House Ethics Panel Clears NM Lawmaker, Suspect Charged In Killing Navajo Girl Changes Plea To Guilty

Jul 29, 2017

House Ethics Panel Clears 2 Lawmakers – The Associated Press

The House Ethics Committee has cleared Democratic and Republican lawmakers in separate inquiries.

The panel said Tuesday it is dropping investigations against Democrat Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico and Republican Roger Williams of Texas.

Lujan, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was accused of using the House chamber to raise money for campaign purposes during a June 2016 sit-in on gun control.

Williams, an auto dealer, was accused of a conflict of interest in offering a 2015 amendment that would have benefited auto dealers.

The ethics panel said neither Lujan nor Williams violated House rules, but cautioned that both acted in ways where mistakes are possible.

A spokesman for Lujan called the complaint politically motivated and without merit.

A spokeswoman for Williams could not immediately be reached.

Suspect In Killing Of Navajo Girl Pleads Guilty To MurderThe Associated Press

A man charged with murder, sexual assault and other counts in the death of an 11-year-old girl on the largest American Indian reservation changed his pleas to guilty Tuesday in a case that prompted calls to expand the Amber Alert system and the death penalty to tribal communities across the U.S.

More than a year after Ashlynne Mike was killed in Navajo Nation, Tom Begaye entered his new plea at a hearing in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, New Mexico, as family members of Mike cried.

Sentencing will be held at a later date.

Prosecutors say Begaye lured the girl into his van in May 2016 and sexually assaulted her. She was reported missing, but an Amber Alert didn't go out in the state until the next day.

The death led to pending federal legislation that would expand the Amber Alert system to tribal communities and calls for Navajo Nation to end its opposition to the death penalty.

An Amber Alert system for the 27,000-square-mile (69,930-square-kilometer) reservation was proposed years ago but never implemented, despite the tribe having been awarded $330,000 in federal funding as part of a U.S. Justice Department pilot project.

Half the money was used to buy equipment such as megaphones and pop-up tents, but the rest went unspent.

Federal Concealed-Carry Bills Prompt Warning In New Mexico- The Associated Press

A national gun-safety group is stepping up pressure in New Mexico against proposed federal firearms legislation that would make states recognize concealed handgun permits from other states.

With members of Congress returning home for August recess, Americans for Responsible Solutions on Tuesday warned that concealed carry "reciprocity" legislation would undermine New Mexico's rigorous training and screening standards for concealed carry licenses.

Robin Lloyd of Americans for Responsible Solutions warned that as many as 25 other states do not meet New Mexico's requirements for background checks and firearms safety training for people who carry concealed weapons.

The National Rifle Association supports House and Senate bills that enshrine rights to carry concealed weapons across state lines. GOP Rep. Steve Pearce is among more than 200 co-sponsors of the House reciprocity bill.

New Study Will Examine New Mexico's Higher Education SystemThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

New Mexico officials are considering rethinking the state's higher education model.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the New Mexico Higher Education Department will be conducting a study to determine whether it would be beneficial to reorganize or consolidate the current system.

New Mexico has 21 different governing boards that oversee 31 public colleges and universities. Critics have said the system is inefficient and ineffective.

Several university administrators, faculty, campus personnel, lawmakers and representatives from K-12 education are helping the department with the study. Department Secretary Barbara Damron says they hope to present recommendations to the Legislature and the governor by the end of the year.

Man Convicted In 2013 Albuquerque Church Stabbings Released- The Associated Press

A New Mexico man convicted of stabbing a church choir director and multiple parishioners at an Albuquerque church has been released from prison.

Records with the New Mexico Department of Corrections show that Lawrence Capener was recently released on parole after serving time for the 2013 stabbings at St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic Church.

Capener pleaded no contest to attempted murder and three counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon in connection with the attack that sparked panic in the Albuquerque Westside church.

Authorities say Capener vaulted over pews and lashed out at choir director Adam Alvarez, who had his back toward him.

Capener was sentenced to five years in prison.

New Mexico Judge In Secret Recording Case May Settle Lawsuit- The Associated Press & The Daily Times

A suspended New Mexico magistrate court judge facing criminal charges for secretly recording private conversations at a courthouse may settle a lawsuit with co-workers.

