As of New Years Eve December 31, the City has had 80 reported homicides, an all-time record. APD homicide detectives spent Christmas morning investigating two deaths and one shooting that resulted in a woman taken to a hospital in “very critical condition.” On December 9, 2019, the city recorded its 74th homicide, breaking the all-time record of homicides in one year. The previous record was in 2017 with 72 murders. Before 2017, the last time the City had the highest number of homicides in one year was in 1996 with 70 murders that year.
Among the recent murder victims was a mother of two police officers gunned down in her driveway during a robbery. Another was the young woman shot and killed in a park while playing Pokemon Go.
According to Albuquerque Police Commander Joseph Burke, APD homicide detectives have solved 38 out of the 77 of the cases, or 49% of the homicides committed this year. Burke acknowledged that the clearance rate is unacceptable and nowhere near where they want to be in solving all the murders by saying:
“It is a high number [of unsolved cases] and we recognize that. … We always want to be at 100% and anything less is unacceptable. … We need help from the community. We need witnesses. We need people who potentially have information for us so we can follow up and help solve some of these homicides and hold people accountable. … Just know that we have leads [on the two recent murders] and we’re following up on those leads. They’re good leads. We’re confident we’re going to be able to hold people accountable in those investigations.”
The homicide clearance percentage has sat in the 50%-60% range for the past two years, but this is lowest clearance rate in the last decade. According to the proposed 2018-2019 APD City Budget, in 2016 the APD homicide clearance rate was 80%. In 2017 the clearance rate was 70% and the clearance rate for 2018 was 56%. The clearance rate is now below 50%.
Since taking office on December 1, 2017, Mayor Tim Keller and APD Chief Michael Geier have increased the homicide unit from 5 to 11. According to APD, this is the most detectives they’ve had in the unit in more than 20 years. Confidential sources within APD have said that upwards of 5 of the 11 detectives are seeking transfers from the unit.
APD HOMICIDE UNIT HAS DUBIOUS HISTORY OF BOTCHED INVESTIGATIONS
The APD Homicide Unit has a dubious history of botching a number of high-profile murder investigations. The APD Homicide Unit has compiled a history of not doing complete investigations, misleading the public, feeding confessions to people with low IQs, getting investigations completely wrong and even arresting innocent people.
A listing of homicide investigations reflecting negligence include:
– 2005 to 2008: Robert Gonzales: A a mentally retarded young man was arrested by APD and charged with the rape and murder of an 11 year old neighbor. Weeks after the arrest DNA evidence confirmed Gonzales was not the offender. The Homicide and the Bernalillo County DA never turned this evidence over to the court and defense attorneys. Only after Gonzales spent 965 days in jail for a crime he didn’t commit and and only after he was released by the judge was the DNA evidence exposed.
– 2007 to 2011: Michael Lee and Travis Rowley, working as a group of salesmen, were arrested and charged with the murders and rape of an elderly Korean couple. Both Lee and Rowley had below normal IQs. Lee confessed to the murders, Rowley did not. Shortly after the arrests, DNA evidence excluded both men and confirmed that Albuquerque serial killer, Clifton Bloomfield was the offender. APD and the DA kept both men locked up for over a year before they were released.
– 2015 to 2016: Christopher Cruz and Donovan Maez are wrongly arrested for the murder of Jaydon Chavez Silver. They spent10 months in jail before the Bernalillo County DA reviewed the entire case sent to them by APD Homicide, finding that there was no evidence that Cruz and Maez were involved. APD Homicide is alleged to have fed witnesses information for them to repeat in interviews and threaten witnesses to provide false information.
THE MOST EGREGIOUS FAILED MURDER INVESTIGATION
The most egregious negligent murder investigation was the murder investigation of 10-year-old Victoria Martens. On August 24, 2016, she was murdered, dismembered and here body was burned in a bathtub. The initial APD Homicide investigation alleged that it was Jessica Kelley that stabbed 9-year-old Victoria Martens and that Fabian Gonzales strangled her while Michelle Martens, the child’s mother, watched the murder.
Gonzales was accused of drugging, raping and killing 10-year-old Victoria. After further investigation, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez was forced to abandon the prosecution’s theory of the case and forced to drop the rape and murder charges against Gonzales. DA Torrez then accused Gonzalez of helping his cousin dismember the body of 10-year-old Victoria Martens after the child was reportedly killed by an unidentified man who was looking for Gonzales for revenge.
It was revealed that Jessica Kelley did not murder the child. Michelle Martens falsely admitted to committing the crimes. Forensic evidence revealed she and her boyfriend Fabian Gonzales were not even in the apartment at the time of the murder, they did not participate in the murder and that there was an unidentified 4th suspect in the case who committed the murder with supposedly DNA evidence found on the child’s dead body. The unidentified 4th suspect in the case is still at large.
On November 20, 2019, it was reported that Defendant Fabian Gonzales was released from jail pending his trial. He was released to the court’s pretrial services division, which is tasked with finding an appropriate place for him to live until his trial and keep tabs on his whereabouts.
