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TUES: NM Supreme Court upholds man's 3 murder convictions, + More

New Mexico Supreme Court in Santa Fe
CMH2315fl via Flickr
New Mexico Supreme Court in Santa Fe

New Mexico high court upholds man's 3 murder convictions in 2018 shooting deaths near Dixon - Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court has upheld a man's murder convictions in the 2018 shooting deaths of three people near the community of Dixon.

In a unanimous decision, the state's high court concluded Monday that there was sufficient evidence to support John Powell's convictions of three counts of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated burglary in 2020.

The bodies of April Browne, 42; Abraham Martinez, 36; and Kierin Guillemin, 27, were found in a Rio Arriba County home a few miles from Dixon.

Authorities said a surveillance camera recorded the killings and theft of a safe and other items from Browne's home by Powell and his brother, Roger Gage.

Gage was convicted separately in the case and sentenced to life in prison.

Last year, the state Supreme Court affirmed Gage's convictions of three counts of first-degree willful and deliberate murder.

Authorities said Powell and his brother drove for more than an hour to reach Browne's house purportedly to get tools and buy drugs.

Chief Justice David K. Thomson wrote in the high court's nonprecedential decision that "the entire assault, including removing the safe and laptops, lasted only 52 seconds.

"A juror could reasonably determine that the precisely choreographed actions in the video demonstrate the type of careful thought sufficient for deliberation," Thomson wrote.

State regulators to consider ‘produced water’ reuse rule next week - Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico
The New Mexico Environment Department’s Water Protection Division wants to set regulations on new ways water is reused after it mixes with waste.

The state says this would help prevent that potentially harmful water from getting into the water trails that lead to humans, animals and their environments.

The state said its request to the Water Quality Control Commission could settle issues between the federal government, and that the proposed rule explicitly prohibits “any discharge of untreated produced water to groundwater or surface waters” in New Mexico.

Environment Department Deputy Secretary Sydney Lienemann said the federal government could allow a discharge permit right now because they have primacy over surface water discharge of treated or untreated produced water and that this new rule puts that power back with local officials.

“This rule closes that loophole so the New Mexico Environment Department and the (Water Quality Control Commission) will be the ones to decide when and if treated produced water can be discharged,” Lienemann said. “We see that loophole from the federal government as a huge potential problem.”

Opponents of the state’s proposal held a rally outside the New Mexico Legislature on Monday, and argued produced water poses a threat to New Mexicans’ health and safety.

Reyes DeVore (Jemez), a mother and program director for Pueblo Action Alliance, said there are no known technologies capable of treating the water to be completely free of toxic contaminants.

“This puts community health at further risk,” DeVore said.

Mario Atencio is a plaintiff in a lawsuit accusing the state of failing to enforce pollution laws, allowing more oil and gas production, and failing to limit pollution discriminated against Indigenous people, youth and frontline communities.

Atencio said the proposed rule is “an example of institutional environmental racism.”

“No one has informed the people on the ground, the Diné people,” Atencio said. “That’s in violation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.”

Norm Gaume is a retired engineer and expert witness hired by New Energy Economy, which is asking the Commission to reject the rule.

“This nasty stuff is very toxic, very poisonous, radioactive waste,” Gaume said. “It’s not water. It’s waste. And it’s offensive to me that the New Mexico Environment Department would propose a rule to deal with this crap, and call it the ‘water reuse rule.’ It ain’t water, folks.”


Lienemann disagreed with that assessment and said the rule would expressly prohibit the discharge of any treated or untreated produced water.

“That means not a drop of this water touches the ground in New Mexico,” Lienemann said. “This rule makes sure that we have the authority to be able to say, ‘Zero discharge.’”

It would require someone to have a discharge permit issued by the New Mexico Environment Department before allowing water to get into groundwater or surface waters.

If the state determines there will be no discharge to groundwater or surface water, the rule would authorize the agency to begin small scale projects that involve the controversial produced water.

Under the rule, environment officials could authorize studies for reusing the wastewater so long as there are no connections between the water being studied and a community’s drinking water.

Water Protection Division Director John Rhoderick said the research would be “to see, if at any point, the science says that there is a safe and acceptable way to utilize it for irrigating golf courses, or whatever the case.”

