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The city has reached 75 homicides with decomposed body, police say

Albuquerque Police spokesman Simon Drobik addresses the media about current homicide numbers in the city of Albuquerque on Wednesday afternoon. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A decomposed body found early in the year is now being investigated as a homicide, bringing to 75 the total number of homicides in the city of Albuquerque as 2017 winds down, according to police.

Officer Simon Drobik, an Albuquerque Police Department spokesman, said the body was found in January and initially ruled a suspicious death.

He did not know the identity or gender of the deceased person. He also did not know exactly when the body was found, where the body was found or the cause of death.

Drobik said a shooting on Montgomery NE over the holiday weekend could be ruled a justifiable homicide, which would bring that number back down to 74.

“These numbers can change back and forth,” he said.

The weekend shooting happened after 24-year-old Edward Ortega-Landros broke into an ex-girlfriend’s apartment early Saturday morning and was shot dead by her new boyfriend. Drobik said the shooter has not been arrested, and the case is pending review by the District Attorney’s Office.

Another case, recently ruled a homicide, involved the death of 39-year-old Tito Pacheco.

Pacheco was taken off life support on July 11, three weeks after a stolen RV allegedly driven by 40-year-old David Barber plowed into his vehicle during a citywide police chase. A charge of murder was filed against Barber on Dec. 5.

Drobik said the homicide clearance rate is currently 59 percent.

“Traditionally, we’ve been in the high 80s,” he said.

Of the 75 homicides so far this year, Drobik said 15 cases involved homeless victims and remain unsolved.

Albuquerque homicide Sgt. Elizabeth Thompson told the Journal in an earlier interview that, in 2016, 11 of the 61 murder victims were homeless.

Drobik said the deaths of homeless people are particularly difficult to solve because they are often committed outdoors, so there’s not much of a crime scene and a lack of witnesses.

“We don’t have anybody coming forward … at all,” Drobik said. “It’s very frustrating.”

Three of those deaths — Eric Manning, Lonnie Whittle and Eric Hicks — are believed to be connected because of similarities, he said.

In a previous interview with the Journal, Thompson said, there are indications that the same person, or group of people, may be responsible for the three slayings. She said all three men were stabbed to death and their bodies were found in similar positions within a couple of miles of each other over a four-month period this year.

Drobik said he didn’t know if the woman whose body was found decapitated in Four Hills last weekend was homeless as they still haven’t found any family.

He did say investigators do not believe it was connected to the decapitated body of 47-year-old Clifford Miller, which was found behind a Wal-Mart a year ago.

Drobik said Albuquerque police now have a goal to reach out to the homeless community.

Whether it’s through the Crisis Outreach and Support Team or other methods, he said, police want to “bridge that gap” with more open dialogue between the homeless population and police.

“Detectives don’t look at a homicide as a socioeconomic structure,” he said. “A homicide is a homicide; they do the best they can for the victim.”

He said another factor in the homicide spike is disputes ending in violence, referencing a shootout at a CVS drug store on Tuesday night between armed security guards and two brothers.

“Fortunately, nobody got killed, but people were hurt,” Drobik said. “People are settling their arguments out in the streets, petty arguments, by bringing weapons.”

Combating the homicides in Albuquerque will take more than just a “police department approach,” he said.

“We need to take care of this as a city,” Drobik said.

Drobik said there are currently five homicide detectives, with three in training, and a homicide sergeant who plans to retire at the end of the week.

“You can’t just go out to the field and grab two officers and, all of a sudden, make them homicide detectives,” he said.

Drobik said it takes years of grooming through various positions, from impact to robbery and burglary detectives, as they “refine” their skills.

“These guys are working really, really hard,” he said. “Detectives take personal responsibility in each of those homicides.”