Supreme Court upholds Ameer Muhammad’s conviction for 2017 ABQ stabbing death

• The New Mexico Supreme Court upheld Ameer Muhammad‘s conviction on felony murder
• The justices rejected arguments that Muhammad’s mental illness prevented him from waiving his Miranda rights
• He received a mandatory life sentence, with parole after 30 years.

See the full case write-up or previous stories about this case

SANTA FE, N.M. — The New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously upheld the felony murder conviction of Muhammad Ameer, 26, who stabbed Aaron Sieben to death in 2017.

The justices rejected his defense attorney’s arguments, that District Court Judge Jacqueline Flores refusal to suppress Muhammad’s statement to the police and not allowing a self-defense instruction made the case worthy of a new trial.

Ameer Muhammad

Defense attorney Steven Forsberg wrote in the appeal that the statement should have been suppressed because Muhammad was “in the grips of severe mental illness” when he made the waiver of his Miranda rights and gave a statement to detectives.

Justice Barbara Vigil wrote in the opinion for the court that Flores rejected the initial argument to suppress the statement, “stating that without more information about Defendant’s apparent delusions there was not enough to conclude that those delusions impacted Defendant’s ability to waive his rights.”

She did not, however, address if it was made “knowingly and intelligently.”

In challenging the unsuppressed statement, Forsberg wrote that the Flores used the wrong legal standard to determine if it needed to be suppressed.

Vigil wrote that the defense argued that Muhammad thought it was pointless to exercise his right not to speak to detectives because he had delusions that they would hear his thoughts and therefore they already knew everything. She wrote:

“The recording of the interview at the MDC demonstrates that Defendant’s mental illness did not affect his understanding of his rights but rather his motivation for not exercising those rights. No other evidence was presented concerning Defendant’s claimed diagnosis of schizophrenia or its effect on his ability to comprehend his rights. Because the record otherwise supports the district court’s findings that Defendant was cogent and could accurately articulate his rights and the consequences of abandoning them, the totality of the circumstances demonstrates that Defendant’s waiver was knowing and intelligent.”

As for the argument that a self-defense instruction should have been given, there was no evidence that the Sieben, 30, ever had a weapon, even if he struck first.

“We have held that evidence of a simple battery against a defendant is insufficient for a reasonable jury to find that the defendant acted reasonably by responding with deadly force,” Vigil wrote, before quoting State v. Lucero, a 2010 case, which in turn quotes a 1996 case, State v. Duarte.

There was not enough evidence to support a self defense claim, she wrote.

The case

On July 27, 2018, a jury found Ameer, 26, guilty of felony murder and armed robbery, although the latter charge was dropped as the predicate felony for felony murder. The jury acquitted him on a charge of tampering with evidence.

According to court documents, victim Aaron Sieben and Ameer allegedly got into some kind of argument while Sieben was in his truck on March 19, 2017, parked at a Circle K gas station in Albuquerque.

After Ameer allegedly fled from Sieben, Sieben pursued him, leading to a fist fight. As the fight progressed, Ameer allegedly produced a knife and stabbed Sieben two to three times. After stabbing Sieben, Ameer allegedly took his wallet. Sieben died at the scene and Ameer allegedly fled, only to be arrested shortly thereafter.

District Judge Jacqueline Flores sentenced Ameer to life in prison, which is a term of 30 years, on Sept. 25, 2018, according to court documents.

Continue reading “Supreme Court upholds Ameer Muhammad’s conviction for 2017 ABQ stabbing death”

Oral arguments scheduled for Muhammad Ameer murder appeal

Muhammad Ameer is appealing two issues from his trial
• The case is scheduled for a year after the last brief was submitted to the court in July 2019

See the full case write-up
Update: Listen to the oral arguments

SANTA FE, N.M. — Justices will hear oral arguments in Muhammad Ameer‘s appeal of his felony murder conviction on July 7, 2020, although it may be done via teleconference.

Muhammad Ameer

The case is scheduled for oral arguments 10:15 a.m., July 7, 2020, but whether it will be in person or via video is still up in the air because of the coronavirus pandemic.

On July 27, 2018, a jury found Ameer, 26, guilty of felony murder and armed robbery, although the latter charge was dropped as the predicate felony for felony murder. The jury acquitted him on a charge of tampering with evidence.

According to court documents, victim Aaron Sieben and Ameer allegedly got into some kind of argument while Sieben was in his truck on March 19, 2017, parked at a Circle K gas station in Albuquerque.

After Ameer allegedly fled from Sieben, Sieben pursued him, leading to a fist fight. As the fight progressed, Ameer allegedly produced a knife and stabbed Sieben two to three times. After stabbing Sieben, Ameer allegedly took his wallet. Sieben died at the scene and Ameer allegedly fled, only to be arrested shortly thereafter.

District Judge Jacqueline Flores sentenced Ameer to life in prison, which is a term of 30 years, on Sept. 25, 2018, according to court documents.

Although four issues were initially raised in a statement of issues for Ameer’s automatic appeal to the Supreme Court, in the June 10, 2019 brief in chief, Assistant Appellate Defender Steven Forsberg, with the Law Office of the Public Defender, only challenged two issues: the judge not suppressing Ameer’s statement to the police and the lack of a self-defense instruction.

In challenging the unsuppressed statement, Forsberg wrote that the Flores used the wrong legal standard to determine if it needed to be suppressed.

A Miranda rights waiver has to be both voluntary and knowing and intelligent, but Flores stated she believed police coercion was required to suppress the statement. However, that is only required to find if a statement was given voluntarily; a statement can still fail to meet the knowing and intelligent threshold in the absence of coercion, Forsberg wrote.