The Daily Times of Farmington, New Mexico, reports a proposed settlement of a lawsuit has been reached by plaintiffs who accused suspended Aztec Magistrate Court Judge Connie Johnston of placing recording devices inside the courthouse.

Their attorney, Steve Murphy, said last week that he and Johnston's lawyer have reached an agreement.

Sean Olivas, Johnston's lawyer, did not return an email from The Associated Press.

A lawsuit filed last year by co-workers said Johnston placed recording devices in more than a dozen areas, including restrooms, judges' offices and an attorney-client conference room.

Last week, the New Mexico Attorney General's Office filed a criminal complaint against Johnston.

Construction At I-25 & Rio Bravo Project Set To Begin- The Albuquerque Journal

Construction is set to begin at I-25 and Rio Bravo in Albuquerque next week.

The Albuquerque Journal reports Gov. Susana Martinez broke ground yesterday on the project.  A hopeful result will be less traffic congestion in the future.

The price tag for the project is expected to exceed $55 million dollars in state and federal money.  It will last approximately two years.  Several lane closures can be expected and work is set to begin on August 8th for seven days a week.  Updates on construction can be obtained at the New Mexico Department of Transportation website.

Travel will remain as normal as possible on I-25.

1,700-Pound Barbecue Pit Stolen From  Albuquerque Restaurant- The Associated Press

Police are investigating a bizarre heist of a 1,700-pound barbecue pit from a popular Albuquerque restaurant.

The Albuquerque Journal reports  police say the black and red 200-gallon smoker was stolen early Sunday.

Daniel Morgan, the owner of Pepper's Ole Fashion BBQ, says the smoker was cooking up a batch of brisket when it was taken.

Morgan says most of the meat the restaurant serves is prepared in an indoor barbecue pit and he uses the custom built apparatus for catering gigs.

No arrests have been made.

Morgan says he considered launching a crowd-funding page to help cover replacement costs.

New Mexico Supreme Court Sued Over Pre-Trial Detention Rules – Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court is being sued over its recently issued pre-trial detention rules that allow defendants to be held without chance of bond.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that a group that includes five state legislators and the Bail Bonds Association of New Mexico filed the lawsuit Friday.

The suit seeks injunctive relief and damages plus a preliminary injunction to block the Supreme Court rules pending outcome of the litigation.

According to the lawsuit, the state's high court has restricted "the liberty of presumptively innocent defendants without offering the one alternative to substantial pre-trial deprivations that the Constitution expressly protects — monetary bail."

The Journal reports state Sens. Richard Martinez, Bill Sharer and Craig Brandt plus state Reps. Bill Rehm and Carl Trujillo are plaintiffs in the suit.

New Mexico Ends Tests For Secondary Drinking Water SourceThe Associated Press & The Farmington Daily Times

A New Mexico city has completed its explorations along the San Juan River in search of a secondary source for drinking water.

The Farmington Daily Times reported Monday that Bloomfield City Manager Eric Strahl says the tests did not find viable secondary drinking water sources. The city had hoped the aquifer beneath the San Juan River could produce quality water for residents.

Strahl says there was not enough gravel beneath the river to create a good filter for the water.

Bloomfield Mayor Scott Eckstein says "It didn't turn out the way we wanted it to."

The city shut down its river park at the beginning of July to drill several test wells. The project was paid for using state capital outlay money.

Arrest Made In Santa Fe Motorcycle-Gang ShootingThe Associated Press & The Santa Fe New Mexican

Police say a man has been arrested in connection with a motorcycle-gang shooting that prompted a temporary lockdown of a Santa Fe hospital.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports police on Monday didn't release names of either the suspect or the man who was wounded Saturday.

But Santa Fe police say the victim was a member of the Vagos Motorcycle Club, and he could become a target of rival Bandidos Motorcycle Club members if his name became public.

Santa Fe police Capt. Robert Vasquez says Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center released the shooting victim Sunday. He received what police called non-life-threatening injuries.

Police say visitors to the Vagos Motorcycle Club member who was shot came flooding into the emergency room, prompting the lockdown.

Navajo Nation Entity Starts Solar Farm Amid Station Closing- The Associated Press

A Navajo Nation entity has taken its first step to generating electricity by starting a solar farm.  The Daily Times of Farmington reports the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority recently started operating the 27.3-megawatt Kayenta Solar Project on 200 acres (.8 square kilometers) near Kayenta, Arizona.

