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DA upset with judge over rejected murder plea deal

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies and some family members of the victims of a 2018 triple homicide near Dixon are upset with District Judge Jason Linyard for rejecting a plea agreement with one of the accused killers.

Roger Gage, 36, was prepared to plead guilty to the murders in exchange for a life sentence plus nine years. However, under the agreement Gage could be eligible for parole when he was in his late 60s.

His brother, John Powell, last year was convicted for his part in the killings of Abraham Martinez, 36, April Browne, 42, and Kierin Guillemin, 27.

Gage and Powell were each originally charged with three counts of first-degree murder, aggravated burglary, conspiracy and tampering with evidence for the killings at a home in the small community of Cañoncito.

“The victims’ families were very clear with us that they do not want to go through another trial. The last one was traumatic for them, and they whole-heartedly agreed that this plea was justice in their eyes,” Carmack-Altwies said in a statement released Thursday.

In a phone interview, Carmack-Altwies said the only reason Lidyard gave for his decisions is that he wanted more “discretion.” In New Mexico, a judge isn’t bound by a plea agreement and can choose to accept or reject it.

Lidyard didn’t respond to requests for comment Friday.

“The judge didn’t communicate with us at all about what his actual concerns were,” Carmack-Altwies said. “And also, the guy’s getting a life sentence. I mean, we don’t have anything higher than that in New Mexico.”

Some, but not all, of the victims’ family members were disappointed in the judge’s decision.

“We’re as surprised as anybody,” said Jessica Duckworth McKeon, April Browne’s sister.

She said her family supported the plea agreement and didn’t wish to go through the pain of another trial like they did with Powell.

“There’s nothing our family wishes more than to have the two men who killed our sister be kept away from society forever,” she said, reading a statement from her family. “The trial last year was long and painful and sad … We would like to look and move ahead. It will just take a bit longer now.”

François Guillemin, Kierin Guillemin’s father, said he had hoped there was going to be a conclusion in the case, but understands the judicial process has “taken its way.” He said he’s sure Lidyard had a good reason for making the decision he did, but it’s been a painful experience.

However, Robert Martinez, Abraham Martinez’s father, said he would like to see the case tried. He said he doesn’t believe in plea agreements and he hopes the jury convicts Gage.

Carmack-Altwies said Lidyard’s decision was frustrating because the judge had the plea agreement two weeks prior to Thursday’s hearing. If he had an issue with the agreement, he could have brought it up earlier, she said.

She added Powell was convicted of three life sentences in his case, but realistically, there isn’t a difference between one life sentence and three “because the defendant only has one life to live.”