, but it took until January 2023 for police to get the evidence lined up to charge Felix Vigil as the shooter in Jürisson’s case. He is facing second degree murder and armed robbery charges. The case is set for a docket call in mid February after an August plea conference failed.
The Paper. tried to contact the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s office for comment on the upcoming trial, with little success.
“Given the fact that this case is so near its trial date, our office does not have a comment at this time,” says Deputy District Attorney Victoria LeBlanc.
Whether the death of McAleer is justice for the family or not is debatable. It will haunt those that loved her, this writer included, until forgiveness settles in. It also seems that the person responsible for her death is probably someone she would have had compassion for if she were prosecuting this case. On the other hand, Downs’ probably would have vigorously prosecuted Vigil’s case.