Mother Of Slain Albuquerque Girl Pleads Guilty, State Police Break Up Protest At Capitol

Jun 29, 2018

Corruption Charges Filed Against Ex-New Mexico Tax SecretaryAssociated Press

The former head of New Mexico's Taxation and Revenue Department has been charged with embezzlement and multiple corruption and ethics violations in her role as Cabinet secretary.

State district court documents show that Demesia Padilla was charged Thursday with embezzlement of more than $20,000 and five counts of violating ethical principles of public service. The charges include computer access with intent to defraud.

James Hallinan, a spokesman for Attorney General Hector Balderas, says the office cannot comment on pending criminal matter beyond publicly filed documents.

State prosecutors raided tax agency offices in 2016 to investigate allegations that Padilla gave preferential treatment to a former client of her family accounting business. Padilla resigned shortly thereafter.

Unnamed taxation department employees told investigators they were instructed by Padilla to stop a business audit.

The DA Clears Man Of Murder Charge In Girl's Death- Associated Press

Prosecutors have dismissed murder and sexual assault charges against a man arrested two years ago in the death of a 10-year-old Albuquerque girl whose dismembered remains were found in her family's apartment.

Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez says there is no physical evidence that Fabian Gonzales raped Victoria Martens. Instead, a lab analysis found another unidentified male's DNA on her body.

Witness statements and cell phone data also show Gonzales and the girl's mother, Michelle Martens, were not at the apartment when the girl was killed.

Both had been charged with murder in the girl's death until today, when Martens pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death and Torrez announced the new revelations.

Court records indicate a third suspect, who is Gonzales' cousin, still awaits trial on murder and other charges.

Autopsy Lists Zimbabwe Opposition Leader's Crash Wounds- Associated Press

An autopsy shows a key Zimbabwe opposition leader suffered skull and rib fractures in a fiery helicopter crash that killed him, his wife and three others in New Mexico earlier this year.

State medical investigators released autopsies for Roy Bennett and his wife, Heather, on Friday, nearly six months after they died in the wreck outside Raton as they were traveling to a friend's property in the area.

The autopsy for Heather Bennett showed she suffered head and chest injuries, as well as burns that covered most of her body.

Autopsies for the other crash victims killed were released last month.

The Bennetts' deaths were met with an outpouring of grief in Zimbabwe after the crash. A white man who spoke fluent Shona, Bennett had won a devoted following among Zimbabweans for passionately advocating political change.

Carlsbad Caverns' Main Elevators Still Out Of Service- Associated Press

There could be long lines at Carlsbad Caverns National Park during one of the tourist attraction's biggest weekends since a deadline to modernize the park's main elevators has been repeatedly missed.

Park spokesman Michael Larson says the upcoming Fourth of July weekend is usually a busy time and there's still work that needs to be done on the primary elevators.

That means visitors must either use a smaller secondary elevator or hike more than a mile into the caves via the natural entrance.

The primary elevator system went out of service in November 2015 when a motor shaft sheared off.

Work to repair and modernize the elevators was supposed to be done in the spring. The deadline was pushed to June 15 and now it's still unclear when the elevators will be ready.

Mother Of Slain Albuquerque Girl Pleads Guilty- Associated Press

The mother of a 10-year-old Albuquerque girl who was raped, strangled and dismembered has pleaded guilty to reduced charges.

Michelle Martens pleaded guilty to child abuse resulting in death on Friday. She faces 12 to 15 years in prison.

Authorities say Martens stood by while her boyfriend, Fabian Gonzales, drugged and raped her daughter, Victoria. She said Gonzales' cousin, Jessica Kelley, stabbed Victoria. Her remains were found wrapped in a blanket set on fire in an apartment bathroom by police responding to a disturbance report in August 2016.

Martens was scheduled to go on trial next month on 20 charges.

New Mexico Courts To Resume Full Business Hours- Associated Press

New Mexico's state courts will have enough money to resume full business hours for the public for the new fiscal year that starts in July.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura made the announcement Friday, saying she's grateful lawmakers provided resources in the state budget for courts to meet their constitutional and statutory obligations.

Monday marks the start of the first business day for the 2019 fiscal year, but court officials say several clerk's offices have already started offering a full eight hours for customer service.

Funding and staffing shortages in recent years had forced about half of magistrate courts statewide to close clerk's offices for a portion of one day each week. A third of district courts also reduced the hours that clerk's offices were open to the public.

Suspect Yells 'I Have A Gun' Before Being Shot By Police- Associated Press

A suspect in an armed robbery yelled that he had a gun before he was shot and fatally wounded by a police officer during a chase that ended in front of an Albuquerque grocery store, authorities said.

Police reviewed portions of body camera footage from the June 16 shooting involving Richard Rivera with reporters during a briefing Thursday. The video shows an officer stopping the stolen van Rivera and an alleged accomplice were riding in before chasing Rivera toward the store's entrance.

The officer yelled for him to stop. Rivera kept running and yelled: "I have a gun. I have a gun."