“We need the science, we can’t get the science without the experimentation,” he said.

“These pilots are extensive enough that they’re not going to get stood up without us knowing about it, and without us authorizing it,” Rhoderick said. “If one is in operation that we have not approved, then we will exercise our regulatory authority to shut that down.”

He said he believes the environment department will have enough inspectors with the scientific knowledge to regulate experimental facilities. He said his division is adding enforcement staff “to look at our existing workload, plus these test projects.”

Before someone can build a demonstration project or industrial application involving treated produced water, the rule would require them to first submit a notice of intent.

Mariel Nanasi, an attorney and executive director of New Energy Economy, said the rule proposal needs more work.

“This rule is not ready for primetime,” Nanasi said. “It does not rely on credible scientific data or the best available scientific information as the law requires.”

Jodi McGinnis Porter, a spokesperson for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said Monday the governor’s office “supports science-based water reuse and our record in fighting for clean water speaks for itself.”

Alejandria Lyons, with the NM No False Solutions Coalition, said their group got involved in the rulemaking because “produced water” is really toxic fracking waste which would be used in agriculture and replenishing the aquifer.

“We are completely against using dirty oil and gas for anything, and to open the door to any pilot projects,” Lyons said.

McGinnis Porter said the governor’s office has not met with the coalition about the proposed rule.


The Commission will hold a public hearing on the rule beginning at 9 a.m. on May 13 in Room 317 at the New Mexico State Capitol in Santa Fe, according to the official public notice. Information about watching the live stream can be found here.

Early voting begins today for statewide primaries - Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico 

County clerks’ offices across the state are open today for early voting for the June 4 primary elections.

The ballot includes state lawmakers from across New Mexico competing for spots on the general election ballot. Voters will also see primary races for congressional, county and local seats including water commissions. Registered voters can study up with a sample ballot found with the Secretary of State.

New Mexicans can vote in-person, or request a ballot to be sent in the mail and send it in before Election Day. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is May 21. Voters can also permanently add themselves to this list, and no longer have to request the ballot each election.

The primary is the only contested election some candidates will face if they win and go to the General Election in November.

In the New Mexico Senate, 20 of 42 seats feature a primary election; in the state House, 28 of 70 seats feature a primary, according to a Source New Mexico review.

Eleven of the primaries involve three or more candidates.

State law passed in 2021 requires county clerks to make their offices available for early voting 28 days prior to an election, which is today, and be open during its regular business hours.

The Secretary of State’s Office has a list here of addresses, hours and websites of county clerks across the state.

Voters can also request to have their ballot sent to them by mail. That can be done anytime in person at a county clerk’s office or online.

Early voting will expand to additional locations May 18.

Heinrich celebrates protections of sacred lands in Sandoval County - Hannah Grover, New Mexico Political Report

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat representing New Mexico, joined Placitas-area residents in celebrating the withdrawal of more than 4,000 acres of land from mineral leasing, including gravel mining.

The Secretary of the Interior officially withdrew the area, which includes the Buffalo Tract and the Crest of Montezuma, in mid-April following decades of advocacy work.

The mineral withdrawal protects four tracts of land and isn’t quite contiguous.

Heinrich’s involvement in the effort began in 2009 after he first took federal office. He said protecting Buffalo Tract was among the top issues that Placitas residents asked him to address. At the same time, he acknowledged that the work isn’t done yet. The mineral withdrawal only lasts for 50 years.

Heinrich expressed renewed commitment to passing legislation that would permanently protect the area from future gravel mining or other mineral development.

That protection is important because the area represents one of the few wildlife migration corridors connecting the Sandia Mountains to the Jemez Mountains and is also a sacred site for several Pueblos.

Both Heinrich and U.S. Bureau of Land Management State Director Melanie Barnes noted how much support the community has for protecting the Buffalo Tract and Crest of Montezuma.

“Often it’s difficult to make everyone happy, really difficult,” Barnes said. “So this is one of the few times that I’ve seen almost unanimous support.”

Heinrich said the mineral withdrawal is a reminder of the “timescale that meaningful change happens at” and said that type of change never happens as fast as people would like.

He said the entire community came together to seek protections for Buffalo Tract, especially when there was a “real credible threat” that an industrial scale gravel mine could open on the Buffalo Tract.