He wrote that Ameer was “in the grips of severe mental illness” when he made the waiver.

The statement was also the only evidence Ameer was the initial aggressor. When the defense argued for a self-defense instruction, the judge said she could not discount his statement to police. Forsberg wrote:

None of the eyewitnesses saw what caused Ameer to flee from Mr. Sieben’s truck while Mr. Sieben chased him, but Ameer in his statement said he had held a knife to Mr. Sieben. None of the witnesses could provide a motive for those events, until Mr. Muhammad said during his statement, according to the detective, “that he wanted to get meth; to get high; to kill himself, and he made statements that he killed him because he did not want to continue to ask people for money.” [8 Tr. 23:24-25:15] Due to his mental state, Ameer’ s statements were not knowing (let alone reliable).

When the defense was arguing for a self-defense instruction, the trial court judge emphasized the importance of the statement: “I think the problem for me is you really want me to discount the Defendant’s statement, and I can’t” [8 Tr. 56:16-56:18] Ameer’s unknowing statement kneecapped any defense he might have had.

Forsberg wrote that the Supreme Court should either reverse his conviction and remand for a re-trial, with the statement suppressed, or remand the case to the District Court for a new hearing on the suppression issue.

Should the trial court, on remand, find the statement unknowing, then a new trial would be required. If, on the other hand, the trial court held that the statement was knowing and intelligent, then Mr. Muhammad could appeal that decision to this Court.

In the answer brief for the prosecution, filed June 20, 2019, Assistant Attorney General Maris Veidemanis wrote that, although Ameer was experiencing delusions during the police interrogation, he was “coherent and articulate” and that the defense presented no information that Ameer did not understand the Miranda warning.

If there had been an error, it wouldn’t have mattered because there was ample evidence to convict him of felony murder, predicated on armed robbery, Veidemanis wrote.

As to the self-defense instruction, Veidemanis wrote that really, the Flores’ decision was based on the lack of evidence that Ameer had been attacked and pointed to State v Abeyta, which states that self defense must be reasonable in relation to the threat posed and that excessive force in self defense “renders the entire action unlawful.”

On July 10, 2019, Forsberg filed a reply brief and focused on Veidemanis’ emphasis on the voluntariness of Ameer’s statement. He wrote that the trial court should be ordered to consider evidence of Ameer’s mental state in determining if he knowingly and intelligently waived his rights.

He wrote that Veidemanis’ claims that the case could have stood without his statement was contradicted by the trial prosecutor, who fought the suppression motion and highlighted the statement during his closing arguments.

The case is scheduled for oral arguments at 10:15 a.m., July 7, 2020.

Continue reading “Oral arguments scheduled for Muhammad Ameer murder appeal”

Taylor James Enriquez receives 19 1/2 years for killing Alberto Nunez after guilty plea

See the full case here

LAS CRUCES, N.M. — District Court Judge Douglas Driggers sentenced Taylor James Enriquez to 19 1/2 years, July 6, 2018, the maximum sentence after he pleaded guilty, April 10, 2018, to charges of second-degree murder, false imprisonment and aggravated battery causing great bodily harm. Driggers’ sentence was the maximum under the plea deal.

Enriquez stabbed Alberto Nunez in the neck with a broken bottle, killing him, on Feb. 26, 2017, according to court documents.

Taylor Enriquez

He also attacked Manuel Lopez Polanco, who had injuries to his face. The attack on Lopez Polanco was the basis of the aggravated battery charge.

According to the plea agreement, signed by prosecutor Rebecca Duffin, Enriquez was going to face a maximum sentence of 19 1/2 years in prison and that the sentences for each crime would run consecutively, or one after another. His defense attorney, James Baiamonte, agreed that he would argue for a minimum sentence of 15 years followed by five years of supervised probation while prosecutors would argue for 19 1/2 years.

On July 9, 2018, Driggers sentenced Enriquez to the maximum allowed, 19 1/2 years. Although second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 15 years, Enriquez was also sentenced to the maximum sentences on the charges of false imprisonment and aggravated battery.

Continue reading “Taylor James Enriquez receives 19 1/2 years for killing Alberto Nunez after guilty plea”

Joseph Vargas: Kenneth Torres — 3-31-2017

  • Suspect: Joseph Vargas
  • Victim: Kenneth Torres, 23
  • Non-fatal victim: Julian Torres, 20
  • Charges: Second-degree murder, aggravated battery causing great bodily harm
  • Status: Plea to second-degree murder and aggravated battery causing great bodily harm
  • Sentence: 8 years followed by 5 years of supervised probation
  • Date of incident: March 31, 2017
  • Agency: Rio Rancho Police Department
  • Location: Eventide SE, Rio Rancho, NM
  • Magistrate case number: M-45-FR-2017-00240
  • District case number: D-1329-CR-201700155

 

Summary

Joseph Vargas fatally stabbed Kenneth Torres at a party on March 31, 2017, and also stabbed, but not fatally, Julian Torres. Vargas was initially charged with murder.

A grand jury indicted Vargas on charges of second-degree murder and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, among other charges, on April 20, 2017.

On May 23, 2018, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. According to his plea agreement, he received a sentence of eight years followed by five years of supervised probation.

[cmtoc_table_of_contents]

The incident

On March 31, 2017, Joseph Vargas and Kenneth Torres were at the same party, at an apartment at 95 Eventide Road SE in Rio Rancho.

