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Officer’s killer guilty of robbery

Andrew Romero

The man serving a life sentence in the death of a Rio Rancho police officer pleaded guilty Thursday to charges stemming from a string of armed robberies in the weeks leading up to the officer’s death.

Andrew Romero, 30, will be sentenced at a later date to 21 years in prison, under the terms of his agreement with the District Attorney’s Office. Romero was convicted last year and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in the death of Rio Rancho officer Gregg “Nigel” Benner. His Supreme Court appeal in that case is pending.

In state District Court in Albuquerque on Thursday, Romero pleaded guilty to two counts of armed robbery and one count of robbery.

He initially faced 29 charges in the case, including 11 counts of armed robbery. According to court documents, he targeted convenience stores, retailers and fast food restaurants between March 22, 2015, and May 25, 2015 – the day Benner was killed during a traffic stop.

Romero was originally scheduled for a hearing Wednesday on a motion seeking to have each robbery in the case handled separately. Instead of arguing on that motion, attorneys said they were close to reaching a plea agreement in the case, and asked 2nd Judicial District Judge Brett Loveless to set aside time for a plea conference Thursday.

Robert Martin, Romero’s attorney, said his client was interested in resolving the case quickly so that he would not have to return to the Metropolitan Detention Center.

Romero has had a rocky relationship with the county jail. He was charged and acquitted of assaulting a jail guard there, and has also been accused of bringing shanks and drugs into the facility.

“There is some animosity between my client and the staff at MDC,” Martin said, adding that Romero had been required to sit in a hot van for hours on Thursday.

Loveless agreed to let Romero appear via phone or video conference for his sentencing hearing so that he won’t have to leave the prison in Santa Fe.