On Monday, May 17, Democrat Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez announced that he is running for New Mexico Attorney General, joining Democrat New Mexico State Auditor who announced on May 13 he too is running. Current New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas is term limited and is finishing up his second term.
In his announcement, Torrez, 44, had this to say:
“New Mexicans are looking for somebody who’s a fighter in the attorney general’s office and someone who has real experience to take on the job. If you look at the work that we’ve done inside the district attorney’s office, we’ve been able to secure additional resources, modernize that office, transform how it operates, bringing frankly new capabilities that no one had ever envisioned.
I think New Mexicans want bold leadership and tested leadership inside the AG’s Office. … I think they want someone who isn’t afraid to take on some of the toughest challenges we’ve got in the state.
Fundamentally, believe we don’t have a system right now that provides adequate protections for the general public. … It’s undeniable that we’ve got a very serious public safety challenge in Albuquerque. … Violent crime is unacceptably high, murders are extraordinarily high. But what we need right now are individuals with experience in different systems, and who have worked as prosecutors and police leaders, who can draw on ideas from around the nation and try and move this community in a new direction. And I think I bring that to the table.”
Links to news sources are here:
Raúl Torres was born and raised in Albuquerque. He is the son of long time Assistant United States Attorney for New Mexico Pres Torres. He is married to Nasha Torrez, who is also an attorney, and the couple have two teenage children. Raul Torrez went to Sandia Prepatory School, graduated from Harvard University, went on to receive a master’s degree from the London school of Economics, and attained his law degree from Stanford University and went on to be a White House Fellow under President Barrack Obama before coming back to New Mexico to become an Assistant United States Attorney. In 2016, Torrez ran to for Bernalillo County District Attorney and succeeded District Attorney Kari Brandenburg who served as DA for 16 years. Torrez was elected to second term on November 5, 2020.
MIXED REVIEWS ON CASE MANGEMENT
During his 5 years as District Attorney, Raul Torrez has had a number of management issues relating to cases his office has handled.
According to a February 20, 2019 Channel 4 Investigates Report, an imposter “scammed the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office” falsely claiming she was a victim in a case. The imposter demanded the charges dropped against the violent defendant and that he be released from jail. Below is the link to the Channel 4 report:
According to the news report, the Defendant Freddie Trujillo pled guilty in a 2017 aggravated assault case. Originally, Trujillo was placed on probation but in December 2018, Trujillo was jailed for violating his probation. Trujillo violated his probation when he physically attacked his estranged relatives, David and Mary Ann Baca. Trujillo was arrested after the attack on his relatives and jailed. One month later Trujillo was released from jail after the District Attorney’s Office dropped the charges against him.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE CASE BACKLOG
According to a February 14, 2019 Channel 13 news story, an anonymous tipster within the District Attorney’s office sent News 13 pictures of stacks of domestic violence cases piled up on a table in the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office.
Below is the link to the story:
The photos were of 3 stacks of roughly 500 domestic violence case reports. Each one of the domestic violence reports were linked to a domestic violence victim left waiting from 2 to 5 months without hearing anything after calling police reporting misdemeanor domestic violence crimes including assault, theft and restraining order violations. Torrez went on camera with Channel 13, but only after a week had passed giving him time to clear out the backlog. District Attorney Raul Torrez explained the stacks of reports were made up of “criminal summons” cases where police did not arrest anyone for various reasons such as suspects had already left the scene of the crime.
INDICTING AN INNOCENT MAN
In March, 2017, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez announced and took credit for his office indicting 15 young people, ages 20 to 28, on gang related racketeering and other charges in the spring 2017. The RICO indictment was based upon an investigation of an alleged gang which APD said had started out tagging the area around West Central and escalated to committing violent crimes. District Attorney Raúl Torrez held a news conference calling the defendants “members of one of Albuquerque’s more notorious street gangs.”
On Sunday, August 18, 2019 the Albuquerque Journal reported on its front page that one of the young men indicted was 20-year-old Adan Perez-Macias. It was reported he was not a member of the gang APD was investigating or any other gang. It turns out Adan Perez Marcus did not know and never met the others indicted. Perez Marcus was not even in New Mexico at the time the crime he was accused of committing.
District Attorney Raul Torrez labeled the wrongful indictment of Perez-Macias as “unfortunate” and said it could have happened in any case his office handled.
When discussing the wrongful indictment of Perez Marcus, Torrez said “We can be smart and be effective as institutions. We make mistakes and we learn from these mistakes and improve.” Torrez had no apology, no expression of empathy and no offer of help to 20-year-old Adan Perez Marcus. When DA Raul Torrez says it’s all about justice for victims, he apparently does not believe innocent people are entitled to justice nor any kind of an apology for being wrongfully accused by his office for crimes.