“It was impressive to me. I’ve never seen such a diverse community unite so quickly,” he said.

That group included members of the land grant and the Pueblos as well as residents and business owners in Placitas.

Heinrich said the withdrawal may make it easier for him and other members of New Mexico’s congressional delegation to push through legislation making the protections permanent.

“We will turn this reprieve into permanent law,” he said.

New Mexico Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, represents the Placitas area which became part of his district following the redistricting process. He noted that he has not been involved in the efforts to protect the Buffalo Tract area for long.

“I’ve only represented Placitas for about a year and a half,” he said, adding that in his very first meeting with constituents from the Placitas area, they brought up the Buffalo Tract as one of their priorities.

McQueen has a background in conservation and said he knows how hard it can be to bring protections like mineral withdrawal to an area.

“When they get across the finish line it’s usually because of a group of dedicated individuals and pressure over time, and not giving up and not taking no for an answer,” he said.

Meanwhile, Pueblo of San Felipe Gov. Anthony Ortiz praised the protections that Buffalo Tract received and asked Heinrich to help with efforts to protect other sacred lands in Sandoval County, particularly the Ball Ranch Area of Critical Environmental Concern.

Ortiz noted that a lot of cultural objects have been removed from sacred lands including in the Buffalo Tract area and the Ball Ranch ACEC.

“It really means a lot for us as Native people to protect those areas because whatever is on the ground of our native lands, that is very meaningful to us,” he said.

New Mexico efforts to catalog lead water lines off to ‘slow start’ as federal money flows in - Danielle Prokop, Source New Mexico

Millions in federal dollars are headed to 10 New Mexico communities to address lead and copper pipes in local water systems.

State finance officials said other municipalities need to act soon and apply to receive what’s left of the $28.6 million New Mexico received in its portion of the $3 billion from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“Things are off to a slow start,” said Michael Vonderheide, the director for Public Programs at the New Mexico Finance Authority, in regards to local water agencies applying for the funding.

Currently, the agency has approved $8.7 million for lead and copper water pipe surveys in places like Albuquerque, Farmington, Gallup and Doña Ana County. Smaller water associations in Leasburg, Garfield and La Union will also see this money fund their projects.

“Once they get to the fundable list, we move forward with them expeditiously at the Finance Authority,” Vonderheide said about his agency’s role in the process.

All 10 of the projects are surveys to identify how many lead lines a utility might have, he said, noting that larger water systems have larger survey costs.

The money, given by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is administered in part by both The New Mexico Environment Department and The New Mexico Finance Authority, as loans to water systems.

“The intent is to get all the lead service lines out of the ground, and reduce lead exposure, this $28.6 million is specifically for that,” said John Rhoderick, who leads the Water Protection Division at the New Mexico Environment Department.

To qualify for the funds, water systems need to complete a pre-application process with the New Mexico Environment Department, which includes collecting the supporting documents and the project’s ranking in a priority system.

Then, the New Mexico Finance Administration sends the money.

The water utilities are reimbursed for the costs as the project moves forward. Additional federal funds could be made available on a year-to-year basis.


Last year, the EPAestimated about 9 million lead service lines feed drinking water to communities around the nation, thefirst time it put a solid number to lead lines. The 2023 survey projected the cost of replacing those lines to be about $625 billion.

Congress allocated just 2% of that estimate – $15 billion for lead service line replacement – in the infrastructure bill.

In the survey, the EPA estimated New Mexico had about 15,400 lead service lines, less than 1% of the state’s pipes. It further estimated the cost for New Mexico’s pipe replacements would be $1.6 billion.

Lead and copper were common materials in household plumbing, but corrosion of the pipes or the solder joining in copper pipes could expose people to lead in their water – which is unsafe in any amount, especially for children, pregnant people, and the elderly.

Lead exposure poses a myriad of risks.

It can damage brains, kidneys and the nervous system, cause learning and behavioral problems, cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure, hypertension and reproductive issues, and increase miscarriage chances,according to the EPA.

The federal government banned the use oflead for plumbing in 1986, but many older homes and water systems still used lead pipes.

In a 2023 ruleimprovement, the federal government found that water system’s pipes are the biggest source of lead exposure in drinking water, and is requiring utilities to replace 100% of lead pipes within the next decade, amid other changes to strengthen protections against exposure.

