KUNM

Supreme Court Weighs Speedy Trial Changes, 2nd Degree Murder Conviction In Homeless Beating Case

Dec 9, 2015

NM Judges Weigh 'Speedy Trial' Changes For Bernalillo CountyAssociated Press

New Mexico justices are hearing from prosecutors, public defenders and law enforcement officials as they weigh changes to a state Supreme Court rule meant to cut down the backlog of criminal cases awaiting trial in Bernalillo County.

Critics argue that what's known in the law enforcement community as the "speedy trial rule" is overtaxing the local District Attorney's office and allowing more criminals to evade prosecution.

The rule was implemented in February.

Supreme Court justices and administrators held a meeting with District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, Chief Public Defender Jorge Alvarado, Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden and others Tuesday to discuss the rule.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Chief Justice Barbara Vigil says Brandenburg is misreading a key part of the law. Vigil says prosecutors are obligated to turn over just the evidence that led them to file charges or that they presented to a grand jury to secure an indictment. 

While there's no deadline for the Supreme Court to act on recommendations discussed during the meeting, judges are expected to decide on rule changes within the next month, or soon after the New Year.

2nd Degree Murder Conviction In Homeless Beating Case The Associated Press

A jury has convicted a 20-year-old man of beating two homeless men to death as they slept last year in Albuquerque.

Jurors found Alex Rios guilty of two counts of second-degree murder today after hearing gruesome details about the attack on Allison Gorman Kee Thompson in a vacant lot in July 2014.

Police say Rios and two teens killed the men, who were both Navajo.

The youngest of the three suspects was 15 at the time of the attack and agreed to testify against the others in a plea agreement.

Assistant District Attorney Vincent Martinez says that while his team pushed for a jury to find Alex Rios guilty of first-degree murder, prosecutors are satisfied with today’s outcome.

Army Preps For Missile Launch To Spur Calls Across SouthwestThe Associated Press

Authorities across the Southwest are preparing to be inundated with calls and emails from people who might catch a glimpse of the contrail that will be left behind by an early morning missile test.

Officials at White Sands Missile Range say the Juno missile will be launched Thursday morning from an old military depot in western New Mexico.

On its way to White Sands, the missile will drop a booster into a safety zone north of Datil, New Mexico. Roadblocks have been set up in the area.

A similar launch in 2012 created a buzz when reports flooded in about a colorful contrail that was visible from southern Colorado, Salt Lake City, Phoenix and Las Vegas.

This time, officials are sharing information about the launch with communities as far away as Palm Springs, California.

Child Abuse Cases Overwhelm Social Workers In New Mexico - The Associated Press

Child welfare officials are seeking a $12 million budget increase in hopes of lightening the caseloads of the state's overburdened social workers.

The New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department appealed to members of a key legislative committee Wednesday, saying some workers face caseloads that are three times that of federal recommendations.

Of the request, $5 million would pay to fill vacancies and hire 50 new caseworkers to protect neglected children.

The agency says its investigators handle about 17 cases at a time when federal guidelines recommend between 10 and 12 cases.

Once abuse is confirmed, social workers attend to 19 or 20 cases on average when federal guidelines call for no more than 17.

Sen. Howie Morales of Silver City pointed to Socorro County, where he said caseloads reached 43 per worker.

Interior Secretary: No Criminal Acts In Colorado Mine SpillThe Associated Press

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell says she's seen no evidence of criminal negligence in a toxic wastewater spill triggered by federal workers at an inactive Colorado gold mine.

Jewell said during congressional testimony Wednesday that the 3 million-gallon spill was clearly an accident by a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency crew. She says the Aug. 5 case highlights the hazards posed by tens of thousands of abandoned mines across the country.

Republicans counter that Interior's investigation into the spill amounted to a "whitewash" that fails to hold the EPA accountable.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop is asking the non-partisan Government Accountability Office to review Interior's investigation.

The spill from the Gold King Mine unleashed a surge of arsenic, lead and other contaminants that fouled rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Dona Ana Leaders Spar Over Jail Control, Director ArrestedThe Associated Press & The Las Cruces Sun-News

Leaders of Dona Ana County are fighting for control of the jail after the director was arrested on investigation of fraud, bringing contraband into a jail and willful neglect of duty.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that Sheriff Enrique "Kiki" Vigil took control of the jail early Tuesday after director Christopher Barela was arrested.

But by end of day, County Manager Julia Brown had obtained a temporary restraining order from district court calling on Vigil to step down as head of the county jail. Brown says Vigil's move was illegal because the County Commission transferred control of the facility to the county manager in 1989.

Vigil says District Attorney Mark D'Antonio had notified commissioners last week of Barela's impending arrest.

Tribes Express Concern About Reactivation Of New Mexico MineThe Associated Press

Leaders form the Laguna, Acoma and Zuni tribes say they are concerned about the possible reactivation of Rio Grande Resources' underground mine in western New Mexico.

The company has applied to change the status of its permit for the Mount Taylor Mine from standby to active.

The Gallup Independent reports that Mount Taylor is a site of cultural and religious significance for as many as 30 Native American tribes. The mountain also sits atop one of the richest uranium ore reserves in the Grants Uranium Belt.

Zuni Tribal Council member Carlton Bowekaty said at a hearing Friday that the Pueblo of Zuni is opposed to mining where cultural properties are affected.

Laguna-Acoma Coalition for a Safe Environment Vice President Petuuche Gilbert said it is vital that tribes be consulted about any action taken on Mount Taylor.