VICTORIA MARTENS MURDER
The most egregious mishandling of a prosecution case by District Attorney Raul Torrez involved the August 24, 2016 murder of ten-year-old Victoria Martens whose was killed and her body dismembered and then burned in the apartment bathtub where she was killed in an apparent attempt to dispose of her body. Initially, Jessica Kelly and Michelle Martens, Victoria’s mother, and Michell’s boyfriend Fabian Gonzales, were arrested and charged for the rape, murder and dismemberment of 10-year-old Victoria. District Attorney Raul Torrez personally took over the prosecution of the case.
On June 29, 2018 District Attorney Raul Torrez announced he negotiated a plea agreement where Michelle Martens plead guilty to child abuse of her daughter Victoria Martens. The plea agreement negotiated was to 1 count of child abuse, recklessly caused, resulting in the death of a child under 12. The plea agreement guaranteed a 12 to 15-year prison sentence and dropped the most egregious charges of murder and rape. With the plea deal, Michelle Martens faced a possible sentence of 12-15 years, and with good time she could be out of jail within 6 to 7 years.
Torrez also announced several charges against Fabian Gonzales were dismissed. District Attorney Raul Torrez said that much of the initial facts of the case were “simply not true”, yet Torrez had previously persisted in holding news conferences. The murder charge was dropped, but Gonzales is still charged with child abuse and tampering with evidence. He was released from jail in November, 2019. The trial for Fabian Gonzales is now set to begin on January 3, 2022, according to court documents filed on May 17, 2021. His trial is expected to last three weeks from January 3 through January 21, 2022.
The initial APD police investigation and reports alleged that it was Jessica Kelley that stabbed 9-year-old Victoria Martens and that Fabian Gonzales strangled her while Michelle Martens watched the murder. During a press conference, Torrez stated that his office’s investigation found Michelle Martens falsely admitted to committing the crimes when forensic evidence revealed she and her boyfriend Fabian Gonzales were not even in the apartment at the time of the murder and did not participate in the murder.
Raul Torrez had held a press conference after press conference after press conference in the case, including private meeting with the Journal Editors and reporters at the Journal Center. He had more than 3 front page Journal stories on the case and was interviewed by Chanel 4 on the “Eye on Albuquerque” Sunday program on plea agreements he has negotiated in the case.
District Attorney Raul Torrez in his various media interviews shared extensive details of the case and prosecution strategy on the pending criminal prosecution against two other defendants, two identified and one yet to be found. During a January 4, 2019 pretrial motion hearing, District Judge Charles Brown determined District Attorney Raúl Torrez had been “reckless” in his December 10, 2018 statement he made to the media about defendant Jessica Kelley’s absence of cooperation before her no contest plea.
On January 4, 2018, District Judge Brown said that Torrez should not have issued the December 10, 2018 statement at all. Judge Brown admonished Raul Torrez for the statement by stating from the bench in open court:
“I don’t know if it was [intentionally done] to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, or if the goal was to shift the light away from the District Attorney’s Office or to move light to the Albuquerque Police Department … I find it to be woefully inaccurate in its ambiguity. It could be interpreted in many ways – all of them positive to the District Attorney’s office, some to the detriment of others. The District Attorney also has an obligation to protect the due process right of the defendant. … [The District Attorney] … represents the state, which is everyone including the defendant and the defendant’s families … The District Attorney’s obligation is to the system.”
DA RAUL TORREZ ATTACKS CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM AND JUDICIARY
During his first term as Bernalillo County District Attorney, Raul Torrez attacked the New Mexico criminal justice system and judges on three fronts:
FIRST: TORREZ BLAMED THE COURTS FOR “REVOLVING DOOR” HIGH VIOLENT CRIME RATES
Soon after being elected DA, Torrez began to blame the courts for the rise in violent crime rates saying that the “revolving door” is the courts fault. Four years ago, Torrez accused the District Court and the Supreme Court’s case management order (CMO) for being the root cause for the dramatic increase in crime and the dismissal of cases. The Supreme Court issued the order mandating disclosure of evidence within specific time frames and to expedite trial. Torrez challenged the case management order before the New Mexico Supreme Court and also took action against an individual judge claiming the judge was requiring too much evidence to prove that a defendant was too violent to be released with bond.
Less than six months after being sworn in as Bernalillo County District Attorney, Torrez had the DA’s Office issue a report that outlined the problems he perceived since the issuance by the Supreme Court of the Case Management Order (CMO). The main points of the DA’s 2016 report were that defense attorneys were “gaming” the systems discovery deadlines, refusing to plead cases, demanding trials or dismissal of cases when not given evidence entitled to under the law. The District Court did their own case review of statistics and found that it was the DA’s Office that was dismissing the majority of violent felony cases, not the courts.
