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Domestic violence remains a significant problem in New Mexico

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(The Center Square) – On the morning of Halloween 2020, a woman (Jane Doe 1) decided to end the romantic relationship she was having with Martin Lopez, 38. As she and her friend (Jane Doe 2) drove up to an O’Reilly’s Auto Parts store in Española, where a friend of Lopez worked, she reached to collect Lopez’s belongings that she brought to return to his friend at the auto parts store. Lopez then unexpectedly appeared. What followed next was a day filled with terror.

Armed with a gun, he forced his way into the vehicle and drove away with the two women in tow. As he approached a nearby apartment complex, he struck both women with the gun. Jane Doe 2 called 911 just as he pushed her out of the car. Later, New Mexico State Police were able to locate the car, Jane Doe, and Lopez, who fled the scene with the car the moment he saw the police.

In June, the results of the first phase of a study on the need for domestic violence services in New Mexico conducted by the University of New Mexico Prevention Research Center (UNM PRC), revealed that 1 in 3 people in New Mexico live more than 10 miles driving distance to the closest domestic violence program. For 1 in 10 people, that distance is over 25 miles. The study also revealed there is a need for more primary prevention work, both at the organizational level and community and societal level.

The New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence is working to identify the needs of domestic violence victims through an ongoing study by the university.

The U.S Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico acknowledges that Lopez has prior domestic violence-related misdemeanor convictions from 2014, was given a suspended sentence in that case, and had his probation revoked three times, and “Lopez has been arrested on at least four other occasions for felony charges, none of which resulted in a conviction.”

In the latest incident involving Jane Doe 1, Lopez was convicted on October 14, 2022, by a federal jury on one count each of carjacking and brandishing a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence. The 911 phone recording placed by Jane Doe 2 captured the victims’ terrified screams and was played for the jury at trial.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico sought the maximum sentence of 14 years and nine months (177 months). New Mexico’s sentencing guidelines for a person like Lopez were calculated at 154 to 177 months. Instead, the court passed down a sentence of 108 months (9 years) imprisonment. A penalty well below the minimum of almost 13 years, set by the guidelines.

His sentencing was announced on July 26, 2023, by Alexander M.M. Uballez, United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico, and Raul Bujanda, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Albuquerque Field Office.

In answering the question of what can be done to hold offenders accountable, Henry Valdez, Administrative Office of District Attorneys (AODA) stated “Prosecutors can better understand the dynamics of DV, which is different than some other crimes. A victim isn’t the typical witness. We can also work more closely with law enforcement to gather evidence that is not just dependent on a victim’s testimony to prove a case. We need to catch cases early. Misdemeanor cases may not get priority, which is understandable, but if we can address the problem early on, we may be able to keep it from getting worse.”

Upon release, Lopez will have three years of supervision.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New Mexico State Police investigated this case. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jaymie L. Roybal and Letitia Carroll Simms are prosecuting the case.

For law enforcement and prosecutors of domestic violence cases, Valdez is grateful. “They don’t get the recognition they deserve. They don’t get the accolades like some who work big, higher profile cases,” he said.

National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY).

In New Mexico, the Domestic Violence Resource Center is available by telephone at (505) 843-9123 or online at https://dvrcnm.org/

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