The sprint toward the grocery store followed a vehicle chase during which police say Rivera fired at officers with a 9mm handgun that he allegedly used to rob a Verizon store and its customers earlier that day.

Surveillance camera footage shows Rivera looking back and reaching for his right hip before the officer fires six shots. Rivera was hit in the back, buttocks and legs and later died at a hospital.

State Police Break Up Protest At CapitolAssociated Press

Police have handcuffed a dozen protesters and ushered them out of the New Mexico Statehouse in the culmination of a peaceful, hours-long demonstration against the Trump administration's zero-tolerance immigration policy and the governor's supportive stance.

Miles Conway, a union official who helped organize the protests, said Thursday that protesters who refused to leave the Capitol were led from the building and released with citations for trespassing. Earlier in the evening, three protesters who refused to leave the governor's offices at the end of the business day were arrested by State Police and charged with resisting arrest.

Eleanor Chavez, Marlene Perrotte and Susan Schuurman were driven away in a police patrol car.

Scores of protesters arrived at the state Capitol in the afternoon in coordination with demonstrations in Washington, D.C., where hundreds of people were arrested. The Santa Fe protesters urged Republican Gov. Susana Martinez to end the deployment of the New Mexico National Guard at the border with Mexico and demand that President Trump show respect for the rights of asylum seekers and immigrant families.

2 New Mexico Supreme Court Justices Aren't Seeking RetentionAssociated Press

Two New Mexico Supreme Court justices aren't seeking retention in the upcoming general election for new eight-year terms.

Petra Jimenez Maes and Charles Daniels will continue to serve until their terms end at the end of this year.

Because the two justices didn't file for retention Thursday, their positions become vacant as of Jan. 1 and will be filled through a merit selection nominating system provided for in the New Mexico Constitution.

Maes was elected to the state Supreme Court in 1998 and she served as chief justice twice — from 2003-05 and 2012-14.

Daniels was appointed to the New Mexico Supreme Court in 2007 after a 38-year career as a lawyer with a courtroom practice in criminal and civil cases.

He served as chief justice in 2010-12 and 2016-17.

Western States Urged To Plan For Water ShortageAssociated Press

Arizona water officials have outlined an ambitious plan to stave off shortages of Colorado River water or at least lessen the impact.

They're hopeful the state's water users can reach agreement by the end of the year on what's known as the drought contingency plan.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been prodding Western states to wrap up such plans. Little snowpack, rising temperatures and ongoing drought have led to steady declines in the river that serves 40 million people in seven U.S. states, including New Mexico.

The Albuquerque Journal reports a new map released by the state’s Drought Monitoring Workgroup shows 87 percent of New Mexico is in severe drought or worse, with 18 percent in exceptional drought.

Levels in the Rio Grande are continuing to drop, with a 22-mile stretch south of Socorro now completely dry.

John Fleck, director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources Program, told the Journal that river levels are the lowest in history near Embudo north of Española for this time in June.

UNM Provost Accepts Post At Georgia Institute Of TechnologyAssociated Press

The University of New Mexico says its provost who also served as the school's president for a short time this past year is leaving to become the Georgia Institute of Technology's executive vice president for research.

Chaouki Abdallah leaves New Mexico after a 30-year career at UNM. He became interim president in January 2017, and served in the role until February of this year.

His tenure as the school's top administrator included a high-profile and difficult period in which head football coach Bob Davie was suspended for 30 days following investigations into his program.

Abdallah returned to being provost after Garnett Stokes became president. The Board of Regent recognized Abdallah's work by officially naming him UNM's 22nd president, despite his temporary appointment.

Abdallah is a Georgia Institute of Technology alumnus.

Lawsuit Says Public Defender's Office Is Underpaying Women –  Albuquerque Journal, Associated Press

Five female employees have filed a lawsuit against the Law Office of the Public Defender accusing the public agency of paying female employees less than men holding the same positions.

The Albuquerque Journal reports a district defender, two managing attorneys and two investigators filed a lawsuit Friday.

The women say a gender equity study conducted in February found that male employees make about $6.36 more per hour than female employees.

They say the office and the Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur have not done anything to eliminate the disparity.

The women are seeking damages for wages they missed out on over the past six years.

Baur said Wednesday that he has not had a chance to review the lawsuit.

Senate Panel Oks Head Of Agency Overseeing KidsAssociated Press

A Senate committee has narrowly approved the nomination of Lynn Johnson as assistant Health and Human Services secretary for family support despite protest by the panel's senior Democrat.

The position includes heading the agency that has custody over the children being held near the U.S.-Mexico border who were separated from parents seeking asylum.

The 16-11 vote by the Senate Finance Committee sends Johnson's nomination to the full Senate.

Earlier Thursday, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden said he would vote against the Trump nominee.

Wyden said at a Finance Committee hearing that Johnson, who headed Colorado's child welfare program, "green-lighted a law allowing foster kids to be placed in juvenile detention facilities."