SECOND: 65% COMBINED DISMISSAL, ACQUITTAL AND MISTRIAL RATES
In mid-2015 the Bernalillo County 2nd District Court began shifting from grand jury use to implementing “preliminary hearing” schedule. Raul Torrez was sworn in as District Attorney on January 1, 2017 and from day one he opposed the shift to preliminary hearings.
District Attorney Raul Torrez and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller wrote a joint letter to the New Mexico Supreme Court requesting it to intervene and stop the plans of 2nd Judicial District Court (SJDC) to shift away from the use of grand jury system to a preliminary hearing system.
The District Court provided an extensive amount of statistics, bar graphs and pie charts to the New Mexico Supreme Court to support the decision to shift from grand jury hearings to preliminary hearing showing it was necessary. The statistics revealed the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office under Raul Torrez had a 65% combined dismissal, acquittal and mistrial rate with cases charge by grand juries. The data presented showed in part how overcharging and a failure to screen cases by the District Attorney’s Office was contributing to the high mistrial and acquittal rates.
The Supreme Court responded to the Torrez-Keller letter refusing to intervene but urging District Attorney Torrez to work with the Bernalillo County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (BCCJCC) to resolve his concerns about ongoing cuts to the grand jury system.
THIRD: SHIFTING THE BURDEN OF PROOF
Bernalillo County District Attorney Raúl Torrez proposed a constitutional amendment that would create a “presumption” that a defendant is a threat to the public when charged with a violent crime and that they should be jailed until pending trial without bond or conditions of release. The presumption would shift the burden of proving dangerousness from the prosecution and require defendants accused of certain crimes to show and convince a judge that they should be released on bond or conditions of release pending their trial on the charges.
According to Torrez, the cases where a defendant would be required to show they do not pose a threat to public and should be released pending their trial would include “the most violent and serious cases” such as murder, first-degree sexual assault, human trafficking, first-degree robbery, crimes involving a firearm and defendants who are on supervision or parole for another felony. Such a shift of burden of proof could conceivably require a defendant to take the stand during a detention hearing before their trial and a waiver of their 5th Amendment Constitutional Right against self-incrimination.
PRAISE FOR ACTIONS
Torrez has won significant praise from defense attorneys for publishing a list of police officers with a history of dishonesty, use of force, bias or other issues that might make them unfit to aid in a prosecution.
In a letter dated October 14, 2020, Bernalillo County District Attorney Raul Torrez notified the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) and the Albuquerque Police Department (APD) that his office was introducing a new disclosure policy. The policy is based on the 1974 United States Supreme Court ruling Giglio v. United States, 405 U.S. 150 (1972). The Giglio ruling requires the prosecuting agency, in this case the Bernalillo County District Attorney’s Office, to disclose to a criminal defendant all information or material that may be used to impeach the credibility of the prosecution witnesses including police officers and sheriff officers who are witnesses for the prosecution in any case.
The Supreme Court ruling in the Giglio case in nothing new and has been required since 1972. The DA’s office formalizing the process is new. According to the DA’s office, it is being done now because of the dramatic “recent slow-down” in the criminal courts giving the time to develop a training protocol and the infrastructure to launch the new policy.
According to District Attorney Raul Torrez, the new system will bring transparency to the criminal justice system and hold prosecutors and law enforcement accountable. Torrez told both APD and BCSO in his October 14 letter:
In 2020, DA Torrez also filed a civil lawsuit accusing a heavily armed militia group of operating illegally as a military unit and trying to usurp law enforcement authority.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Both State Auditor Brian Colón and District Attorney Raul Torrez are already well-funded each reporting over $300,000 in their campaign accounts. It’s likely more will run. New Mexico State Senator Jacob Candelaria is said to be considering running for Attorney General as is former United States Attorney Damon Martinez who ran unsuccessfully for congress 3 years ago.
Whoever wins the Democratic Primary in June, 2022 will likely become the next Attorney General. The race between both Colon and Torrez is bound to be hard fought in that both have expressed they are interested in eventually becoming Governor or going on to serve in congress. Elected Attorney Generals have gone onto higher office including Toney Anaya who was later elected Governor, Jeff Bingaman who was later elected United States Senator and Tom Udall who was later elected United States Senator. Current Attorney General Hector Balderas is said to be looking at running for Governor.
Republicans are said to be looking for a candidate, but no names have surfaced. The last time New Mexico elected a Republican Attorney General was 34 years ago when Republican Hal Stratton was elected Attorney General of New Mexico and served from 1987–1990.