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Alcalde woman pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter

January 24, 2019

An Alcalde woman who said she acted in self-defense when she fatally shot a Taos Pueblo man in her home in 2012 pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter Tuesday, less than a month before she was scheduled to stand trial for murder.

Under the terms of her plea deal with prosecutors, Kaiwee Martinez, 41, will receive a sentence of 18 months of probation, minus more than a year spent on electronic monitoring while the case was pending.

“There existed significant problems with the State’s case because they lost a lot of evidence, and because my client had a viable self-defense claim,” defense attorney Aaron Boland said in an email Tuesday. “But in light of the risks that are always present in a jury trial, Ms. Martinez is relieved to have the case resolved.”

Martinez shot Lawrence Sandoval, 33, in the head in her bedroom on Dec. 10, 2012. She told authorities she had met Sandoval at a casino the night before and rebuffed his advances. But she said, Sandoval came to her home the next morning and tried to sexually assault her, and that she shot him with a 9 mm handgun she kept under her pillow.

Martinez told investigators Sandoval had been looming over her bed threatening her with a knife when she pulled the trigger.

But a casino surveillance video showed Martinez and Sandoval had acted flirtatiously and left together. And an autopsy revealed Sandoval had been shot in the back of the head — with the bullet exiting his cheek — causing authorities to question her statement that she had shot him as he held a knife to her face.

The Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Office charged Martinez with murder in 2013. But then-District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco dismissed the charge without prejudice, meaning it could be refiled, saying she needed more information.

A subsequent district attorney, Jennifer Padgett, who was appointed after Pacheco stepped down in 2015, reopened the case in October 2016.

After Marco Serna was elected district attorney and took office in January 2017, he hired Padgett and the office continued pursuing the case.

In May 2017, Serna said new evidence, combined with what had been gathered during the initial probe, convinced him the case should be presented to a judge to determine if there was probable cause to charge Martinez in Sandoval’s death.

Boland said at the time that the state’s decision to prosecute Martinez was a classic example of blaming the victim and attacked the quality of the police work in the case, calling it “sloppy” and “based on guesswork and conjecture.”

A state district judge ruled Martinez should stand trial, and the District Attorney’s Office continued to work the case for two more years. It was scheduled to go to trial in February.

On Tuesday — at a hearing that had been set to discuss evidentiary issues in preparation for what was expected to be a weeklong murder trial — Martinez pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and the district attorney dropped the murder charge.

Serna didn’t respond to questions about why his office waited to settle the case until just before trial or whether the victim’s family had been consulted on the plea deal.

“After a thorough investigation, we found several key evidentiary issues that could not be remedied no matter how diligently our investigators and prosecutors worked,” Serna wrote in an email. “Despite those past issues, we have ensured the defendant is now a convicted felon.”

Court records show Boland asked state District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer to dismiss the case in December, saying the state had lost or failed to produce more than a dozen pieces of evidence, had failed to test much of the evidence and violated discovery rules by making multiple late disclosures concerning witnesses, among other things.

Boland wrote in the document that the investigation “lacked integrity” and the case “should never have been refiled.”

Reached by phone Tuesday evening, Sandoval’s mother, Mary Crucita Sandoval, said she and her husband are disappointed in the outcome of the case. But she said that when they first learned of the plea late last week, they felt had no choice but to accept it because prosecutors told them there was not enough evidence to keep the case going.

“With all the expertise and power and resources available in the judicial system, it seems like they failed us in some way,” she said. “He was our only son. I don’t know what more I can say. It was their decision. It seems like they just decided overnight. … She got a very light sentence, and that’s not fair.”

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