“Political damage control” is when an elected official gives extended news interviews to the Albuquerque Journal Editorial Board and then makes the rounds to the various news stations or media outlets including doing Sunday news programs on a single controversial topic.
District Attorney Raul Torrez did double time in just 10 days with his damage control to explain the plea agreement he negotiated with the mother of 10-year-old Victoria Martens.
Within a 10-day time span, Torrez has held a press conference covered by all local media news organizations, followed by a meeting with the Journal Editors and reporters 6 days later, has had three front page Journal stories and has been interviewed by Chanel 4 news reporters on the “Eye on Albuquerque” Sunday program on the Victoria Martens murder case and the plea agreement he negotiated.
Torrez can claim “Mission Accomplished” at least for now with the Victoria Martens murder case plea agreement he negotiated.
THE PLEA AGREEMENT
Torrez announced that his office did a two-year investigation and review of the evidence found Michelle Martens falsely admitted to committing the crimes she was charged.
According to Torrez, the forensic evidence revealed Martens and her boyfriend were not even present and did not participate in the murder of 10-year-old Victoria Martens who was raped, murdered, dismembered and then burned in a bathtub of her home.
The plea agreement Torrez negotiated was to one count of child abuse, recklessly caused, resulting in the death of a child under 12 and guarantees a 12 to 15-year sentence and dropping the most egregious charges.
DA Torrez agreed that Michelle Martens’ crime she plead guilty to will not be classified as a serious violent offense, meaning she could see her sentence cut in half for good behavior and serve as little as 6 years if she is sentenced to 12 years.
The probability that Martens will be sentence to 12 years is high.
A pretrial sentence report will be prepared for the judge and given her impaired mental capacity, the fact she has no prior record and she is cooperating with authorities by turning state’s evidence, a recommendation will be made as to her sentence with a reduced sentence within the realm of possibilities.
Michelle Martens will get two years credit for time served because she has been in jail for two years pending trial, so it is possible that Martens could be out of prison in 4 years.
District Attorney Raul Torrez has had tremendous public outcry regarding the plea agreement he negotiated with the defendant Michelle Martens.
In the minds of many people, Michelle Martens was given considerable leniency by District Attorney Raul Torrez for her involvement in one of the most heinous crimes involving her own child
CHRONOLOGY OF DAMAGE CONTROL EFFORTS
On Friday, June 29, 2018 District Attorney Raul Torrez did a late afternoon press conference announcing that he had negotiated a plea agreement with defendant Michelle Martens, the mother of 10-year-old Victoria Martens.
You can read the full story here:
Elected officials often do late Friday afternoon press conferences to announce controversial decisions to reduce negative press coverage.
Late Friday afternoon press conferences are usually not very successful in deflecting negative press with highly controversial decisions such as the one announced by District Attorney Raul Torrez.
ALBQUERQUE JOURNAL DAMAGE CONTROL
On Thursday July 5, 2018, Torrez went to the Albuquerque Journal Center to be interviewed by the Albuquerque Journal Editors and its reporters about the plea and the pending criminal case.
District Attorney Raul Torrez in his interview with the Journal editors shared extensive details and prosecution strategy on the pending criminal prosecution against two other defendants, one identified and one yet to be found.
On Friday July 6, 2018, the Journal reported the details of the July 5, 2018 meeting with Torrez by splashing them on the front page of the Albuquerque Journal.
The banner headline read: “Details emerge in search for 4th Martens suspect”.
The full story can be read here:
Torrez told the Journal editors that DNA samples from 16 men have been found with five of those persons of interest having been eliminated, with forensic test results for 11 still outstanding.
The bombshell is that authorities are seeking to identify a fourth suspect in the Victoria Martens murder.
District Attorney Raúl Torrez reiterated what he said at his news conference that there is no evidence that the girl’s mother, Michelle Martens, was involved in Victoria’s death or dismemberment, or knew the identity of the fourth suspect police are now seeking.
Torrez told the Journal Editors that he hopes Michelle Martens will offer useful information now that she has accepted a plea deal that requires her to provide statements to authorities.
According to Torres:
“She [Michelle Martens] may know who this individual is and not know that this individual [was involved in the crime]. … She may know who this individual is because he was there previously.”
SUNDAY FRONT PAGE JOURNAL COVERAGE
On Sunday July 8, 2018, the Albuquerque Journal published a third front page, banner headline report entitled “VICTORIA MARTENS CASE: ‘We want to make it right for this little girl’ and the full story can be read here:
The above Journal headline is a quote from District Attorney Raul Torrez.
The quote could not have been any better for Torrez to deflect the negative press coverage he was getting on the plea deal he negotiated.
The Journal story was published on the front page of the Journal along with a full page and a half story published in the “A section” of the Journal pages, A-4 and A-5 and with a detailed “time line”, no doubt provided by Torrez.
JOURNAL EDITORIAL LAYING BLAME
On Sunday, July 8, 2018, the Albuquerque Journal did its editorial blaming everyone they could for the mishandling of the case, except Raul Torrez who they commended.
You can read the full editorial here:
A few paragraphs in the Journal editorial are worth quoting:
“Then-police chief Gorden Eden declared it “the most gruesome act of evil” he had ever seen in his career.
