Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
A state district judge ordered a man held on robbery charges after viewing Snapchat videos that she said implicate him in the murders of two boys who were tortured, shot and buried in Sandoval County late last year in an unrelated case.
“It’s probably one of the more disturbing things I’ve seen,” Judge Cindy Leos said during the detention hearing of Jimmie Atkins, 23, Wednesday afternoon.
The videos were submitted as evidence, along with a homicide detective’s testimony, during the hourlong hearing, which largely revolved around Atkins’ alleged involvement in the December slaying of Ahmed Lateef, 14, and Collin Romero, 15.
Last month, Stephen Goldman, 19, was implicated by police in the slayings, and on Wednesday, 15-year-old Fabian Altamentero – also known as Fa Fa – was named as a suspect during the hearing.
Goldman, Atkins and Altamentero haven’t been charged in the deaths.
“The state is using the robbery case in order to try to make the case on a homicide they haven’t yet charged,” said Atkins’ attorney, Ben Ortega. “They’re trying to use this case to pigeonhole a detention hearing.”
Prosecutor Natalie Strub said prosecutors are still waiting for search warrants and gathering additional evidence before filing charges.
Lateef and Romero were reported missing in December after they were kidnapped from a Northeast Albuquerque home. Their bodies were found in a shallow grave in Sandoval County on Dec. 29. An autopsy determined they had been beaten, stabbed and shot dozens of times.
Atkins and Goldman are facing several charges – including armed robbery and shooting at or from a motor vehicle – in an unrelated robbery at a house party in November.
Strub acknowledged that Atkins’ criminal history is “minimal” but asked Leos to jail him until trial because he is a suspect in the armed robbery and the homicide.
“He’s 23 years old, and his entry into the criminal system is of an extremely violent nature,” she said.
Much as he did during Goldman’s detention hearing last month, homicide detective Jessie Carter testified on the evidence against Atkins in the killings as four Snapchat videos were shown.
Carter said Goldman took the videos as the boys were driven to the mesa west of Albuquerque. The videos were shown on a monitor turned toward Leos, although the audio could be heard in the courtroom.
In the first two videos, someone – allegedly Goldman – could be heard saying, “Beat his (expletive), FaFa” and “Put your hands down.”
In another video, a second person – allegedly Atkins – is heard saying, “Repeat after me, ‘I am a (expletive)’ ” as Romero and Lateef repeat the words. Laughter follows.
Carter said Lateef and Romero are wearing less and less clothing as the videos progress, and Atkins and Altamentero can be seen clearly. The last video shows Goldman’s face as he switches the camera to “selfie mode,” the detective testified.
Romero’s mother, Amanda, curled into herself as the voices rang loudly off the courtroom walls. Relatives tried to comfort her.
Carter said Altamentero’s uncle, Anthony Aragon, 37, has filled in many of the blanks for investigators. Aragon is charged with two counts of tampering with evidence in the boys’ burial and is behind bars in Nevada on armed robbery charges.
Carter said the three called Aragon afterward and they met at a car wash to clean blood off the vehicle with the bodies inside. He also testified that Aragon and Atkins bought cleaning supplies and a bag of pretzels at Lowe’s before dumping the bodies in Sandoval County.
Carter said investigators believe that Goldman’s father, Stephen Goldman Sr., burned the vehicle on Laguna Pueblo after it was left at his home.
The detective said Aragon and Atkins put the bodies in a shallow grave a few nights later after the boys’ families started searching the mesa and “were getting close.”
Ortega, Atkins’ attorney, questioned the validity of Aragon’s statements, pointing out his criminal record. And he suggested that Atkins may not have even been a willing participant in the videos.
“We don’t have the whole story here,” he told the judge. “… There isn’t anything in the video that shows Mr. Atkins participating in a homicide.”
Ortega said nothing in the video shows what Atkins’ intent was or what “he himself might have been going through.”
Leos remained silent as she watched the videos a second time, but she ultimately sided with prosecutors and ordered that Atkins be held.
She said “it’s clear” that it’s Atkins in the video, and she added that it didn’t seem like he was being forced to do anything. On the contrary, she noted, it appeared that Atkins was “actively participating” and “encouraging the torture.”
Two of his relatives ran from the courtroom crying as the cuffs clicked shut loudly behind his back.