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Appeals court upholds ‘Mid-School Molester’ case

Joseph Raymond Blea, who was previously named as suspect in the West Mesa murders, was denied appeal on Thursday in an unrelated case involving multiple sexual assaults and kidnappings. (NMDOC)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

One of New Mexico’s most notorious criminals is one step closer to spending the rest of his life in prison.

Joseph Blea, 61, has for years been a suspect in the unsolved West Mesa murders, grisly serial killings in which the bodies of 11 women were found on Albuquerque’s West Mesa in 2009.

On Thursday, the New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld Blea’s convictions in cases unrelated to the West Mesa murders – a string of kidnappings and rapes from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

He was dubbed the “Mid-School Molester” for the crimes, which mostly happened near McKinley Middle School. One of the victims was a 13-year-old girl.

Those crimes went unsolved until Blea’s DNA linked him to the crime scenes. He had been arrested for domestic violence in 2008, and as part of that arrest, he was required by New Mexico’s “Katie’s Law” to submit his DNA.

Blea was convicted in 2015. He never challenged the facts of the cases, and had planned to appeal on legal technicalities. He argued in his appeal that police did not have the right to collect his DNA under the New Mexico Constitution or U.S. Constitution.

In the opinion written by Judge Michael Vigil, the court ruled against Blea’s objections.

“A defendant has no constitutionally protected privacy interest in DNA he or she leaves at a past or future crime scene, and a defendant has no constitutionally protected interest in the DNA used for identification at booking upon arrest,” Vigil wrote.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas applauded the ruling.

“I am pleased the Court of the Appeals agreed with our office upholding the constitutionality of Katie’s Law and the convictions for the horrific crimes of this dangerous predator,” Balderas wrote in a news release.

Blea’s appellate public defender, Nina Lalevic, did not return a call Friday evening.

Blea had also argued that a search warrant was signed off on by a biased judge, and he contended that the statute of limitations on the crime had expired. Finally, he argued that his right to a speedy trial was violated.

The court disagreed on all counts.

But the case isn’t dead yet. Blea and his attorneys can still appeal to the New Mexico Supreme Court. However, there’s no guarantee that the Supreme Court will agree to hear it. If the justices reject it, Blea will spend the rest of his life in prison. He’s serving a 90-year sentence.

Albuquerque Chief of Police Michael Geier told the Journal earlier this year that investigators in the West Mesa case had visited Blea in prison and that he has never been ruled out as a suspect. Another man, Lorenzo Montoya, is also a suspect in the case. He died 11 years ago, but has never been ruled out.

Geier said he hopes if Blea is the West Mesa killer, he’ll eventually confess.

“If there’s something there, and he wants to let go of those demons, hopefully it’s someday before he meets his maker,” Geier said. “He’s not a young man anymore.”



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