SAT: New Mexico Appellate Court Rules on Housing Case, Hopi Chairman Race Set To Be Rematch, + More

Sep 11, 2021

  Ruling: Home Doesn't Have To Be Finished To Be Burglarized Associated Press

Just because a house under construction isn't finished and lacks key features doesn't mean it's not a dwelling under state law in New Mexico, making burglary of a residence a crime, an appellate court ruled.

A New Mexico Court of Appeals ruled Thursday for the first time in a case from San Juan County, upholding Albert Dell Shelby's conviction for residential burglary of a home that was enclosed and had a complete exterior but had an incomplete interior and lacked utility services.

Shelby's appeal argued that there wasn't sufficient evidence that the property was actually used as living quarters by its owner, an oil industry worker who stayed there part time when not working out of state.

The Court of Appeals ruling concluded that the unfinished state of the home didn't determine its status and that there was enough evidence that it provided its owner with habitation "in a regular, yet intermittent, way."

Race For Hopi Chairman To Be Rematch Of 2017 Election - By Felicia Fonseca, Associated Press

The race for Hopi chairman will be a rematch of the last general election.

Tribal council member David Norton Talayumptewa was the top vote-getter in Thursday's primary with 298 votes, followed by current Chairman Tim Nuvangyaoma with 291 votes, according to unofficial results.

The two will face off in the Nov. 11 general election. Nuvangyaoma beat Talayumptewa in the 2017 general election by more than 325 votes.

Turnout for Thursday's primary was low with 945 votes cast. The ballot didn't feature the candidates for vice chairman because only two people are running, meaning both current Vice Chairman Clark Tenakhongva and Craig Andrews automatically move on to the general election.

Andrew Qumyintewa finished a close third in the primary election for chairman, with 286 votes. Former Vice Chairman Alfred Lomahquahu Jr. trailed with 70 votes. The candidates have a few days to submit any challenges before the results can be certified, said tribal registrar Karen Shupla.

The tribe's top two elected officials don't run on a ticket, but Nuvangyaoma has been campaigning with Andrews.

The leaders get much of their authority from the Hopi Tribal Council, which functions like a city government. The chairman presides over meetings but doesn't vote except to break a tie.

Talayumptewa, a former U.S. Bureau of Education official, represents Kykotsmovi on the council where he championed a measure to unify the several schools on the reservation under a single district and education board.

"There's going to be some consistency to how we're teaching them, and it's going to improve learning and academic success," he told the AP.

Nuvangyaoma counts securing funding for a water project to address arsenic contamination and a detention facility, along with progress on a solar farm, a hotel and leasing a manufacturing facility owned by the tribe among the successes of his administration. He acknowledged the path hasn't been smooth.

"We've learned that with hard work and commitment, we can overcome these obstacles," he said in an interview.

Both Talayumptewa and Nuvangyaoma have talked in a recent forum and on social media where much of their campaigning has happened about the need for economic development and finding ways to encourage younger Hopis to become involved in the tribal government.

One hurdle in running for elected office is a requirement for candidates to speak the Hopi language and demonstrate that ability, Nuvangyaoma said. Before 2017, candidates had to be fluent.

"I'm not ever going to discredit our language," he said. "But I think there are constitutional amendments and changes that need to happen in order to bring (in) our professionals that speak education, technology, health care, development, finance, all these languages, technical languages to move Hopi forward."

The tribe's constitution first was approved in the 1930s. Changes require an election overseen by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Talayumptewa said he wants to maintain the language requirement, establish a language immersion school on the Hopi reservation in northeastern Arizona and actively reach out to young Hopi professionals to help run the government.

"That is what sets us apart as a Hopi Nation, that's how we practice our traditions, our culture and our religion," he said. "I think there are ways to teach the Hopi language to maintain it."

Judge Refines Evidence For Trial Of Airman Accused Of Murder - By Felicia Fonseca Associated Press

Prosecutors will be allowed to present evidence at an upcoming trial that they say shows a U.S. Air Force airman charged in the death of Mennonite woman had disdain for the religious group, a judge ruled Friday.

The evidence includes text message exchanges between defendant Mark Gooch and his brothers where he talked about surveilling Mennonite churches in metropolitan Phoenix and praising one for ticketing a Mennonite during a traffic stop.

Gooch is charged in the shooting death of Sasha Krause, who lived in a Mennonite community outside Farmington, New Mexico. Krause disappeared while gathering materials for a Sunday school course in January 2020, and her body was found outside Flagstaff more than a month later.

Jury selection begins Sept. 21 for the three-week trial. Gooch faces life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder and other charges.

Coconino County Superior Court Judge Cathleen Brown Nichols wrapped up a two-day hearing Friday on requests to refine the evidence. She said the text messages sent before and after Krause's death point to motive and are more relevant than prejudicial.

"It's for the jury to decide if the defendant had some sort of religious bias toward Mennonites," she said.