Officials say it is the first large-scale solar energy facility on the reservation.

Solar farm project manager Glenn Steiger says the closing of the Navajo Generating Station is leaving a hole in power generation in the region. He says that hole ultimately will be filled with renewable energy.

Steiger says the solar panels are equipped to position flat when wind speeds increase more than 50 mph. He says two weather stations on site monitor wind speed, temperature and humidity.

New Mexico Man Serving De Facto Life Without Parole- The Associated Press

The prison term of a New Mexico man who was convicted of rape as a teenager and remains ineligible for parole until he's at least 62 is among the cases being challenged nationwide on grounds they amount to de facto juvenile life-without-parole sentences.

Joel Ira is now 36 and petitioning for release before the state Supreme Court. His attorney says his sentence, handed down for crimes when he was 14 and 15, should be overturned in light of U.S. Supreme Court rulings that found mandatory juvenile life-without-parole terms unconstitutional.

Records show Ira is among 103 New Mexico inmates sentenced to 20 years or more for crimes they committed as juveniles.

However, corrections officials say there are no known inmates facing life terms without parole for juvenile offenses.

New Mexico Lawmakers May Eye Self-Driving Car Legislation- The Associated Press

Self-driving cars and how they would operate in New Mexico may be an issue before state lawmakers next year.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Transportation Secretary Tom Church told state lawmakers last week that Gov. Susana Martinez may add the topic to the agenda of the 30-day session beginning in January.

New Mexico doesn't have any legislation on the books addressing autonomous vehicles.

The federal government has proposed model legislation for states regulating the circumstances under which vehicle manufacturers can test and operate autonomous vehicles.

Church says New Mexico is one of several states that will participate in an experiment in the next few months involving trucks that communicate with one another and move in a "platoon," allowing them to stay close together on a trip.

Biker Gangs Shooting Sparks Santa Fe Hospital Lockdown- The Associated Press

A shooting involving two rival motorcycle gangs prompted a temporary lockdown of a Santa Fe hospital.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center was placed on lockdown for more than an hour late Saturday after a member of the Vagos Motorcycle Club was taken to the hospital's emergency room.

Santa Fe police Capt. Robert Vasquez says that member was shot by a rival motorcycle gang member near Franklin E. Miles Park.

Police say visitors to the Vagos Motorcycle Club member who was shot came flooding into the emergency room, prompting the lockdown.

Hospital spokesman Arturo Delgado says patient flow was never stopped during the "brief lock-down" imposed for "precautionary measures."

No arrests were made.

Suspect In Navajo Girl's Killing Expected To Change His Plea- The Associated Press

A man charged in the death of an 11-year-old girl in a remote part of the largest American Indian reservation is expected to change his plea.

Tom Begaye is scheduled to attend a change-of-plea hearing in federal court Tuesday, although it is not known if his lawyers and federal prosecutors have struck a deal. Begaye previously pleaded not guilty to murder, sexual abuse and other charges.

Begaye is accused of luring Ashlynne Mike into his van in May 2016. Mike was reported missing, but an Amber Alert didn't go out until the next day.

She was later found in an area near the Arizona-New Mexico border.

Her death prompted federal legislation that would expand the Amber Alert system to tribal communities.

Students At Closing Santa Fe Arts College Making Zombie Film- The Associated Press

Students at a closing Santa Fe art college hope to leave a legacy with a going-away zombie film.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports students at the soon-to-be closed Santa Fe University of Art and Design are making the school's first-ever feature-length movie, and likely its last.

Holdover film students, recent graduates and faculty are producing the zombie film.

Declining enrollment, general financial trouble and the failure of a proposed sale to a Singapore-based education company prompted college leaders to announce in April they would shutter the school after the 2018 spring semester.

Some staff members have been laid off as the school consolidates operations for the coming "teach-out" period.

New Mexico Judge Faces Criminal Complaint For Secret Tapings – Associated Press

A criminal complaint has been filed against a suspended New Mexico magistrate court judge accused of secretly recording private conversations at a courthouse.

The New Mexico Attorney General's Office confirmed yesterday the office filed a criminal complaint and summons against Connie Johnston in the Eleventh Judicial District Court in San Juan County.

The complaint accuses Johnston of six counts of reading or copying a telegraph or telephone communication of another and violating the Governmental Conduct Act.