CHARGING AND JAILING AND INNOCENT CHILD FOR MURDER
On December 5, 17-year-old Albuquerque High School Student Gisell Estrada was arrested and charged with a murder she played no part in. She was never arrested before and had absolutely no criminal record of arrest and conviction of any crime, misdemeanor nor felony. She spent 6 full days in jail on a case of “mistaken identity.” Estrada has been described as a “shy student who would often eat lunch in her teacher’s office” a far cry from someone who would be involved with or commit a murder.
According to news reports, an APD homicide detective asked for help identifying a murder suspect from a Facebook photo and an Albuquerque Public Schools employee cooperated. The APD homicide Detective did no follow up with witnesses to confirm the identification of the minor child nor her involvement with the murder. No contact was made with the child nor her parents.
The 17-year-old child was charged by a criminal complaint that was sealed. The sealed complaint left Estrada’s Public Defender attorney blind to the allegations against her. According to Estrada’s defense attorney, the sealed complaint and the homicide’s detectives unwillingness to share any case details, including the victims’ names, witnesses and dates, left the Public Defender’s Office no choice but to advise Estrada to not make a statement to police, but to turn herself in, which she did. According to APD, Estrada’s refusal to speak left them with no choice but to book her on the charge of murder.
On November 8, Estrada was booked into the juvenile detention center on an open count of murder, armed robbery and conspiracy charges in the July 10 slaying. The Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office then filed a motion to detain her until trial alleging:
“The community is not safe if she is not detained. … There are no conditions of release this court can impose which will prevent her from planning another robbery or prevent someone else from dying.”
Notwithstanding the motion for detention, Estrada was released six days later after she was arrested and the charges were dismissed. Review of the motion for detention, it is clear it contains “boiler plate language” with the District Attorney’s Office failing to conform the motion to the actual facts of the case.
LEADING A HORSE TO WATER CANNOT MAKE IT DRINK
As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but cannot make it drink. Same goes for the APD homicide unit.
Sources have confirmed that the firm “Law Enforcement Training and Consulting Services” were retained earlier this year on a three-month, sole source contract for $75,000 to train the APD homicide unit on investigations. All APD sergeants, detectives and lieutenants, who investigate and supervise violent crime investigations, were given the training. A total of 126 APD personnel went through and completed the training and instructions provided by a former retired APD homicide detective now with “Law Enforcement Training and Consulting Services”. At the time of his retirement from APD, the former APD homicide detective had a 95% clearance rate, one of the highest in the country, and has been qualified as an expert witness in high profile cases on a national level.
Law Enforcement Training and Consulting Services reviewed the arrest warrant regarding Gisell Estrada and concluded it went against everything APD officers had been trained on. The firm stated they could provide no reason why the homicide division made such “colossal” mistakes contrary to all they had been trained and the arrest could have been prevented had the detective followed basic follow up practices to confirm identity. Instead, the detective ran with the information he had without even an attempt to verify, either out of being lazy or incompetence.
COMMENETARY AND ANALYSIS
The District Attorney and a District Judge are the check and balance to protect the innocent from being falsely accused by law enforcement. In the case of wrongly accused minor Gisell Estrada’s case, the Bernalillo County District Attorney failed her twice:
First when an Assistant District Attorney approved her arrest warrant that did not satisfy the minimum standards for probable cause.
Second when another Assistant District Attorney did not review the arrest warrant and went ahead and filed for preventative detention motion.
District Attorney Raul Torrez should be ashamed of himself for what his office has done to a 17 year old innocent child. Noot at all surprising is he is nowhere to be found with any kind of an apology to her or her parents, let alone apologizing to her for spending 6 days in jail for being falsely accused for murder by his office.
The District Court Judge who contributed to the fiasco needs to take responsibility for their part in the false arrest of a child for murder and make sure it never happens again.
INCREASE HOMICIDE UNIT
The longer a homicide case takes to complete an investigation or is neglected because of lack of personnel, the less likely the cases will be solved and prosecuted. Adding to the crisis is the emotional toll an unsolved murder takes on the families of the victims.
At the very least, APD needs to ask for temporary assignment of personnel from other agencies such as the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department or the State Police to help clear out the cases.
Given the sure number of homicides and the pathetic homicide clearance rate, the Homicide Investigation Unit needs to be increased from 11 detectives to at least 25 detectives. Further, given the units low clearance rate and past performance, more needs to be done with respect to recruiting and training. APD is in a crisis mode and it needs to concentrate on recruiting seasoned homicide detectives from other departments if necessary. At the very least, APD needs to ask for temporary assignment of personnel from other agencies such as the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Department or the New Mexico State Police to help clear out the cases.
Mayor Tim Keller and APD Michael Geier need to recognize the fiasco the APD homicide unit has become and hold the unit responsible for incarcerating an innocent 17-year-old girl for murder.