Pelotte Photos Go Prime Time
Images Tell a Different Story

By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
Gallup Independent
July 30, 2008

[with photo of the bruised bishop]

GALLUP — A picture tells a thousand stories, goes one version of an old saying.

Apparently some graphic police photographs — full of bruises, lacerations, and black eyes swollen shut — quickly changed the story that former Gallup Bishop Donald E. Pelotte has been telling since he was found severely injured in his Gallup home on July 23, 2007. Pelotte, along with a chorus of chancery officials who used to work under him, has been claiming that he merely fell down a flight of carpeted stairs.

Bishop Donald Pelotte is seen while recovering from his injuries in July 2007. The images were aired on a newscast Monday night.
Photo by Brian Leddy

That was until reporter Larry Barker, of Albuquerque television station KRQE, showed up on the doorstep of Pelotte's Florida beachfront condominium, armed with an envelope of photographs that Gallup Police officers took of Pelotte in the emergency room last July. The photographs showed Pelotte covered head to toe with critical injuries that a forensic pathologist described as coming from a "savage beating" full of punches and kicks.

With his trademark soft voice, Pelotte admitted that the injuries depicted in the police photographs couldn't have been caused by a fall.

"When you see those pictures there's no way that I could have gotten that damage by falling down the stairs," Pelotte told Barker. "But I don't remember that."

This new version of Pelotte's story — that he now can't remember what happened to him — came near the end of Barker's Monday night investigative news report. Entitled "The Battered Bishop," the segment is available for viewing on the station's Web site. Barker recently obtained copies of the photographs after successfully defending himself against a civil lawsuit filed by the city of Gallup. Barker had filed a request to see the police photographs under New Mexico's Inspection of Public Records Act. Instead, former City Attorney George Kozeliski, who had volunteered on the Diocese of Gallup's Diocesan Finance Committee, filed a complaint of declaratory judgment against Barker, and the city waged a nearly yearlong legal battle against Barker before agreeing to a settlement.

In his report, Barker enlisted the expert advice of Damon Fay, a former Albuquerque Police Department violent crime and homicide detective, and Dr. Kris Sperry, a forensic pathologist who serves as the chief medical examiner for the state of Georgia's Bureau of Investigation.

Although Barker quoted one of the diocese's early news releases that stated Pelotte's wounds were "consistent with injuries sustained by falling down a staircase," both Fay and Sperry begged to differ.

"It appears to me to be very consistent with a vicious beating," Fay said.

"I think that he was the victim of a beating, and I would characterize it as being a savage beating," Sperry said. The forensic pathologist identified about a dozen separate blows to Pelotte's face and head, in addition to bruises and lacerations all over his body. Sperry believes the wounds around the top of Pelotte's shoulders were caused by kicks to the body. Both Pelotte's eyes were blackened and swollen shut.

Based on injuries to Pelotte's hands, Sperry surmised that an altercation had taken place and Pelotte had "at least landed a few punches from his own fists, but then was overpowered and systematically punched, and then I think kicked as well, repeatedly about the face and the head and sustained some very severe injuries."

"From my perspective as a forensic pathologist," Sperry concluded, "if this man came to me as a death that was unexplained, I would rule it as a homicide due to a beating."

However seriously Fay and Sperry viewed the photographs, Pelotte had a seemingly odd reaction to them. "Something happened to me for sure," he told Barker, laughing slightly as he said it. "Gosh, I can't believe those pictures. It's going to haunt me now. I wish I hadn't seen them. It's frightening."

Pelotte argued that the photographs shouldn't be of interest now, a year after the incident. "I don't need this," he said. "It's behind me now. Let it be. Let it be."

Barker then raised the question of the person "who committed a terrible crime" and who was still on the loose.

"You'll never find him," was Pelotte's answer.

That's apparently true since Gallup Police choose to accept the word of Pelotte and diocesan officials last year.

"There is no case," Police Chief Robert Cron said. "The report was closed, and the officer indicated that the bishop had fallen down in his house."

Reporter Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola can be contacted at (505) 863-6811 ext. 218 or


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