The New Mexico Supreme Court suspended Johnston in 2015 from her position as an Aztec Magistrate Court judge.

In March, a district court judge found Johnston in contempt after she failed to provide recordings and transcripts of private conversations captured in the Aztec Magistrate Court building.

Johnston's attorney, Sean Olivas, did not immediately return an email from The Associated Press.

Gov. Martinez Urges Congress To Keep Trying On Health Care – Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez is urging Congress to keep trying to fix the Affordable Health Care Act.

Martinez spokesman Joseph Cueto said Friday the Republican governor believes lawmakers need to find a solution that abolishes the "damaging fees" imposed on working families and businesses by Obamacare.

Cueto said Martinez also wants taxes on medicine and medical devices removed.

He said Martinez still believes that the Affordable Health Care Act "has been a complete disaster" because it raises premiums on families and businesses.

The U.S. Senate failed early Friday to pass a measure aimed at repealing parts of the health care law passed under President Barack Obama.

Zinke Tours New Mexico To Review MonumentsAssociated Press

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke steered clear of a heavily attended public forum about the future of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in southern New Mexico, as he traveled the state in a nationwide review of 27 national monument designations by previous presidents.

The meeting at the Las Cruces Convention Center on Thursday evening was heavily attended by supporters of the nearby national monument as well as some critics.

The Las Cruces Sun-News reported that Zinke held closed-door conversations with local residents and officials. He did not overtly state support or opposition for reducing the size of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks monument.

Zinke is scheduled Friday to meet with supporters of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in northern New Mexico that is credited with boosting tourism.

19 Attorneys General Seek Military Transgender Protections

The top legal officers in 18 states and the District of Columbia are asking Congress to pass legislation prohibiting discrimination against transgender service members.

Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin sent the letter dated Thursday. It asks the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees to include transgender protections in the National Defense Authorization Act. Eighteen other attorneys general also signed the document.

The letter says President Donald Trump's policy banning transgender service members from the military "violates fundamental constitutional and American values."

Attorneys general from the following joined Hawaii in signing the letter: California, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

Las Cruces Man To Pay About $371K Restitution In Fraud Case – Associated Press

A Las Cruces man accused of defrauding two elderly persons since 2015 has been ordered to pay more than $371,000 in restitution.

Prosecutors say Raiden Castro pleaded no contest Thursday to 18 counts of fraud.

Castro was accused of defrauding a 79-year-old Las Cruces woman out of more than $300,000 in 2015 and 2016 and a 93-year-old Las Cruces man out of more than $60,000 in December 2016 and January 2017.

He was arrested in January.

According to police investigators, Castro approached potential customers as the owner of landscaping and detailing businesses and befriended them before embezzling cash from them.

Castro has been ordered to undergo a 60-day diagnostic evaluation before sentencing.

Prosecutors say they intend to ask for 25 years in prison, with all but 10 years suspended.

Bernalillo County's Animal Shelter Set To Open Summer 2018 – Associated Press

Bernalillo County's first animal shelter is scheduled to be completed the by the end of summer 2018.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the shelter will be 17,140 square feet (1,600 square meters) and will have room for about 120 dogs, 67 cats and several other types of animals, including larger ones like horses.

It will also offer veterinary care, pet adoption, micro-chipping, spaying and neutering, and other services.

Misha Goodman, the animal care services director for Bernalillo County, says the county plans to have several other volunteer and recreational opportunities made available to residents, including a possible camp for children.

County Commissioner Steven Michael Quezada says the project will cost $7.8 million. It was approved by voters through bonds that were on the ballot in 2012, 2014, and 2016 general elections.

Bernalillo County Sheriff's Dept.: Carjacking Suspect Dead – Associated Press

The Bernalillo County Sheriff's Department says a carjacking suspect was fatally shot in an encounter with deputies after abducting two people and injuring a deputy.

The Sheriff's Department says the incident happened Friday morning in the Isleta Pueblo area as law enforcement officers sought a man who initially was sought for attempting to steal a golf cart.

According to the department, the suspect broke into a home and abducted two people who then were seen and heard pounding on a window of their car and screaming for help.

The department says shots were fired by at least one pursuing deputy after the stolen vehicle was stopped but then pinned a deputy who was on foot.

The deputy was hospitalized with at least one broken bone. The hostage weren't hurt.