Sanchez: Gov. Martinez Call For New DWI Laws A 'Diversion' Associated Press

The top New Mexico Senate Democrat says Gov. Susana Martinez's call for tougher drunken driving laws is a "diversion" to take the focus off her overall record.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez said Tuesday the Republican governor is attacking the Democratic-controlled Senate for not passing new drunken driving laws to distract voters from her efforts to ignore poverty in the state.

Sanchez says New Mexico already has some of the toughest drunken driving laws in the nation and Martinez has failed to support treatment and rehabilitation. He says more police are needed to arrest drunk drivers.

Martinez faulted the Senate this week for not acting to strengthen drunken driving penalties. She unveiled a series of executive orders and said state police would step up patrols.

Santa Fe District Attorney Says She's Retiring On Dec. 31 Associated Press

Santa Fe District Attorney Angela "Spence" Pacheco says she's retiring at the end of this month.

Pacheco has served as a state employee for 27 years, 18 of which she spent at the 1st Judicial District Attorney's Office.

She spent 11 years working as a prosecutor before being elected as district attorney in 2008 and was re-elected in 2012.

The 66-year-old Pacheco told Albuquerque TV station KOB that she wants to spend more time with her family.

The 1st Judicial District includes Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Rio Arriba counties.

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez will have to appoint a new district attorney to serve for the 10 months the seat will be vacated.

Voters will choose a new district attorney next November.

Court Releases Letters Related To Duran CaseAssociated Press

U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce wants a state district judge to consider former New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran's years of public service before sentencing her next week.

A letter from the Republican congressman to Judge T. Glenn Ellington was among the correspondence released by the court after a hearing Tuesday.

They made references to Duran's compassion for her community and family.

Two other letters from residents in Albuquerque and Santa Fe and a recorded phone message left with the judge's office expressed frustration with government corruption and asked the judge to impose a stiff sentence.

Mental health records concerning Duran will remain under seal. Next week’s hearing could hinge on evidence concerning Duran's self-professed gambling addiction.

The board chair of the state Public Employee Retirement Association, Patty French, and former Otero County Democratic Party Chair John Wheeler also were among those seeking leniency for Duran.

Congressional Committee: Mine Probe Glossed Over Negligence Matthew Brown, Associated Press

Republicans in Congress say an U.S. Interior Department investigation glossed over the federal government's negligence in a massive toxic wastewater spill that fouled rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is scheduled to testify on the matter Wednesday before a House committee.

An Environmental Protection Agency cleanup crew triggered the 3-million-gallon spill during cleanup work in August at an inactive gold mine near Silverton, Colorado.

The Interior Department investigation faulted the EPA for not taking steps that could have prevented the accident.

But House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop told The Associated Press that the investigation was too limited. It failed to answer whether any criminal conduct occurred.

Interior officials have yet to release documents related to the investigation sought by the AP through public records requests.

New Mexico Dem: Gov. Martinez Acts Like Trump Over LicensesAssociated Press

New Mexico's top Senate Democrat is comparing Gov. Susana Martinez to GOP presidential hopeful Donald Trump because of her opposition to the state's immigrant driver's license law.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez said Tuesday the Republican governor's actions were "almost Trumpism" since they were dividing New Mexico residents. He says Martinez is repeatedly telling "lies" about pending Real ID requirements.

Sanchez says Martinez is falsely telling residents they will need passports for commercial air travel in January, though the federal government has not announced when those requirements will be adopted.

Martinez has tried to repeal a state law that allows immigrants to obtain driver's licenses regardless of status.

A Martinez spokesman says Sanchez is the blame for the stalemate over revising the "dangerous" law.

Funding Deadline Looms For New Mexico Lottery ScholarshipsAssociated Press

New Mexico education officials say reserves are nearly depleted for New Mexico state scholarships backed by lottery proceeds.

State Higher Education Secretary Barbara Damron briefed lawmakers Tuesday on funding levels for lottery scholarships. About 32,000 students rely on the money and lottery proceeds are covering about 90 percent of costs.

Damron says tuition increases are depleting scholarship funds faster than they can be replenished. Liquor taxes contribute $19 million to the scholarships, but that extra funding source ends in mid-2018.

Tuition support will be reduced by 30 percent in the fall of 2018 if no action is taken.

Doña Ana Leaders Spar Over Jail Control, Director Arrested Las Cruces Sun-News, Associated Press

Leaders of Doña Ana County are fighting for control of the jail after the director was arrested on investigation of fraud, bringing contraband into a jail and willful neglect of duty.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reports that Sheriff Enrique "Kiki" Vigil took control of the jail early Tuesday after director Christopher Barela was arrested.

But by end of day, County Manager Julia Brown had obtained a temporary restraining order from district court calling on Vigil to step down as head of the county jail. Brown says Vigil's move was illegal because the County Commission transferred control of the facility to the county manager in 1989.

Vigil says District Attorney Mark D'Antonio had notified commissioners last week of Barela's impending arrest.

New Mexico Rolls Out New Legislative Website Associated Press

The New Mexico Legislature is rolling out a new website design that aims to make it easier for visitors to search for information.

There are scrolling updates and a simple menu across the top of the page and search boxes that will help track down legislation by keyword or the bill's sponsor.

There are also links to committees and publications.

Legislative webmasters have also included a comment box where users can leave suggestions.

Officials say the old website and the new one will both be available through the 30-day legislative session that begins in January. The new site will be used exclusively after that.

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