“I want to assure the public that we will pursue justice and we will make sure that we exhaust every resource into this investigation,” Eden said. He also assured those who lived near the crime scene that their neighborhood was safe and that there were no other suspects in the case.”
“There is no threat to public safety,” he said.
“To his credit, Torrez immediately ordered a case review when he took over as DA in January of 2017, four months after Victoria’s death. He said he discovered lapses with how the case was handled, including the failure to fast track the processing of DNA collected from the crime scene. And his office continued to dig as Michelle Martens’ statement began to unravel. Torrez assigned a team that includes two seasoned prosecutors and a seasoned paralegal, and APD contributed two seasoned detectives. They have been focused on this case for more than a year.”
One paragraph in the editorial sticks out:
“The manner in which the Albuquerque Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office handled this case – under the leadership of Eden and former DA Kari Brandenburg, respectively – raises serious questions about the two agencies. This was arguably the highest profile case this state has seen in at least a decade, and they botched it.”
With this one paragraph, the Albuquerque Journal editors condemns and places the entire blame for mishandling of the case on former APD Chief Gordon Eden and former District Attorney Kari Brandenburg.
It is hard to understand the Journal’s claim that former DA Brandenburg “botched” the case given the fact that the murder occurred just 4 months before Brandenburg left office with forensic DNA evidence still being tested.
Former Mayor Richard Berry, who was Mayor a full 14 months after the murder, was not even mentioned in the stories nor editorial by the Albuquerque Journal.
Failure to mention Berry in the editorial should come as no surprise seeing the Journal has given Berry favoritism and political coverage for a full 8 years.
CHANNEL 4 “EYE ON NEW MEXICO” EXTENDED INTERVIEW
On Sunday, July 8, 2018, an extended interview by Channel 4 with District Attorney was telecast on the “Eye on New Mexico” program.
You can view the entire program here:
The Channel 4 interview dove tailed perfectly into the Journal stories and editorial.
The Eye On New Mexico telecast was basically the same information Torrez gave to the Albuquerque Journal in his press conference and the Journal editorial board interview.
COMMENTARY: POLITICAL DAMAGE CONTROL FOR NOW
There is no doubt that District Attorney Raul Torrez can claim “mission accomplished” with his damage control efforts with the Albuquerque Journal and the TV news media outlets, at least for now.
Notwithstanding the successful political damage control by Torrez, the public condemnation with the plea agreement Torrez negotiated will continue to be a source of major political problems for Torrez.
The leniency Torrez showed towards a mother who placed her 10-year-old child in harm’s way and made the child a victim of one of the most horrendous murders in Albuquerque history will be remembered given his own past statements on our criminal justice system and conduct towards Judges.
In 2016, when Torrez was running for District Attorney, he proclaimed that our criminal justice system was broken and that he was the guy who could fix it.
Just a mere year ago, Torrez again claimed that our judicial system was broken stating the decisions by the judges to dismiss cases were “absurd”.
Torres proclaimed defense attorneys were “gaming the system” to get their clients off.
Torrez claimed he was frustrated with elected District Court Judges blocking his efforts to keep dangerous criminals in jail.
Torrez asserted that the Judges were being too lenient on criminals and went on to blame Judges for our high violent crime rates.
It is hard to reconcile the Albuquerque Journals conclusion that it was then District Attorney Kari Brandenburg office who “botched” the case given the time line involved and Torrez’s own involvement with the prosecution.
The Victoria Martens murder occurred in August, 2016, just four months before Brandenburg left office and before Torrez was sworn in as District Attorney on January 1, 2017.
It was widely reported that District Attorney Elect Raul Torrez was briefed for a full 2 months on major cases before he was sworn in to office on January 1, 2017, no doubt including the Victoria Martens murder case.
For a full 19 months, Torrez was in charge of the Victoria Martens murder case and was calling all the shots, not Brandenburg as implied by the Journal.
Former APD Chief Gordon Eden and former Mayor Richard Berry were in office the first full year of Raul Torrez’s term, yet Torrez made no mention of any contacts with either of them.
Torrez did go out of the way to say he has had extended conversations with Mayor Tim Keller, Chief Geier and the Deputy Chiefs on the case, yet said absolutely nothing about conversations with former Mayor Berry and former Chief Eden.
Mayor Keller and Chief Geier did not attend Torrez’s press conference and they have not commented on the plea agreement.
At least two defendants have been held in custody for two years for the brutal murder of Victoria Martens, a crime they did not commit.
What is extremely problematic is that District Attorney Raul Torrez in his interviews with the Journal and media outlets shared additional details as well as prosecution strategy on a pending criminal prosecution against two other defendants.
Defendant Jessica Kelley will go on trial in January, 2019 facing charges of rape and murder, and one suspect has yet to be identified by the authorities.
You can bet the pretrial publicity in this case generated by Torrez himself with his press conference and making the rounds at the news stations to explain the plea and what happen will have an impact on the case.
The results of Torres’s press contacts could be at a minimum suppression of evidence in the case or worse down right dismissal of the charges pending against the others.
No doubt Torrez has ingratiated himself with the media, but he sure is not helping his cause in seeking justice for 10-year-old Jessica Martens.
Despite what Torrez and the media may think, due process of law and our courts are the only things that will guarantee true justice for Victoria Martens, and not news interviews and media tours designed for political damage control.