Brown Nichols also allowed evidence from cell phone data that prosecutors say showed Gooch returned to the forested area where Krause's body was left before authorities discovered it.

"The court is persuaded by the state's argument that this purported evidence does connect him to the scene of the murder," the judge said.

Gooch attended the hearing virtually from jail.

Gooch's attorney, Bruce Griffen, had argued that the text message exchanges were among thousands that Gooch sent and received, and were the only two that mentioned Mennonites. Gooch didn't initiate the exchange with the brother who was a state trooper in Virginia, he said. He simply responded in a boisterous, pile-on fashion, well after Krause's death, Griffen argued.

Gooch used words like "surveillance" in the exchange with another brother because he has a military background, Griffen said. And Gooch's text that the older people he saw weren't like the Mennonites he grew up with means Gooch is a young guy, and that's not his crowd, Griffen said.

"The state is reading so much more into that," Griffen argued.

Gooch told authorities he drove to the churches because he was looking for fellowship, according to public records. But the prosecutor, Ammon Barker, said neither of the text exchanges suggest Gooch was looking for a nice, Mennonite church.

"The state is not saying because he's surveilling people, he's a murderer or has a character trait for being a murderer," Barker said. "It shows motive."

Gooch and Krause didn't know each other but both grew up in large families who were part of the Mennonite church. Gooch never became a church member. Krause became part of a group of conservative Mennonites where women wear head coverings and long dresses or skirts, and men were plain clothing, her community has said.

Brown Nichols earlier rejected a request to admit evidence that Gooch might have targeted Mennonites in burglaries as a teenager in Wisconsin. A childhood friend of Gooch testified Thursday that he didn't recall Gooch saying that he disliked Mennonites.

Brown Nichols has yet to rule on a defense request to determine whether statements that Gooch made to a detective during an interview at Luke Air Force Base where he was stationed in metropolitan Phoenix were lawfully obtained.

Boy, 16, Arrested In Fatal Las Cruces ShootingAssociated Press

A 16-year-old boy has been arrested in connection with a fatal shooting in Las Cruces last weekend.

Las Cruces police said Friday the boy was arrested based on a tip investigators received after releasing surveillance camera photos of a car believed to be near the shooting scene. Authorities believe he's responsible for the Sunday morning shooting of Matthew Portillo.

Police did not release the name of the boy because he is a juvenile. He faces charges of murder and tampering with evidence.

When Does Virus Force Closure? New Mexico Schools Now Decide - By Cedar Attanasio, Associated Press / Report For America

State education officials largely ceded control over if and when schools need to shut down because of a COVID-19 outbreak, and they relaxed rules that would have had schools close their doors this semester.

Until last month, schools had to send students into remote learning if there were four positive COVID-19 tests on campus within two weeks.

Now there's no set number or percentage of COVID-19 cases that trigger a school to shut down, according to statements from the education and health departments.

Looser health rules are possible in part because of widespread teacher vaccinations. Around half of minors who are eligible for the vaccine, ages 12-17, have also gotten their shots.

Elementary students aren't yet eligible for vaccines, and a handful are ending up in the hospital. But their illness is less severe. New Mexico Department of Health officials said this week that 4 children have died from COVID-19 during the entire pandemic.

As of Thursday, there were 10 schools with four cases and one with five.

Four of the schools are in Hobbs, in eastern New Mexico. Thanks to the relaxed rules, they can stay open.

"The longer we stay open, the more confidence that creates in parents by saying I'm not going to have this yo-yo effect of going back and forth, back and forth," Superintendent Gene Strickland said.

Stone Elementary, in Hobbs, has 5 cases listed. But the numbers can be deceptive: they are all members of the same family, Strickland said. And a small number of tests is more significant in a smaller school than a larger one.

A more important metric going forward will be the percentage of staff and students who test positive. Stone's positive rate is 2%, according to a dashboard updated by the school daily.

Other schools do not provide as much public information, and it's difficult to track school closures because the Public Education Department no longer releases a weekly list.

Siembra Leadership High School shut down all in-person classes at the charter school last month because pf an outbreak, according to an email sent to parents on Aug. 25. The closure came as the number of in-person students fell from 130 to around 35 because of positive tests and close-contact quarantines. Representatives for the school did not immediately respond to phone calls and messages left Friday.

The Public Education Department is requiring school districts to write and release plans describing what they will do if the infection rate in a school building goes up, including a plan for hitting 5%.

It would be up to the Department of Health "to determine when an outbreak was of sufficient concern to require a school building to close," Public Education Department spokeswoman Judy Robinson said. "We are allowing districts a much greater deal of self determination in creating local plans that can both address rising cases and keep students and staff safe and in school."

Strickland says Hobbs' plan has been submitted, but not yet approved. He says if a school hits 3% or 5% infection rate, the district would enact other measures first, like ending group gatherings, and returning to daily student symptom screenings.