Trial Begins For Man Accused Of Killing Rio Rancho Officer, Lawmakers No Closer On Special Session

Sep 8, 2016

Trial Begins For Man Charged In Rio Rancho Officer's Death The Associated Press

An attorney for the man charged in the shooting death of a suburban Albuquerque police officer has called into question the honesty of a key witness for the prosecution in the case.

Defense attorney Cindy Leos argued before jurors in her opening statement today that Tabitha Littles had lied to authorities during their investigation before taking a plea deal that calls for her to testify against Andrew Romero in the trial.

Romero is accused of shooting Rio Rancho Officer Gregg Benner.  Attorneys on both sides delivered opening arguments in the murder trial Thursday morning.

Authorities say Littles was driving a vehicle pulled over by Benner during a routine traffic stop that preceded his shooting death last year in May.

The prosecution's opening statement centered mostly on the sequence of events leading up to the shooting.

New Mexico Governor, Lawmakers No Closer To Special SessionThe Associated Press

Democratic New Mexico lawmakers are complaining that Gov. Susana Martinez hasn't offered a plan to fill the state's budget hole.

The Republican governor says she's already asked the agencies under her control to cut back and has promised to call a special legislative session once lawmakers have concrete proposals for shoring up the state's finances.

But there's no indication either side is closer to an agreement as New Mexico faces a $458 million shortfall that's tied to weak tax revenues and New Mexico's dependence on oil and natural gas development.

Lawmakers must also address a nearly quarter-billion-dollar deficit from last fiscal year.

Martinez spokesman Mike Lonergan accused Senate Democrats of playing politics in an election year.

Sen. John Arthur Smith dismissed that claim, saying Thursday that everything needs to be on the table regardless of campaign promises.

Albuquerque Transit Project To Finish By Late 2017 Albuquerque Journal

The Albuquerque Rapid Transit project, called ART, is now slated to finish by late 2017 with the signing of a construction contract.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Mayor Richard Berry’s administration and Bradbury Stamm signed a contract worth $82.6 million on Wednesday at an event celebrating the project.

ART will consist of dedicated bus lanes and stations along nine miles of Central Avenue from Coors to Louisiana. Last month a federal appeals court lifted an order that halted the project.

Opponents had filed lawsuits to stop the $119 million transit project, claiming it would bring congestion, damage Historic Route 66 and harm business owners. Supporters say it will foster more economic development.

Bradbury Stamm officials say the project will employ about 300 people full-time. City Councilors adopted a resolution Wednesday requiring the city to hold a summit on the project with business and property owners before Oct. 1.

New Mexico AG Urges Feds To Protect ITT Tech StudentsAssociated Press

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is asking the federal government to protect students in the wake of an announcement by the for-profit college chain ITT Technical Institute that it was shutting down its U.S. campuses.

Balderas raised his concerns in a letter sent Wednesday to the U.S. Department of Education. He also called on New Mexico's congressional delegation to investigate the sudden closure.

The school said Tuesday it can't survive recent sanctions by the Education Department.

The chain was banned Aug. 25 from enrolling new students who used federal financial aid, because, federal officials said, the company had become a risk to students and taxpayers.

The department also ordered ITT to pay $152 million within 30 days to help cover student refunds and other liabilities if the chain closed.

Population Growth Of US Latinos Slows, Study SaysThe Associated Press

A new report says the population growth of U.S. Latinos slowed down considerably over the last seven years because of lower immigration and declining birthrates.

A Pew Research Center report released Thursday found that the U.S. Hispanic population grew by an average of 2.8 percent each year between 2007 and 2014.

That's down from the 4.4 percent annual growth from 2000 to 2007 before the Great Recession.

The study says the expansion of the Hispanic population, once the fastest growing in the nation, has slipped behind Asian-Americans.

However, the study says some locations in states with traditionally small Latino populations are seeing a big jump in Hispanic residents. That includes the Dakotas, Carolinas, Utah and Tennessee.

Ex-New Mexico High Court Justice, MALDEF Founder Sosa DiesAssociated Press

The New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts says former New Mexico Supreme Court Justice and pioneering Latino lawyer Dan Sosa Jr. has died. He was 92.

Born in Las Cruces, Sosa served as a World War II pilot before graduating from the University of New Mexico Law School in 1951. He returned to Las Cruces and was elected district attorney to a district that included Doña Ana, Otero and Lincoln counties. He was first Hispanic to serve in that position.

In the mid-1960s, he and a group of lawyers founded the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. The group is now based in California.

New Mexico Gov. Jerry Apodaca appointed Sosa to the state Supreme Court in 1975, where he served until his retirement in 1991.

