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Almost 3 years later, second carjacking suspect is in court

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — A carjacking victim is unhappy with the plea deal proposed in a court case involving one of two young men charged in his 2011 ordeal.

In November 2011, Paul Mueller of Rio Rancho agreed to give two teenage boys a ride home on a cold night. After one directed him to a cul-de-sac in Albuquerque, he says, the other boy, Rikki Maestas, stabbed him more than two dozen times and then the two drove away in his car, leaving him bleeding profusely.

Although Mueller survived, the injuries have left him with permanent limited mobility in his right arm.

In October 2012, Maestas, then 17, pleaded guilty to aggravated battery causing great bodily harm and conspiracy to commit larceny over $2,500. He was sentenced to state custody until age 21, the maximum allowable sentence for a juvenile found to have potential for rehabilitation.

It wasn’t until January 2013 that James Rivera, now 20, was charged with being the other boy involved.

The Seventh Judicial District Attorney’s Office in Estancia is handling the case to avoid conflict of interest. Robert Cates, the deputy district attorney there, said Rivera is charged with armed robbery, conspiracy to commit armed robbery and aggravated battery, or a jury could convict on alternative charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, stealing a motor vehicle, conspiracy to steal a motor vehicle and kidnapping.

Rivera wasn’t originally charged in the case, but Cates said his office decided to bring Rivera before a grand jury, which returned the indictment.

Cates has negotiated a possible “Alford plea,” meaning Rivera would agree that he could be convicted on certain charges but not admit guilt. If the deal goes through during a hearing set for Aug. 6, only the conspiracy to commit armed robbery charge would be left against Rivera.

The judge would decide a sentence later.

“Until that hearing date, nothing’s final yet,” Cates said.

Mueller is allowed to speak at the hearing, and either Rivera or the judge could reject the deal.

During the process, Cates believes Rivera has been out of custody on his own recognizance under conditions of release.

If the deal goes through, Cates said, as per state law, Rivera would be evaluated to see if he’s amenable to rehabilitation because he was 17 at the time of the crime. If he’s deemed to be amenable, he’ll be sentenced as a juvenile, meaning he might or might not be out of custody as early as March, when he turns 21.

If Rivera is determined to have no potential for rehabilitation, he’ll be sentenced as an adult, Cates said.

For sentencing, he said, the judge will consider any criminal record Rivera may have, recommendations by the Juvenile Probation and Parole Office and statements by the victim and witnesses.

Meanwhile, Mueller is upset that Rivera could get a plea deal and a short sentence.

“I definitely think there will be another victim if this kid is allowed to walk and not pay for what he truly did,” Mueller said.

He contends that Rivera has a criminal record outside the carjacking. The New Mexico Courts website shows several cases against a man with James Rivera’s name and birth year.

For the safety of the public and for himself, Mueller said, he wants a jury to decide Rivera’s fate.

Mueller accused Cates of trying to “railroad” him with the Alford plea and trick him to get it accepted. He’s contacted the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office about the case.

Cates said Rivera has denied knowing Maestas would stab Mueller.

“He’s willing to take the sentence in his conspiracy to take the motor vehicle,” Cates said.

Cates is concerned about what evidence he could present if the case went to trial and what the defense would be able to do with it. He said the proposed plea is consistent with Rivera’s known actions and doesn’t risk bringing a sentence that is wildly different from Maestas’.

“The courts expect us to be consistent,” Cates said.