Vargas allegedly stabbed Kenneth Torres, 23, killing him, and stabbed but did not kill Julian Torres, 20. The pair are not related, Rio Rancho Det. Shawn Ginn wrote in a statement of probable cause for Vargas’ arrest.

Joseph Vargas

On April 6, Ginn managed to arrest Vargas on a probation warrant and brought him in for an interview.

“Joseph stated he went downstairs to where he observed two subjects involved in an altercation,” Ginn wrote. “Joseph was able to identify the two subjects as ‘dead guy’ and ‘Juelz.'”

Juelz had a handgun, which he handed to Kenneth Torres.

Vargas allegedly said he then stabbed Torres and saw “Juelz” going to a car, Ginn wrote.

“Joseph said that he was not sure if Juelz was going to get a bigger gun and stabbed Juelz as he was getting into the car,” Ginn wrote. “Joseph said he took the gun from Kenneth and left the area in Kenneth’s vehicle as the passenger. Joseph stated he remembered waking up the next morning with the gun and knife however could not account for the whereabouts of the weapons at this time.”

He was arrested on an open murder count and a charge of tampering with evidence.

Indictment, plea and sentence

On April 20, 2017, grand jurors indicted Vargas a total of six counts:

  • Second-degree murder
  • Aggravated battery with a deadly weapon
  • Four counts of tampering with evidence

When he was arraigned, on June 6, 2016, District Court Judge George Eichwald ordered Vargas be held without bail pending his trial.

A year later, on May 23, 2018, and without any intervening court hearings, Vargas pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.

According to the plea agreement, accepted by Eichwald and signed by Assistant District Attorney Andoni Garrote, Vargas had his sentence set at eight years in prison followed by five years of supervised probation. (Technically, Eichwald sentenced Vargas to 15 years, the maximum, and then suspended seven of those years, resulting in a sentence of eight years.)

In the plea, Vargas also admitted his identity to one prior conviction, for aggravated battery on an officer and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery on an officer. He pleaded guilty in that case on Sept. 16, 2016, in case D-202-CR-201600853.

According to the judgement and sentence, he received credit for 413 days served.

See the case files on Google Drive.

Matthew Rodriguez: Mitchell Daniel — 3-25-2017

  • Suspect: Matthew Rodriguez, 34
  • Victim: Mitchell Daniel, 64
  • Charges: First-degree murder, aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon and tampering with evidence; pleaded down down to second-degree murder
  • Status: Plea to second-degree murder
  • Sentence: 10 years followed by 5 years supervised probation
  • Date of incident: March 25, 2017
  • Agency: Santa Fe Police Department
  • Location: 1713 Fifth Street, Santa Fe
  • Magistrate case number: M-49-FR-2017-319
  • District case number: D-101-CR-2017-311
  • Judicial district: First judicial district

 

Summary

On March 25, 2017, Matthew Rodriguez, 34 at the time, allegedly stabbed his 64-year-old neighbor, Mitchell Daniel, in the chest repeatedly, compelled by the voices in his head. He allegedly admitted to stabbing the man, who appeared to be living in a van outside of Rodriguez’s apartment complex.

On Oct. 19 or Oct. 22, 2018, Rodriguez pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for Daniel’s death and, per the plea deal, received a sentence of 10 years followed by five years of supervised probation.

[cmtoc_table_of_contents]

The incident

On March 25, 2017, Matthew Rodriguez, 34 at the time, allegedly stabbed his 64-year-old neighbor, Mitchell Daniel, in the chest repeatedly, compelled by the voices in his head.

Although Daniel was transported after the stabbing to the hospital, he died from his injuries shortly thereafter.

Officers were first called to the scene following a 911 call that a man had been either shot or stabbed. Rodriguez allegedly took credit for making the call after he had been arrested, Detective Tony Trujillo wrote in a statement of probable cause for Rodriguez’s arrest.

Matthew Rodriguez

Officers found four men at the scene when they arrived, including Rodriguez and took all four of them into custody.

After Rodriguez was put into the back of the police car, he allegedly started punching himself in the face. After being handcuffed, he then allegedly started banging his head on the divider in the police unit. He was taken to the Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center for his head injury.

“While in the emergency room at the hospital being treated by the attending physician and nursing staff Matthew Rodriguez made a statement ‘how’s the fuck I stabbed doing’? and ‘I called 911 about the stabbing; I didn’t realize that I did it,” Trujillo wrote. “These statements were heard by attending physician and nursing staff.”

At the police department, Trujillo talked to Gary Brown, who described himself as an acquaintance and told Trujillo that he was one of the people who called 911.

“Mr. Brown was at the apartment with Matthew Rodriguez approximately one hour prior to making the 911 emergency call. Mr. Brown stated Matthew Rodriguez suddenly told him ‘you need to leave,’ and ‘fucking neighbor,'” Trujillo wrote. “Mr. Brown told Affiant Matthew Rodriguez is schizophrenic and hears voices in his head. Mr. Brown told Affiant this was not unusual to him because Matthew Rodriguez on other occasions had told him ‘you need to leave’ for no reason at all.”

He gathered his belongings and left the apartment. While outside, he heard someone yelling to call 911 and he went up to the apartment and saw Daniel lying on the ground, bleeding.

“Mr. Brown called 911,” Trujillo wrote. “Mr. Brown also told Affiant that Matthew Rodriguez always carries a kitchen knife with him.”

While Rodriguez was being held at the police department, an officer walked up and asked if he wanted a cup of water.

“Matthew Rodriguez responded ‘the person that I stabbed,
what’s going on with him?'” Trujillo wrote.

