It took a while for Katherine Pierce to feel the terror.
“It made me determined to live.”
She’d assumed the man who killed her husband was an amateur stumbling his way through a botched home invasion, a guy who freaked out and pulled the trigger. That's how she rationalized what happened in the days following Scott Pierce's death.
When Albuquerque police found a DNA match for Clifton Bloomfield and connected him with other killings in the area, she was terrified, she says. "I realized this wasn't someone who had just messed up. I realized this was a murderer. I could literally be dead."
That knowledge eventually became part of her healing, she says.
“It made me determined to live.”
She tells the story of that night in June 2008: It was 3 a.m. when the dogs started barking in the Pierces' brand-new residence. Scott and Katherine had married six days prior in a small, family wedding at her sister's house, and lived in their new place for a month. Katherine got up to look around and noticed the back door was open.
She has bad vision, and it was dark. She saw the shadow of a person pointing what she thought was a broom at her. "Scott, stop messing around," she said, thinking there couldn't possibly be a stranger in her house.
Bloomfield ordered Katherine to the ground, aiming a sawed-off shotgun at her, and demanded to know where Manny was. She told him she didn't know anyone named Manny. She saw her husband appear at the other end of the kitchen. Scott lunged for the man who was threatening his wife. Bloomfield shot him in the neck and then ran.
That's as far as Katherine goes into the emotional memory. According to court documents, she held Scott as he bled; he was conscious at the end of his life and knew he was going to die.
If the Albuquerque Police Department had done a more thorough job and arrested Bloomfield after previous crimes, would Scott Pierce still be alive? That's the crux of a lawsuit his widow filed in January 2010 against the city, Police Chief Ray Schultz and several detectives. The city settled the lawsuit early this month, agreeing to pay Katherine $439,000.
A year ago, she says, she would have been a lot more willing to reject a settlement and go to trial. But as time goes by and she moves past that night, "the thought of reliving everything in such detail and bringing everything back up to the surface" grows more difficult, she says. "The main point is to let people know what happened and that the police need to work a little bit harder."
"The main point is to let people know what happened and that the police need to work a little bit harder."
Bloomfield was arrested after Scott was killed, and a DNA hit told police he had done it before. He confessed to five murders in Albuquerque within the previous three years. Tak and Pung Yi were among the people who died at Bloomfield's hand, about six months before he broke into Pierces' home. Bloomfield's DNA was eventually found to match that of evidence collected from under Tak Yi's fingernail.
But the Albuquerque Police Department didn't arrest Bloomfield after the Yis died. Instead, detectives extracted a confession, and two other men were jailed for the crime. Magazine salesman Travis Rowley confessed to killing the elderly couple, implicating himself and his coworker Michael Lee. "If they had followed through with processing the DNA even though they believed they had the right guys," Katherine says, "they would have known someone else was at that crime scene." In June 2011, the city settled a lawsuit with Lee, paying him nearly $1 million for the 15 months he spent in the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center for the crime.
Katherine’s lawsuit says Bloomfield was on supervised probation when her husband was killed, and Bloomfield should have been arrested before the murder for probation violations. He also should have been arrested in domestic violence incidents under the Family Violence Protection Act but wasn't, according to the lawsuit.
A judge ordered Bloomfield’s DNA uploaded into a database in 2007 after he was convicted of a 2005 home invasion, the lawsuit states. Bloomfield's DNA from two murders he committed in 2005 was also in the lab, but because of slow processing, the links between his crimes never became evident, according to a news release from Pierce’s lawyers, Brad Hall and Ben Davis.
"APD needs more clear-cut procedures," Katherine says. The Yis’ deaths also could have been avoided, she adds. "You read the files, and you see where they made mistake after mistake after mistake. It's frustrating. I bet there are so many cases with similar issues.”
Assistant City Attorney Kathy Levy responded with a statement to Alibi questions about whether APD made any procedural changes as a result of the lawsuit. She says allegations about coercive interrogation techniques used on the magazine salesman are without basis, and APD communicates with the state’s parole office every day. There was no way police could have predicted Scott “would be the victim of a serial killer who randomly targeted his victims,” she adds.
The settlement is not an admission of liability, she writes, and the city denies the allegations in the complaint. The city opted to settle because if the case had gone to trial, a jury could have decided to award a much larger sum.
Katherine is satisfied with Bloomfield's penalty. He's been sentenced to 195 years in prison for his crimes. She preferred that he didn't receive a death sentence and says he should live out the rest of his days in prison. "But there's nothing that's good enough."
Scott was the kind of guy who'd be there for anyone in an instant, she says. He was proud of his career as a nurse because he helped people every day. "He was extremely kindhearted." He loved beauty, she says, and he loved life. If she had a plant that was almost dead, he wouldn't let her get rid of it.
"One of Scott's hobbies was switching hobbies," she laughs, and he was always selling equipment so he could buy equipment for something else. His primary interest was photography. Scott always did what he wanted and pursued his passions. That’s why Katherine is determined to enjoy things, she says. "I'm just trying to keep going and keep living and doing what I want. If I got anything from him, that's the biggest."
Four years later, she's engaged again, though she hasn't set a date, and her future is looking brighter. "Scott told me before if anything happened to him, he would want me to keep living. Knowing who Scott was, living well is honoring him."