DA Cautioned About Public Comments In Court-Ordered LetterAssociated Press

The attorney prosecuting two Albuquerque police officers in the death of a homeless man has sent a letter to the local district attorney requesting she refrain from making public comments that could prejudice the trial.

A judge ordered special prosecutor Randi McGinn to send the letter of caution to District Attorney Kari Brandenburg, who was cited in a recent article saying she became concerned for her safety after deciding to bring charges against the officers in the 2014 case.

McGinn also is quoted briefly in the story.

Defense attorneys for one of the officers filed a motion saying McGinn and Brandenburg should be sanctioned. The judge, instead, ordered McGinn, an attorney with a private practice in Albuquerque, send the letter to Brandenburg.

It was sent Wednesday.

Jury selection in the case begins Monday.

US Clears Way For Cleanup Of Colorado Mine After Huge SpillAssociated Press

A Colorado mine that spilled 3 million gallons of contaminated wastewater into rivers in three Western states has been designated a Superfund site.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's action Wednesday clears the way for a multimillion-dollar federal cleanup of the Gold King Mine and 47 other nearby mining-related sites.

The EPA also added nine other sites in eight states and Puerto Rico to the Superfund list.

A federal crew inadvertently triggered the Colorado spill during preliminary cleanup work at the inactive mine in August 2015, tainting rivers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.

The spill released metals including arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury, nickel and zinc.

The Superfund designation comes after months of negotiations with southwestern Colorado residents, who feared it could dampen the region's vital tourism industry.

Historic Creamery In Roswell Faces Demolition Roswell Daily Record, Associated Press

A building that once housed a historic creamery in southeastern New Mexico is set to be demolished.

The Roswell Daily Record reports that attorney Frank Patterson said this week the Price's Creamery's building in Roswell will be torn down to make room for another business.

Patterson says the building has gone through several hands over the years and recently has had a tough time keeping renters.

Bradley Houston who worked for Price's dairy farms for nearly 50 years says the business grew from a single cow with two boys delivering milk in a little red wagon, to 2,400 cows a day.

But experts say now that dairies move the milk in bulk to large processing plants, small creameries have fallen out of favor in the area.

Man Gets Prison Term For Shooting, Wounding 2 NMSU StudentsAssociated Press

A man accused of shooting and wounding two New Mexico State University students in 2014 has been sentenced to 13 ½ years in prison.

Prosecutors say 25-year-old Philip Zaman was sentenced Wednesday.

Five months ago, Zaman pleaded no contest to attempted first-degree murder, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, negligent use of a firearm and criminal damage to property.

Zaman was an NMSU student at the time of the November 2014 shooting at a Las Cruces home near the school's campus.

He was accused of firing at two other students in a bedroom.

Prosecutors say one victim was shot in the stomach while the other was shot while trying to run away.

A bullet grazed his shoulder, entered his mouth and knocked out several teeth before exiting his cheek.

Officials Quiet On Whether Facebook Data Project Still AliveAssociated Press

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert says a Salt Lake City suburb's efforts to entice a new Facebook data center with millions of dollars in tax breaks may be over and local officials are keeping quiet on whether the project is still alive.

Los Lunas, N.M. is also vying for the data center and agreed to give up all property taxes for 30 years in exchange for annual payments from Facebook that start at $50,000 and top out at less than $500,000.

An initial plan by Utah to offer about $240 million in tax breaks over fell apart late last month after local leaders said the offer was too generous.

After state and county officials rejected the offer, the city of West Jordan said it would end negotiations. The city then reversed course the next day, saying it was still interested and would restart talks with the company.

Herbert said Wednesday that the issue seems "dormant at best and maybe lost."

West Jordan city spokeswoman Kim Wells said in a statement that the city hasn't started new negotiations.

Scientists Concerned About Beetles' Effect On Rare BirdAssociated Press

As if drought wasn't enough, federal scientists say an endangered songbird that lives along rivers and streams in several states is now threatened by a destructive beetle.

A report by the U.S. Geological Survey identifies new threats facing the Southwestern willow flycatcher and provides more detail about its habitat.

Scientists say satellite modeling that predicts the effects of tamarisk leaf beetles in the bird's habitat can be used by land and water managers as they try to balance protecting the bird with controlling invasive salt cedar trees.

The beetles have been successful in beating back the nonnative trees, chewing through 94 percent of the flycatcher's habitat along the lower Virgin River.

The modeling predicts significant stretches of habitat along the lower Colorado River and the upper Gila River will be destroyed by the beetles in the next decade.