Later on, Rodriguez was interviewed and he agreed to waive his Miranda rights.

“In this statement Matthew Rodriguez admitted to stabbing Mitchell Daniel,” Trujillo wrote. “Matthew Rodriguez stated he did not mean to kill him, saying ‘I was just angry at the voices in my head.'”

He allegedly described the knife as being nine inches long with a black handle and he allegedly threw it into the sink after the stabbing, Trujillo wrote.

“Matthew Rodriguez stated he stabbed Mitchell Daniel inside Mitchell Daniel’s van which Mitchell Daniel had been living out of and parked in the driveway of 1713 Fifth Street,” Trujillo wrote.

Below is the statement of probable cause for Matthew Rodriguez’s arrest.

 

PC-CC - Matthew Rodriguez - 3-27-2017

 

Indictment, competency and plea deal

On April 13, 2017, Rodriguez was indicted on charges of:

  • First-degree murder under the depraved-mind theory
  • Aggravated burglary: a kitchen knife
  • Tampering with evidence

At his May 1, 2017 arraignment, District Court Judge T. Glenn Ellington placed a no-bond hold on him.

Bisbee Court, Santa Fe, NM. Photo by Wheeler Cowperthwaite. CC BY

On May 5, 2017, a notice was filed that Rodriguez’s competency was in question and on July 5, 2017, Ellington suspended the proceedings.

On Feb. 9, 2018, Rodriguez’s attorney withdrew the question of his competency and filed a notice that Rodriguez would plead not guilty by reason of insanity and an incapacity to form specific intent.

On April 17, 2018, prosecutors filed a motion to have Rodriguez moved from the Santa Fe Detention Center to the custody of the Department of Corrections, as well as a motion to close the courtroom to hear the motion.

On April 24, 2018, the Santa Fe Reporter published an article by Justin Horwath about Rodriguez’s confinement in the Santa Fe Detention Center and his extensive stay in solitary confinement.

According to the article, on Sept. 21, 2017, Rodriguez attacked two separate inmates, who declined to press charges against him.

Judge's portrait
First Judicial District Judge T. Glenn Ellington

“A corrections officer wrote in an incident report that Rodriguez said he assaulted the two inmates because they ‘are mind-control freaks,'” Horwath wrote.

On Sept. 21, 2018, prosecutors and the defense reached an agreement for a plea deal. That plea deal was signed by Ellington on Oct. 19, 2018 although the docket states the hearing took place on Oct. 22.

During that hearing, Rodriguez pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

According to the plea deal, which Ellington accepted, Rodriguez will spend 10 years in prison, sans credit for time served. Prosecutors agreed to drop charges of aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon and tampering with evidence.

Ellington, acting according to the plea deal, sentenced Rodriguez to a total of 15 years, but suspended five and ordered that they be served on intensive supervised probation.

According to the judgement and sentence, Ellington ordered that the Department of Corrections place Rodriguez in “an appropriate Mental Health Unit where Defendant’s medical regimen can be fulfilled by the New Mexico Department of Corrections” and receive his required medication and mental health treatment.

 

See the documents on Google Drive

Ameer Muhammad: Aaron Sieben — 3-19-2017

 

Summary

On March 19, 2017, Aaron Sieben and Ameer Muhammad allegedly got into some kind of argument while Sieben was in his truck, parked at a Circle K gas station.

After Muhammad allegedly fled from Sieben, Sieben pursued him, leading to a fist fight. As the fight progressed, Muhammad allegedly produced a knife and stabbed Sieben two to three times. After stabbing Sieben, Muhammad allegedly took his wallet. Sieben died at the scene and Muhammad allegedly fled, only to be arrested shortly thereafter.

Muhammad was indicted by a grand jury on March 30, 2017, on first-degree murder or felony murder, armed robbery, tampering with evidence and shoplifting under $250. After multiple allegations of misconduct by the prosecution and defense, the Attorney General’s Office took over the prosecution. The defense also tried to suppress statements he made to a detective after he asserted his right to an attorney.

On July 27, 2018, a jury found Muhammad guilty of felony murder, armed robbery and shoplifting under $250 while finding him not guilty of tampering with evidence.

On Nov. 7, 2018, Muhammad’s attorneys appealed his conviction and on June 10, 2019, his attorneys filed a brief in chief, arguing his statements should have been suppressed and the judge should have given a self defense instruction to jurors.

[cmtoc_table_of_contents]

The incident

On March 19, 2017, Albuquerque Police Officers were called to the Circle K gas station at 900 Eubank Boulevard after a husband and wife called in a stabbing.

Ameer Muhammad

When officers arrived, they found Aaron Sieben, 30, dead on Lomas Boulevard NE, Detective Andrew Hsu wrote in a criminal complaint for Ameer Muhammad‘s arrest.

Multiple people were standing over Sieben and one person was trying to administer first aid. After paramedics arrived, a short time later, they declared Sieben was dead.

Officers, given a description of the alleged stabber, were able to locate Muhammad near-by.

Hsu interviewed two witnesses, George and Lindsy Brigham. They were parked on the south side of the gas station. Sieben, in a gray truck, was parked beside them.

“Mr. Brigham also observed a black male adult, later identified as Muhammad Ameer, standing outside the gray GMC pickup truck,” Hsu wrote. “As Mr. Ameer started to leave the vehicle, the decedent got out of the GMC and started to Mr. and Mrs. Brigham, ‘Get that mother fucker!’ Mr. and Mrs. Brigham believed that the decedent was requesting their assistance for an emergency.”

