Retired N.M. Officer Could Face Trial For First-Degree Murder in Nine-Year-Old Mystery

The Associated Press

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Is Melanie McCracken's death a nine-year-old medical mystery or an unsolved murder? That's the question before a judge in an evidentiary hearing that started here Monday.

Her husband, retired state police officer Mark McCracken, could face trial for first-degree murder in the August 1995 death of 24-year-old Melanie McCracken, if retired District Judge David Bonem of Portales finds probable cause during the hearing.

The hearing marks a second round for Mark McCracken. He was indicted by a grand jury in 2003, only to have those charges tossed out because an investigator for the prosecution was in the grand jury room when the case was presented.

Mark McCracken's defense plans to present its theory - based on a 2002 autopsy - that Melanie McCracken suffered from mental illness and died by her own hand after taking too many prescription drugs.

Former District Attorney Randy Harris of Clovis, special prosecutor for the case, opted for a preliminary hearing rather than seek a second indictment.

Mark McCracken told investigators he returned to his Bosque Farms mobile home to find his wife unconscious. He put her in their car and was rushing her to an Albuquerque hospital when he lost control of the vehicle on N.M. 47 and it rolled, landing on its roof. Melanie McCracken was dead when paramedics arrived.

"Doctors will say again and again that this woman died of oxygen deprivation," Harris said. "They don't know if it was a hand, a pillow. ... The only reasonable explanation is that this man did it."

Defense attorney Peter Schoenburg said the couple had a loving relationship, but with a cloud of Melanie's mental illness hanging over it.

He said she suffered from a mental illness called "factitious disorder." Those suffering from the disease make elaborate efforts to convince others they're sick, including doing things to make themselves sick, he said.

Melanie had been to 35 doctors by the time of her death, complaining of pain in various parts of her body, Schoenburg said.

"She was a walking pharmacy. She knew all the drugs. She developed an elaborate web of lies," he said.

A pill bottle dated March 1994 was found at the couple's home with 35 tablets of promethazine. One of the drug's side-effects is arrhythmia of the heart, he said.

Toxicology tests that failed to find the drug in Melanie's body in 1995, turned it up in a 2002 autopsy.

"The fact is she wasn't killed by violent means," Schoenburg said. "She was killed by her own hand."

The state Office of the Medical Investigator has never determined a cause of death.

Associated Press
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