The case had been cold for years when detectives identified 41-year-old Roger Paul Preston, who was already in prison, as a suspect, according to officer Simon Drobik, a spokesman for the Albuquerque Police Department. He said detectives would not comment on what tied Preston to the victim or how he became a suspect.
And Michael Patrick, a spokesman for the District Attorney’s Office, wouldn’t say what circumstances caused the killing to be considered a hate crime, although he did say that race was a factor.
“(Prosecutors) are saying that based on the race of the victim and the events that had transpired that’s why they feel the hate crime enhancement was levied,” Patrick said.
Drobik said on July 4, 2009, shortly before 2 a.m., police were called to the 500 block of Maple SE, near Coal. When they arrived they found Cato “Terri” Benally with a severe head injury lying in the street. Benally is transgender and had been living as a female, Drobik said. Previous news reports refer to Benally as him.
“Terri was rushed to the hospital but unfortunately died from the injuries,” Drobik wrote in an email. “Violent crimes worked the case but it became cold and was forwarded to the APD Cold Case Unit.”
He said the cold case unit began investigating the case in 2013 and identified Preston as a suspect.
Preston had been behind bars since 2010, when he pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder, conspiracy and tampering with evidence in the near-deadly beating of another Native American. According to a criminal complaint filed in Metropolitan Court, two days after Benally’s death, Preston got into a fight with Ronald Begay after spotting him riding a bike near Zuni and Ortiz SE. He repeatedly beat him with his fists and a bat, until he appeared to be dead, before stealing his wallet and bike.
Preston was sentenced to 15 years in prison and was locked up at the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility in Las Cruces.
That’s where he was being held Monday when a Bernalillo County grand jury indicted him on the charge of first-degree murder with a “hate crime enhancement.”