Sieben then chased Muhammad along the sidewalk behind the store while the Brighams got out of their vehicle and watched as the pair engaged in a fist fight, which spilled into the westbound lanes of Lomas Boulevard NE.

“While on Lomas Blvd NE, Mr. Ameer produced a six-to-seven inch knife,” Hsu wrote. “Mr. and Mrs. Bringham saw Mr. Ameer going through the decedent’s pants pockets. Mrs. Brigham observed Mr. Ameer remove a black wallet from the decedent’s right rear pocket. Mr. Ameer then fled the scene on foot eastbound on Lomas Blvd NE.”

The Brigham’s tried to administer first aid until paramedics arrived and Lindsy Bringham called 911 and provided a description of Muhammad and the direction he was headed. George Brigham positively identified him, after officers detained him.

He was initially charged, the day of the alleged incident, on an open count of murder and robbery with a deadly weapon.

Below is the criminal complaint for Muhammad’s arrest.

 

Muhammad Ameer PC -3-20-2017_Redacted

 

Indictment and case movements

On March 30, 2017, a grand jury indicted Muhammad on charges of:

  • First-degree murder, or in the alternative, felony murder
  • Armed robbery
  • Tampering with evidence for allegedly stealing the wallet
  • Shoplifting under $250 for razors blades and a knife allegedly stolen from Wal-Mart

Attempts at disqualifying the DA

On Sept. 7, 2017, Assistant District Attorney Les Romaine accused defense attorneys Robert Martin and Matthias Swonger of “engaging in gamesmanship to try and obtain suppression of witnesses.” On Nov. 7, 2017, after more motions, including ones to remove the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office entered its appearance in the case.

Romaine, in his motion for sanctions, alleged Martin and Swonger were trying to suppress witnesses because of issues related to pre-trial witness interviews and by putting off interviews of police officers until closer to trial, but before the deadline. He also alleged that the defense, both employed by the Law Office of the Public Defender, did not “seem motivated to move forward in the adjudication of this matter.”

He requested sanctions to “deter this sort of behavior.”

Swonger filed a response on Sept. 11, 2017 and wrote that they were splitting the pre-trial interviews and Martin was not available until November 2017.

“The State responded on August 7, 2017 and stated that the ‘interviews in this case cannot be put off any longer,’ despite the fact that the interview deadline in this matter is not
until January 22, 2018,” Swonger wrote about Romaine. “The State gave no further explanation to Defense of why interview dates in November, two months prior to the interview deadline, would be unacceptable to him.”

Swonger also alleged that Grace Fonesca, employed by the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office and who was on the prosecution’s witness list, was trying to avoid being served with a subpeona and had been providing false names to investigators for the defense. (According to an Oct. 27, 2017 court filing by Romaine, Fonesca saw Sieben’s killing.)

On Sept. 18, 2017, the judge set a hearing for the motion for sanctions on Oct. 19, 2017.

On Oct. 18, 2017, Martin filed a motion to dismiss or disqualify the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Martin wrote in the motion that Fonesca allegedly lied to investigators, claimed she was a different person when an investigator tried to serve her with a subpoena and allegedly claimed that Romaine told her she did not have to accept the subpoena.

Martin wrote that Romaine violated Muhammad’s Fifth and Fourteenth rights, as well as state constitutional rights, by “the obstruction and interference of the prosecutor in the service of a lawful subpoena upon the witness in this matter.”

“This was in part due to the inherent conflict of interest by the witness being employed at the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s office and therefore, wanting to please her employer in this matter,” Martin wrote.

Martin wrote that Romaine caused a denial of due process because of bias “formed” by Fonesca being an employee of his office.

“The interplay between the employee witness and the prosecutor has given rise to the appearance of impropriety and a need for a special prosecutor,” Martin wrote.

According to an affidavit by Investigator Milton Rodriguez, and attached to Martin’s motion, Rodriguez went to to Fonesca’s house on Sept. 6, 2017 and a woman was sitting outside on the phone. She claimed her name was “Lisa” and she was the dog sitter. Rodriguez pulled up Fonesca’s driver’s license photo and found he had been duped, he wrote.

On Sept. 11, 2017, Rodriguez found Fonesca’s 17-year-old son outside the house and explained why he was there.

“After explaining to Richard (Fonesca) Jr. the subpoenas I had in hand, Richard Jr. told me he witnessed the same incident in question. Richard Jr. told me, his mother told him not to tell the police what he had seen because she did not want him to get involved,” Rodriguez wrote.

On Oct. 19, 2017, following a hearing, District Court Judge Christina Argyres denied Romaine’s motion for sanctions in a form order.

On Oct. 27, 2017, Romaine filed a response and alleged that he never told Fonesca to refuse service of the subpoena.

On Nov. 7, 2017, prosecutor Mark Probasco, with the Attorney General’s Office, entered his appearance in the case, taking the case away from Romaine and the Second Judicial District Attorney’s Office.

Motion to suppress

Portrait of District Judge Jacqueline Flores
Judge Jacqueline Flores

On April 2, 2018, Martin filed a motion to suppress statements Muhammad made to Det. Andrew Hsu on March 24, 2017, after he had been arraigned, asked for an attorney and was being represented by the Law Office of the Public Defender.

Martin wrote that Muhammad was “actively hallucinating” during the interrogation by Hsu and he was represented when Hsu interrogated him on March 24, 2017.

On April 12, 2018, Probasco filed an opposition to the motion to suppress statements and he wrote that Muhammad initiated conversation with Hsu on March 27, 2017. It is not clear which date is correct.

