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Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Although Felix Urban was accused of assaulting his girlfriend’s young granddaughter repeatedly over several years, it took only one charge to stick him behind bars.
The 56-year-old is serving 15 years in prison – the first suspect to be sentenced as prosecutors clear thousands of Albuquerque rape cases that stretch back decades.
Michael Patrick, a spokewman for the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office, said 16 cases have been filed. Besides Urban, another man is awaiting sentencing after pleading no contest to rape charges, two are on the loose and a dozen are headed to trial. And more charges against others could be coming.
“Of the 2,577 backlog kits which have (been) tested to date, 144 files have been sent on for advance screening by prosecutors,” Patrick said.
The current cases – which date to between August 2010 and January 2017 – include charges of criminal sexual penetration, criminal sexual penetration of a minor, criminal sexual contact of a minor, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated battery resulting in great bodily harm, kidnapping, larceny and unlawful taking of a motor vehicle.
The backlog became a hot topic in December 2016 when then-State Auditor Tim Keller, now the mayor of Albuquerque, issued a report saying there were about 5,400 rape kits that had been collected as evidence in New Mexico but never processed. The vast majority of the cases, about 4,000, were from Albuquerque.
In 2017, then-Mayor Richard Berry’s administration secured two grants to clear the backlog: one for $2.5 million through a Department of Justice program called the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative and another for $250,000.
Then, in early 2018, Mayor Tim Keller signed an executive order calling for law enforcement and investigators to create a comprehensive plan for clearing the backlog, setting the wheels in motion toward prosecutions, and imprisonment for those found guilty.
Now a resident of the Los Lunas prison, Urban was found guilty in May of criminal sexual contact of a girl under the age of 12 for an Aug. 15, 2015, assault.
He was sentenced on Aug. 30, more than four years later.
Another suspect, 22-year-old Juan Rios, is awaiting sentencing after pleading no contest to criminal sexual penetration and larceny over $500 for raping a teenage girl on Jan. 18, 2017. Rios could serve up to four years behind bars.
The others charged are:
* Philip Benavidez, 29, is charged in the February 2017 rape of a woman.
* Jose Gonzalez, 37, is charged in the July 2011 rape of a woman.
* Robert Torres, 37, is charged in the May 2016 rape of a woman.
* Isaac Trujillo, 22, is charged in the January 2017 rape of a teenage girl.
* Branden Chavez, 27, is charged in the May 2014 rape of a woman.
* Omar Navarro-Flores, 29, is charged in the May 2014 rape of a woman.
* Abram Marquez, 28, is charged in the July 2010 rape of a child younger than 13.
* Dayquan Terna, 22, and Regina Gomez, 21, are both charged in the November 2016 rape of a teenage girl.
* Erik Lea, 40, is charged in the June 2006 rape of a woman.
* Christopher Teufel, 30, is charged in the July 2014 rape of a woman.
* Ralph Vega-Garcia, 36, is charged in the April 2014 rape of a woman.
* Carlos Parra-Cordova, 24, is charged in the December 2012 rape of a woman.
* Manuel Ulibarri, 56, is charged in the January 2017 rape of a woman.
Vega-Garcia and Parra-Cordova have warrants out for their arrest because they did not show up to court hearings.
Patrick said the DA’s Office has been forced to close thousands of cases for a variety of reasons but mainly because the statute of limitations has expired.
“The oldest case in the backlog occurred in 1981, and unfortunately, for a majority of these victims, they will not have an opportunity for justice as the time limit to launch their case has expired,” Patrick said.
The current statute of limitations for second-degree criminal sexual penetration is six years. Patrick said extending the statute would help further prosecution in older cases.
“It’s saddening and equally frustrating for prosecutors who have to tell a victim we cannot move forward with their backlog rape case because a deadline had passed,” he said. “Some of the other reasons why cases were closed – there was not sufficient evidence collected, no DNA was obtained or the victim has passed away.”