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West Mesa suspect loses appeal in rape cases

Joseph Blea

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

The fate of the only living suspect in the notorious West Mesa serial killing appears to be sealed.

The New Mexico Supreme Court last month declined to hear a case involving Joseph Blea, 61, who was convicted of a string of decades-old rapes.

That means Blea’s case is effectively dead and he’ll spend the rest of his life in prison. He is serving his 90-year sentence at the Otero County Prison Facility in southern New Mexico.

Albuquerque police have pointed to Blea as one of two suspects in the West Mesa murders.

It’s a crime that drew the nation’s attention in 2009 when the bodies of 11 women were unearthed in Southwest Albuquerque. The women disappeared in 2003 and 2004.

Blea has never been charged in the crime. The other named suspect, Lorenzo Montoya, was killed in 2006 before the bodies were found. Police looked into whether Montoya may have been the killer, but they haven’t been able to tie him to the crime either.

Blea’s current prison sentence stems from crimes unrelated to the West Mesa case.

He was arrested in 2008 in a domestic violence case.

His DNA linked him to a string of rapes in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

One of Blea’s victims was a 13-year-old eighth-grader whom he raped after breaking into her home and waiting for her to return home from school.

Blea had been dubbed the Mid-School Molester for the rapes, most of which occurred near McKinley Middle School.

He was convicted of those crimes in 2015.

In an unusual move, Blea agreed to the facts of the case during his trial, rather than challenging them. It took jurors 15 minutes to convict him – they didn’t even wait for the free lunch.

He later appealed the case on the grounds that New Mexico’s DNA collection law is unconstitutional, among other technicalities.

In June, the New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld the statute, known as Katie’s Law, and denied his appeal.

Blea had hoped the New Mexico Supreme Court would review the appellate court’s opinion. In mid-August, the higher court declined to hear the case.

Blea’s appellate public defender, Nina Lalevic, said Thursday that she was no longer involved in the case but that she had hoped the court would take it up.

“It’s disappointing, but … it’s discretionary with the Supreme Court, and it’s not guaranteed,” she said. “I understand.”

Albuquerque police didn’t return a call about Blea’s case. Police Chief Mike Geier told the Journal earlier this year that a detective tried to interview Blea in prison about the West Mesa case.

“He’s never cooperated,” Geier said. “Maybe if he’s the one, he’ll come clean one day.”

Geier said even if Blea is not the West Mesa killer, he’s glad he’s locked up.

“Whether he is the offender in this or not, he’s a scourge on society in his own way,” he said. “God only knows what havoc he would be wreaking on other families.”

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