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New Mexico candidate charged with shooting denied bail

ALBUKERC, NM (AP) — A political rookie who lost his bid to acquire the New Mexico Statehouse and is accused of orchestrating a drive-by shooting spree of Democratic Party officials will remain in custody awaiting trial after Monday the judge agreed that he was a danger to society.

Solomon Peña, 39, has been charged with multiple counts, including shooting at an apartment building and possession of a firearm by the perpetrator. Detectives identified him as their prime suspect using a combination of cell phone and vehicle records, interviews of witnesses, and shell casings collected from lawmakers’ homes.

No one was hurt in the shooting, but the case has reignited the debate over whether lawmakers should make it harder for those charged with violent crimes to post bail as New Mexico grapples with relentless violent crime.

Peña’s lawyer questioned the credibility of a confidential witness who shared information with authorities, saying some of the statements used in the criminal complaint are inconsistent. She also claimed that her client had no violent or gun-related convictions in his criminal history and that he had had no problems with the law since his release from prison in 2016, with the exception of two charges of violating the rules. road traffic.

Prosecutors spoke of Peña’s time in prison and described him as the “leader” of a group he assembled to shoot people’s houses, saying ballistics showed the firearm found in the trunk of a car registered to Peña was connected with at least one shot. . Another man was found driving the car and arrested on an unrelated warrant.

State District Judge David Murphy agreed with prosecutors, pointing out the nature and circumstances of the allegations, and that elected officials appeared to have been targets of at least intimidation or, at worst, harm.

Murphy acknowledged that Peña’s lawyer was able to articulate a number of inconsistencies that troubled the court, but that “the evidence against this defendant is compelling.”

“I believe that the state has fulfilled its burden by proving that there are no release conditions that would reasonably protect the safety of others,” he said.

Authorities arrested Peña on January 9, accusing him of paying off his father, son and two other unidentified men who fired on officials’ homes between early December and early January. The shooting followed his unsuccessful Republican bid for the district, which had long been considered a Democratic stronghold. He stated that the elections were rigged.

Police are also investigating donations made to Peña’s campaign, including one from one of the men accused of conspiring with him and his mother. Detectives said they learned from interviews of witnesses that Peña allegedly arranged with an unknown source for that source to send donations to his campaign on behalf of other people.

Investigators said they were trying to determine if the money came from drug trafficking.

Court records show that Peña was incarcerated for several years after being arrested in 2007 in connection with what authorities called a burglary scheme targeting retail stores. His voting rights were restored after he passed his probationary period in 2021.

Defense attorney Roberta Jurcic said the past few years have shown that Peña has changed his life, that he got his bachelor’s degree, bought a house and worked in the roofing sales business.

She pointed to a criminal complaint and stated that her client, who was arrested at his home, did not have a firearm and that no DNA or fingerprint evidence was provided linking him to the weapons seized by the authorities during the investigation.

The prosecutor’s office and a police investigator confirmed during the hearing that ballistic testing of weapons and shell casings found at the scene of the shooting, as well as in stolen vehicles allegedly used in the crimes, is ongoing.

Jurcic also claimed that the prosecutor’s office did not provide any text messages or other evidence other than a confidential witness that her client allegedly asked other men to shoot officials’ houses.

Deputy District Attorney Natalie Lyon told the court that Peña should remain in custody.

“Having access to the phone, he can contact people, he can convince other people to engage in very violent and dangerous activities,” she said. “A GPS monitor won’t stop him from accessing his phone, pre-trial services can’t stop him from accessing his phone, even house arrest won’t stop him from accessing his phone.”

An assessment based on his criminal history and a number of other factors made recommendations as to what level of pre-trial supervision Peña should have if released, but Murphy agreed with prosecutors to keep him in custody.

The risk assessment tool has been the focus of much criticism as the public pushed for Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to consider changes amid Albuquerque’s ongoing struggle with persistent violent crime and what many see as a “revolving door” in crime. justice system.

Top court administrators in New Mexico have defended a tool developed by the Arnold Foundation and used in dozens of jurisdictions across the US.

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