Joe Monahan in his political blog picked up and reported on news that really should come as no surprise to anyone.
District Attorney Raul Torrez just may have a major challenger for District Attorney in his 2020 race for reelection, if he decides to run as expected.
The one name surfacing at this point is Ahmad Assed, a longtime Democratic party activist and a very prominent criminal defense attorney known for his fundraising abilities.
There is no doubt that Ahmad Assed is one of the more successful and respected criminal defense trial attorneys in Albuquerque.
Assad’s prominence is one reason one local TV news agency has him frequently making expert commentary and analysis on high profile criminal cases.
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 very high.
A pretrial sentence report will be prepared for the District Court Judge who will sentence her.
Given Michelle Marten’s 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 and a reduced sentence recommendation is 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.
Assed has been openly critical of the very lenient plea Torres negotiated and agreed to with Michelle Martins.
In legal circles, the fact that such a very prominent defense attorney would take issue with the plea agreement is what is notable.
POLITICAL LAND MINE FIELD
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 will now have to justify his own words and accusations that he is “gaming the system” to an extent against two defendants who have been in jail for two years that did not commit the crime of murder.
Even if Ahmed Assed decides to forgo a run against Torrez, you can expect others to start to emerge to run against him, especially as things unfold in the Martens case.
The Victoria Martens murder case is far from over.
Fabian Gonzales, Michelle Matens boyfriend, is no longer being charged with murder in the Victoria Martens case, but he is still facing a charge of child abuse resulting in death despite not being the 10-year-old’s parent or caregiver.
Gonzales is also facing charges including tampering with evidence for the dismemberment and burning of the body of 10-year old Victoria.
Defendant Jessica Kelley will go on trial in January, 2019 facing charges of rape and murder.
As many as two more suspects have yet to be identified by the authorities.
Torrez could easily step on a political landmine if he negotiates another plea agreement that is considered way too lenient by the general public as was the Michelle Martens plea deal.
You can bet the pretrial publicity in this case generated will have an impact on the political career and future of Raul Torrez.
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’ with the quote coming from Raul Torrez.
The full story can be read here:
If Torrez fails to bring the remaining defendants to justice you can bet the case will be a career ending one for the very politically ambitious Raul Torrez who “did not make it right for this little girl.”
Voters can be very forgiving except in cases where justice is promised but never delivered for the brutal murder of a 10-year-old.
NEW MEXICO POLITICS WITH JOE MONAHAN
Following Joe Monahan’s complete blog article he published on July 11, 2018:
“The murder case that has rocked the city like no other could soon be rocking the political scene, with word circulating that veteran criminal defense attorney Ahmad Assed is seriously weighing a run against BernCo District Attorney Raul Torrez in the 2020 Democratic primary.
That may seem a long way off but the horrific murder of 10 year old Victoria Martens will be remembered far into the future and Torrez’s handling of the case would be front and center if Assed makes the run, say those pushing him to take on Torrez.
Torrez has been making the media rounds in recent days trying to quiet public outrage over the Martens case, including the stunning plea bargain his office made with Victoria’s mother. It was a deal that could see her serving as little as half a dozen years in prison and has not gone down well in a community scarred by the ghoulish murder. Victoria was raped, strangled, dismembered and her lifeless body set afire in an apartment bathtub.
The revelation that Michelle Martens was not directly involved in her daughter’s slaying but was away from the apartment searching for drugs with boyfriend Fabian Gonzales at the time of the killing had the city reeling from shock. For nearly two years they (and the authorities) believed the false confession the mother had given and that Victoria would have justice. When Torrez announced that Michelle Martens was lying and that an unidentified fourth suspect is now being sought in the sensational case, the city again gasped.
Now Assed, a UNM law school grad with deep community ties, enters the picture. His voice has been heard on the case via his role as a legal analyst for KOB-TV and he hasn’t backed off from criticizing Torrez’s handling of the notorious murder. For example, he said this about the “John Doe” suspect whose DNA, Torrez announced, was found on Victoria’s back:
“Why do we publicize that we are looking for this unidentified individual? And if he does exist, why do we put him on notice that we’re looking for him? This is a big problem for me. I’m sure maybe the DA’s office has their reasoning for doing that.”
And Assed told the viewing audience that the entire case could be in danger of collapsing:
“It’s a leap to associate the finding of the DNA – those samples – with a crime. There’s transferred DNA that happens all the time. I don’t know how long that DNA’s been there—could have been there days, could have been there months, could have been three hours.
Based on the District Attorney’s Office view of the case in the beginning and the investigation and the hyping of the case, it is extremely difficult for us to believe anything that the District Attorney’s Office is going to say about a fourth component, unidentified individual. What they need is evidence.”
THAT PLEA BARGAIN
But it is that plea bargain that Torrez said he had no choice but to make that is the DA’s soft underbelly and what Assed is sure to key on if he enters the race. Here’s how one of those egging on Assed puts it:
“Raul’s had the case for a year and a half and cut a BS plea deal with her scumbag mother, but the Journal wants the public to give him credit for being on top of the case, for some bizarre, twisted reason–even though Torrez has said he’s not going after the guy who gave 10-year-old Victoria a sexually transmitted disease. What a bunch of BS.”
Former BernCo Chief Deputy District Attorney and ’13 ABQ mayoral candidate Pete Dinelli also believes the plea bargain poses political trouble for the DA:
“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.” Torrez proclaimed defense attorneys were “gaming the system” to get their clients off.”
The ABQ Journal ran a weekend editorial about the case, largely exonerating Torrez of any blame for the mishaps that have occurred in the Martens case. The DA has ingratiated himself with the GOP-oriented paper as well as the Gov. Martinez political machine. That’s making some Democrats antsy. Further, his critiques of local judges have made him enemies and could help an opponent like Assed raise a hefty amount of cash to finance a primary challenge.
The 2020 Dem primary will likely be decisive. Republicans have shown no interest in the race, letting Torrez run unopposed in 2016.
In reality much of the blame for the failed investigation of Victoria’s murder can be laid in the lap of APD but Torrez has been easy on them, saying his office and APD will learn from the mistakes but his reticence to hold APD more accountable makes him more of a target.
DA Torrez has often been mentioned as a candidate for higher office someday but right now holding on to the one he has may be the stiffest political challenge he ever faces. Stay tuned.”