Jury selection begins in Astorga case
Updated: Monday, 09 Apr 2012, 11:34 AM MDT
Published : Monday, 09 Apr 2012, 11:34 AM MDT
SANTA FE (AP) - Jury selection was scheduled to begin Monday in the sentencing phase of a trial of a man convicted of killing a Bernalillo County deputy.
Jurors will be asked to sentence Michael Paul Astorga to life in prison or to death, even though New Mexico repealed the death penalty in 2009.
The state Supreme Court ruled that he was eligible for the death penalty since the crime occurred before the repeal. The court ruled that it applied to crimes committed after July 1, 2009, when the repeal took effect.
His attorney, Gary Mitchell, said he will present new evidence, including DNA evidence that he says will prove his client's innocence. District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said she will call witnesses to prove the aggravating circumstances required to impose the death penalty.
Astorga was convicted in the 2006 killing of Deputy James McGrane Jr. Jurors in Las Cruces found Astorga guilty of second-degree murder, tampering with evidence and being a felon in possession of a firearm in connection to the death of 27-year-old Candido Martinez over a car back in 2005. That trial moved to Las Cruces after a judge ruled Astorga wouldn't get a fair trial in Albuquerque.
New Mexico has executed one person since 1960, child killer Terry Clark in 2001. Two men remain on death row, and then-Gov. Bill Richardson declined to commute their sentences after he signed the death penalty repeal. More states are looking to New Mexico on how to handle executions after the death penalty is repealed, The Albuquerque Journal reported (http://bit.ly/Ia2t4E
In Connecticut, lawmakers brought up New Mexico last week when they debated, then passed, a state bill repealing the death penalty.