Probasco wrote: “After documenting an injury on the Defendant’s hand, the Defendant — without  any question being posed– volunteers ‘Like, uh, never mind. I was going to say, like, I know I did it but that· is that what y’all want to know? Like I did it but I feel like I wasn’t in my right mind at the time though. Like, I feel like everybody in Albuquerque, New Mexico was trying to kill me and shit.'”

“Law enforcement,” although it is not clear if that was Hsu or someone else, stopped Muhammad from speaking and told him he needed to read him his rights, which he did.

District Court Judge Jacqueline Flores denied the motion to suppress for the reasons Probasco outlined.

Flores wrote:

“The waiver in this case comports with the requirements of the Constitution because Defendant initiated his interrogation: he was given repeated and individualized advice of
rights, he repeatedly attempted to discuss his criminal conduct, his demeanor showed relief when he initiated his statement, and his affirmative waiver of rights indicated that
he still wanted to provide a statement to the police in this case despite having on previous occasion asserted his right to counsel.”

Guilty verdict and sentence

Trial began on July 23, 2018 and the jury found Muhammad guilty on July 27, 2018, of felony (first-degree) murder, armed robbery and shoplifting $250 or less.

Flores vacated the armed robbery charge because it was the predicate felony for felony murder. He was acquitted of tampering with evidence.

On Sept. 25, 2018, Flores sentenced him to life in prison, which is a term of 30 years, according to a remand order.

Supreme Court appeal

In an initial statement of issues filed Nov. 7, 2018, Martin raised four issues on appeal:

  • The denial of the suppression of Muhammad’s statements to Andrew Hsu
  • The judge’s denial of a self defense instruction to the jury
  • If the judge erred by allowing Det. Tasia Sullivan to be designated as the case agent, and attend the trial, despite not being the lead agent
  • If there was sufficient evidence to convict Muhammad

In the June 10, 2019 brief in chief, Assistant Appellate Defender Steven Forsberg, with the Law Office of the Public Defender, only challenged two issues: the judge not suppressing Muhammad’s statement to the police and the lack of a self-defense instruction.

However, both of those issues are related because the judge, Flores, used Muhammad’s statements as the basis for not giving a self-defense instruction, Forsberg wrote.

The 42-page brief outlines much of the testimony at trial.

In challenging the unsuppressed statement, Forsberg wrote that the Flores used the wrong legal standard to determine if it needed to be suppressed.

A Miranda rights waiver has to be both voluntary and knowing and intelligent, but Flores stated she believed police coercion was required to suppress the statement. However, that is only required to find if a statement was given voluntarily; a statement can still fail to meet the knowing and intelligent threshold in the absence of coercion, Forsberg wrote.

He wrote that Muhammad was “in the grips of severe mental illness” when he made the waiver.

The statement was also the only evidence Muhammad was the initial aggressor. When the defense argued for a self-defense instruction, the judge said she could not discount his statement to police. Forsberg wrote:

None of the eyewitnesses saw what caused Muhammad to flee from Mr. Sieben’s truck while Mr. Sieben chased him, but Ameer in his statement said he had held a knife to Mr. Sieben. None of the witnesses could provide a motive for those events, until Mr. Muhammad said during his statement, according to the detective, “that he wanted to get meth; to get high; to kill himself, and he made statements that he killed him because he did not want to continue to ask people for money.” [8 Tr. 23:24-25:15] Due to his mental state, Ameer’ s statements were not knowing (let alone reliable).

When the defense was arguing for a self-defense instruction, the trial court judge emphasized the importance of the statement: “I think the problem for me is you really want me to discount the Defendant’s statement, and I can’t” [8 Tr. 56:16-56:18] Ameer’s unknowing statement kneecapped any defense he might have had.

Forsberg wrote that the Supreme Court should either reverse his conviction and remand for a re-trial, with the statement suppressed, or remand the case to the District Court for a new hearing on the suppression issue.

Should the trial court, on remand, find the statement unknowing, then a new trial would be required. If, on the other hand, the trial court held that the statement was knowing and intelligent, then Mr. Muhammad could appeal that decision to this Court.

In the answer brief for the prosecution, filed June 20, 2019, Assistant Attorney General Maris Veidemanis wrote that, although Muhammad was experiencing delusions during the police interrogation, he was “coherent and articulate” and that the defense presented no information that Muhammad did not understand the Miranda warning.

If there had been an error, it wouldn’t have mattered because there was ample evidence to convict him of felony murder, predicated on armed robbery, Veidemanis wrote.

As to the self-defense instruction, Veidemanis wrote that really, the Flores’ decision was based on the lack of evidence that Muhammad had been attacked and pointed to State v Abeyta, which states that self defense must be reasonable in relation to the threat posed and that excessive force in self defense “renders the entire action unlawful.”

On July 10, 2019, Forsberg filed a reply brief and focused on Veidemanis’ emphasis on the voluntariness of Muhammad’s statement. He wrote that the trial court should be ordered to consider evidence of Muhammad’s mental state in determining if he knowingly and intelligently waived his rights.

He wrote that Veidemanis’ claims that the case could have stood without his statement was contradicted by the trial prosecutor, who fought the suppression motion and highlighted the statement during his closing arguments.

The case is scheduled for oral arguments at 10:15 a.m., July 7, 2020.

Conviction affirmed

On Oct. 19, 2020, the New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously upheld Muhammad’s conviction for felony murder, rejecting the two arguments made by his defense attorney: Flores not suppressing Muhammad’s statement to the police and the lack of a self-defense instruction.

Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil, in her opinion for the court, wrote that no self-defense instruction was appropriate because there was no evidence that the Sieben, 30, ever had a weapon, even if he struck first.

Muhammad’s Miranda rights were not violated because, based on the recording of his interview, because his “mental illness did not affect his understanding of his rights but rather his motivation for not exercising those rights,” Vigil wrote.

See the case documents on Google Drive or Document Cloud

Stories on this case

Supreme Court upholds Ameer Muhammad’s conviction for 2017 ABQ stabbing death

Oral arguments scheduled for Muhammad Ameer murder appeal

Daryl Albert: Christopher Martinez — 1-17-2017

  • Suspect: Daryl Albert
  • Victim: Christopher Martinez
  • Charges: Open count of murder; tampering with evidence
  • Status: No contest plea to voluntary manslaughter (lesser-included offense)
  • Sentence: 5 years followed by 2 years supervised probation
  • Date of incident: Jan. 17, 2017
  • Agency: Albuquerque Police Department
  • Location: Wyoming and Central, Albuquerque
  • Magistrate case number: T­-4­-FR-­2017­-327
  • District case number: D-202-CR-2017-398
  • Plea/sentencing judge: District Judge Jacqueline Flores

Summary

Albuquerque Police officers broke up a fight between Daryl Albert and Christopher Martinez on Jan. 17, 2017. While talking to Martinez, he clutched his side and told them Albert stabbed him. Although Martinez was transported to the hospital, he was dead on arrival.

On March 27, 2018, Albert pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter and on May 8, 2018, District Court Judge Jacqueline Flores sentenced him to five years in prison.

On Aug. 31, 2018, his attorney filed a motion for a reconsideration of his sentence in light of “new information,” although no hearings have been set.

[cmtoc_table_of_contents]

The incident

On Jan. 17, 2017, Officers R. Vanderlip and J. Bludworth were dispatched out to the Circle K at the intersection of Central and Wyoming in Albuquerque.

While not able to find the driver, they did see two men, later identified at Daryl Albert and Christopher Martinez, fighting, Det. J. Brown wrote in a statement of probable cause for Albert’s arrest.

Albert was allegedly highly intoxicated. After a breath test, his blood-alcohol level would test at twice the legal limit for driving.

Daryl Albert

The officers separated the two men and began talking to them separately.

Two more officers, on bicycles, C. Keeling and E. Huggs, saw the two officers and came by to help.

After a few minutes, Martinez came at the officers, his left hand clutching his side, his right hand clutching a box cuter. He told them Albert had stabbed him.

Officers then went to re-apprehend Albert, who had been allowed to leave the scene.

While walking him back toward Circle K, a man who refused to be identified yelled the officers and Albert.

“You had to be a bitch and stab him,” the man yelled.

Martinez was transported to the hospital but pronounced dead on arrival.

One witness, only identified as OH, told the officers that he saw Albert run to the bus stop where Martinez was standing and stab him with a knife.

“OH stated after Christopher was stabbed, he observed Christopher pull out a knife from his pocket and then walk east toward the front of the Circle K where officers were,” Brown wrote.

Another witness, a juvenile only identified as DL, told detectives that Albert, whom he knew as “Puppet,” ran toward Martinez and stabbed him with a knife.

Detectives were able to find the folding knife allegedly used in the attack in a bush at the corner of Wisconsin and Central. It had blood on it.

PC - Daryl Albert - 1-17-2017

 

Indictment, plea, sentence

A grand jury indicted Daryl Albert, Feb. 2, 2017, on charges of:

  • Open count of murder (including first-degree murder)
  • Tampering with evidence
Portrait of District Judge Jacqueline Flores
Judge Jacqueline Flores

On March 27, 2018, Albert pleaded no contest to voluntary manslaughter, a lesser-included offense of the open count of murder he was indicted on. District Court Judge Jacqueline Flores accepted his no contest plea. Under the plea, Albert admitted to being a habitual offender, which increased whatever sentence he received by one year. Voluntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of six years.

On May 8, 2018, Flores sentenced Albert to seven years and suspended two years for a total sentence of five years in prison followed by two years of supervised probation.

According to the judgement and sentence, Albert received credit for 504 days of time served.

On Aug. 31, 2018, Albert’s attorney, Christopher Knight, filed a motion for a reconsideration of Albert’s sentence.

“Defendant would like the opportunity to inform the court of new information concerning his sentence,” Knight wrote.

He did not write what new information he wants to present.

According to the docket, no hearing has been scheduled and prosecutors have not replied to the motion for a reconsideration of his sentence.

See the case documents on Google Drive.

Ruth Rivera: Arthur Rivera — 12-28-2016

  • Suspect: Ruth Rivera, 54
  • Victim: Arthur River, 81
  • Charges: First-degree murder, tampering with evidence, embezzlement over $20,000 and two counts of forgery over $20,000.
  • Status: Dismissed after Ruth Rivera committed suicide before she was set to plead guilty
  • Date of incident: Dec. 28, 2016
  • Agency: State Police
  • Location:  580 State Road 3 in Ribera, San Miguel County
  • Magistrate court number: M-48-FR-2017-00001
  • District court number: D-412-CR-201700044

Summary

Arthur Rivera’s daughter-in-law, who was also his caretaker since 2011, allegedly stabbed him 20 times, 15 in the body and five to the head.

Ruth Rivera claimed her father law law, Arthur Rivera, 81, had fallen in the bathroom.

According to the criminal information filed Jan. 31, 2017 in San Miguel District Court, Ruth Rivera allegedly stole $79,300 from Arthur Rivera between June 28, 2016 and December 28, 2016.

