Solomon Pena ordered to remain in custody pending trial - Albuquerque Journal

Solomon Pena ordered to remain in custody pending trial

Solomon Pena participates in a pre-trial detention hearing Monday morning. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

A district judge on Monday ordered Solomon Pena held in jail pending trial on charges alleging he orchestrated a string of shootings targeting the homes of Democratic elected officials.

Second Judicial District Judge David Murphy found that Pena presents a danger to the community and that no conditions of release could be fashioned that would ensure public safety.

“Based on the nature and circumstances of the charges, as well as defendant’s own history as a convicted felon, and the allegations of possession and use of an assault rifle, as well as the allegation that he has provided firearms to his conspirators, I do find the state has met its burden there,” Murphy said following a 90-minute pretrial detention hearing.

Prosecutors allege Pena was the mastermind in a string of drive-by shootings over the course of a month that targeted the homes of Bernalillo County Commissioners Adriann Barboa and Debbie O’Malley, as well as new House Speaker Javier Martínez and state Sen. Linda Lopez.

No one was injured in the incidents, but in one of the reported shootings bullets pierced the bedroom where Lopez’s 10-year-old daughter was sleeping.

Pena participated in the remote hearing from the Metropolitan Detention Center. He leaned forward at times but made no comments.

Pena’s attorney, Roberta Yurcic, argued that Pena should not remain in jail while he awaits trial.

Pena served about seven years in prison after his conviction in 2008 of multiple felonies of commercial burglary, larceny and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. But Pena’s criminal past is limited to property crimes, Yurcic said.

“My client has no history of violent crimes, no history of crimes involving firearms, no history of any crimes involving possession of a controlled substance,” she told the judge.

Pena also made the best of his life after completing his prison term in 2016.

“He completed his bachelor’s degree, he purchased a home, he was working a regular job,” she said. “My sense is that Mr. Pena cares about this community and that’s why he ran for office.”

Yurcic also noted that Pena’s public safety assessment — a tool used by the court to decide the level of supervision required by someone accused of a crime — recommends Pena’s release.

Judge Murphy later said that the public safety assessment is “merely a tool based on the totality of the evidence presented by the state.”

Prosecutors allege the shootings were motivated by Pena’s failed race for political office.

Pena lost the race to incumbent Democratic Rep. Miguel P. Garcia by a landslide, but later said on social media he believed the election was “rigged.”

Pena allegedly coordinated “a month-long effort to shoot at the homes of these four different elected officials, and there’s no indication that that was going to stop,” Murphy said. “So I do find the defendant poses a specific danger to these elected officials as well as their family members.”

Much of the discussion Monday centered on information provided by a confidential informant who allegedly described conversations between Pena and other conspirators.

Albuquerque Police Department detective Conrad Griego testified that the confidential informant told police that Pena allegedly told others to shoot at the houses around 8 p.m. when they were “more likely to strike a human target.”

“That my impression from the conversation, was that Solomon Pena was dissatisfied with the mere striking of the house,” Griego said, relating information provided by the confidential witness. “He wanted those projectiles to get closer to a person or to strike an actual person.”

Defense attorney Yurcic argued that the testimony of the confidential informant was inconsistent and untrustworthy.

For example, Yurcic said that Pena himself allegedly participated in the Jan. 3 attack on Sen. Lopez’s home, which occurred at 12:48 a.m., according to Griego’s testimony. That appears to contradict the statement of the confidential informant that Peno wanted the attacks to occur earlier in the evening, she said.

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