New Mexico water systems are facing an autumn deadline this year to complete and return surveys of how many lead or galvanized pipes remain in their water systems as part of the federalrule changes in 2023.

“We haven’t gotten a lot of information back yet from communities, they have until October 16 of this year to provide us with those inventories,” Rhoderick said.

Rhoderick said it’s typical for water infrastructure needs to outstrip funding, but said the surveys are vital.

“$28 million is a good number, we need every dollar we can get,” Rhoderick said. “I don’t know at this point, neither does NMFA have any idea how that number compares to the need, because we’re trying to determine the need at this point.”


· Leasburg Mutual Domestic Water Consumer Association: $50,000

· Farmington Water System: $3.7 million

· Gallup Water System: $1 million

· Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority: $1.1 million

· Doña Ana Municipal Domestic Water Consumers Association: $1.6 million

· Cedar Creek Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Association: $85,000

· Garfield Mutual Domestic Water Consumers and Sewage Works Association: $377, 657

· La Union Mutual Domestic and Sewage Works Association: $135,000

· Bernalillo Water Department: $250,000

· Alamogordo Water: $400,000 

FBI says an infant abducted from New Mexico park has been found safe and suspect is in custody - Associated Press

A Texas man has been arrested in connection with the shooting deaths of two New Mexico women, the wounding of a 5-year-old girl and the kidnapping of an infant, authorities said Monday.

Clovis police said the 26-year-old man from the Houston area was taken into custody at a residence in Abilene, Texas.

They said the man was being held by the FBI on suspicion of two open counts of first-degree murder, one count of first-degree kidnapping and two counts of child abuse.

Police said 10-month-old Eleia Maria Torres was found at the Abilene home with minor injuries and was recovering at a hospital.

The suspect apparently has no connection to the women killed or the two children and investigators are trying to determine a motive, according to police.

Authorities said the baby was abducted Friday from a park near Clovis. The bodies of two women were also found at that location along with a 5-year-old girl who was critically injured and remains hospitalized.

Police have identified the dead women as Samantha Cisneros and Taryn Allen, both 23 years old and from Texico, New Mexico.

They said Cisneros was the mother of the infant and the 5-year-old girl who remains hospitalized.

Authorities said at least one of the women was fatally shot and the 5-year-old had a gunshot wound to her head. Her name has not been released.

Authorities said the women were found at a city park about 5 miles (8 kilometers) north of Clovis with their purses and belongings near their bodies.

A minivan belonging to one of the women also was found at the scene along with an infant car seat, stroller and a small baby bottle and authorities said that began the search for the missing child.

Clovis is located in eastern New Mexico close to the Texas border.

Judge blocks extended school year, for now - Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM News

After more than 50 school districts sued the state and its education secretary over extending the school year to 180 days, a state judge has issued a temporary restraining order.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the order prevents the Public Education Department from enforcing the rule it passed in March amid pushback from school staff and lawmakers.

The court battle comes as school districts draft their budgets and calendars for the next school year. The judge’s order also means the state cannot require that those comply with the new rule.

The next hearing in the case, when the state can argue to lift the order, is scheduled for next Monday.

Learn more about the new rule and the pushback onthis week’s Let’s Talk New Mexico, Thursday morning at 8 am.

Judge rules Los Ranchos broke the law when approving affordable housing development - Albuquerque Journal, KOAT, KUNM News

A large affordable housing development in the Village of Los Ranchos has stirred considerable controversy among residents, even becominga key issue in last year’s mayoral race. Now, a judge has ruled the village broke the law when approving the plans.

The Albuquerque Journal reports a state judge ruled the village violated the Open Meetings Act and reversed the approvals for the three-story Village Center Project.

The project should have been discussed and voted on by the planning and zoning commission and Board of Trustees in public meetings. Instead, approvals went straight to the unelected planning and zoning director and village administrator, who the judge ruled did not have proper authority.

Resident group the Friends of Los Ranchos brought the complaint. The group used to be run by now-mayor Joe Craig.

Matthew Beck, attorney for the group, says the ruling may be appealed, but could halt construction for now. He says it could also force the approval process to start again from the beginning with the proper vetting.