Rivera had been scheduled to to take a plea on Oct. 1, 2018, but she was found dead before then from what authorities said was a suicide.

[cmtoc_table_of_contents]

The incident

On Dec. 28, 2016, Ruth Rivera called 911 and said her father-in-law had fallen and she needed help getting him up. When El Pueblo Fire Department firefighters got to the trailer, they found it was filled with smoke and started opening the windows. They found Arthur Rivera on the ground in the bathroom, with a large amount of blood around his body. They covered him with a blanket, State Police Agent Hector Vacio wrote in an affidavit for an arrest warrant.

Ruth Rivera had been Arthur Rivera’s caretaker since 2011. She had experience taking care of her elderly father before he died, but she allegedly described not wanting to take care of her father-in-law.

Ruth Rivera

“NMSP Officer (M.) Velasquez observed a stove inside the residence, which appeared to have damage from an explosion/fire,” Vacio wrote.

Vacio then spoke with Richard Bodell and Edward Madrid who responded to Ruth Rivera’s 911 call. They said there was a lot of smoke in the house and they had to open the windows.

Just before midnight the same day, Vacio went to the Christus St. Vincent’s Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe to speak to Ruth Rivera.

“Ms. Rivera advised she went to work at her father-in-law’s residence since she is his primary caretaker,” Vacio wrote. “Ms. Rivera made breakfast for him and later in the day she remembered him going to the restroom. As he was in the restroom she was cooking food on the stove.”

She allegedly told Vacio that she went to the bathroom after she heard a crashing or thumping noise from the bathroom.

“Ms. Rivera explained the door to the restroom was closed and she began pounding on the door but didn’t know if Arthur was hearing her,” Vacio wrote. “She stated she heard Arthur say ‘ayudame’ (‘help me’) and she went inside the restroom using another door via the closet.”

Inside, she allegedly said she saw Arthur Rivera on the ground with his head near the toilet and blood coming from his mouth. She allegedly tried to pick him up but found that she could not.

“Ms. Rivera left the residence and went to the street to flag individuals down in order to assist her to pick Arthur up,” Vacio wrote. “She does not remember turning the stove off and when she went back to the trailer there was smoke inside of the trailer.”

Vacio asked for River to hand over the clothing she had been wearing that day, which she did, in two plastic bags. Vacio noticed the clothes were damp and he wrote that this meant it appeared someone tried to remove “biological samples/stain” from the clothing by washing or wetting them. Her shirt was missing from the bags.

“The paramedic also observed Ruth Rivera’s clothes were damp,” Vacio wrote. “It is reasonably believed that Ms. Rivera washed/removed any biological samples/stains she had with intent to remove/destroy evidence.”

After getting a search warrant, the State Police Crime Scene team scoured the trailer. and found a silver knife blade and separately, on the stove, the knife handle. Both appeared to have blood on them.

When they first examined Arthur Rivera’s body, they found 17 wounds on his upper chest, face and head.

Later, at the autopsy on Dec. 30, 2016, a pathologist found 15 stab or “incise type” wounds on the man’s upper body and five stab or incise wounds to the head. There were another three incise wounds on his left hand, consistent with defensive injuries.

The following day, Dec. 29, 2016, Vacio spoke to Rivera again.

Ruth Rivera allegedly said didn’t really want to take care of her father-in-law but did so anyways.

She allegedly said in the second interview that she arrived at the house between 9:15 and 9:30 a.m., put groceries away, and cooked breakfast for him. After reading the newspaper and watching TV for two hours, Aruther Rivera went to the bathroom.

Again, she allegedly said she heard the thump or crashing noise and went to the bathroom through the closet.

“Ms. Rivera stated she placed her arns under his armpits and he began to put his weight on her and grab her by the shoulders,” Vacio wrote. “Ruth opened the other restroom door when she started smelling what appeared to smoke from the fire. Ms. Rivera stated she called 911 from her living room. The 911 call was received at 12:41 pm.”

Vacio told her that statement, different from her first that he was on the ground in a pool of blood, was not consistent with the evidence found at the scene. He told her to tell the truth.

“Ms. Rivera stated he was hurting her and he wasn’t understanding that she was trying to help him,” Vacio wrote. “She explained he was hurting her shoulders and back. Ms. Rivera stated she tried to run away from him and began to panic.”

Vacio initially charged her with an open count of murder and tampering with evidence.

Ruth Rivera - 1-3-2016 - Affidavit for Arrest warrant

Criminal information filed

On Jan. 31, 2017, Chief Deputy District Attorney Thomas Clayton filed a criminal information in San Miguel District Court charging Ruth Rivera with an open count of first-degree murder, tampering with evidence, embezzlement over $20,000 and two counts of forgery over $20,000.

The criminal information, filed because she waived her right to a preliminary hearing,

The criminal information alleges that Ruth Rivera stole $79,300 from Arthur Rivera and forged two checks in his name. One check, allegedly forged on July 25, 2016, was for $29,000 and the other, allegedly forged on Aug. 8, 2016, was for $35,000.

She also allegedly forged two checks in Arthur Rivera’s name. The first allegedly forged check was handled on July 25, 2016, for $29,000 and the second was for $35,000. It was allegedly written on Aug. 8, 2016.

Suicide

According to the Las Vegas Optic, Ruth Rivera killed herself around Oct. 1, 2018, before she was set to enter into a plea for Arthur Rivera’s death. She was out on bail at the time.

On Oct. 4, 2018, prosecutors dismissed the case against her because of her death.

See the case documents on Google Drive.