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‘Slap on the wrist’ disappoints stabbing victim

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The old adage that no good deed goes unpunished rings true for Paul Mueller, 43, who reluctantly agreed to give two freezing teens a ride home in November 2011, and nearly died when they stabbed him 24 times and stole his Jeep.

On Wednesday, the second of the offenders charged in connection with that carjacking and assault stood before Children’s Court Special Master John Schoeppner, and pleaded no contest to reduced charges of unlawful taking of a motor vehicle, something that Mueller said Thursday amounts to “a slap on the wrist.”

A hearing for James Rivera, 20, will be held Sept. 30 to determine if he is amenable to treatment. If so, he will be committed to a Children, Youth and Families Department detention facility until age 21 – the maximum penalty under the state’s Children’s Code.

If not, he will be sentenced as an adult to 18 months in prison.

In October 2012, the other attacker, Rikki Maestas, now 19, pleaded guilty to aggravated battery with great bodily harm and larceny over $2,500. He is being detained at a CYFD facility until age 21.

“These sentences are way too little,” Mueller said. “These guys almost killed me. What this tells every kid is, they can commit an armed robbery, even shoot or stab somebody, and if they get caught will only get locked up for 18 months or maybe until age 21. How is that justice?”

About midnight on Nov. 14, 2011, Mueller was fueling his Jeep Wrangler at a West Side gas station prior to leaving on a business trip. Rivera approached him and “begged for help and a ride,” he said. “He told me he and his ‘brother’ were freezing and their mom’s car had broken down so she couldn’t come and get them. I initially told them no, but the temperature was dropping fast so I reconsidered and agreed to give them a ride to their mom’s house.”

Maestas sat in the rear seat, behind Rivera, who guided Mueller to a nearby cul de sac. There, Mueller stopped and Rivera got out, saying he was unable to figure out how to release a latch to move his seat forward so Maestas could exit the back.

“I reached over and popped the seat up and pushed it forward,” Mueller said. That’s when Maestas lunged at him with a knife, he said. Mueller attempted to block the knife strikes with his arms, hands and elbows.

By the time he was finally able to release his seatbelt and jump out of the Jeep, Mueller had been stabbed 24 times in the right arm, right shoulder, both hands, and the upper and lower back.

Maestas and Rivera drove off in the Jeep, and Mueller, bleeding profusely, sought help from a nearby home. He was rushed to the University of New Mexico Hospital by ambulance and underwent emergency surgery to reattach severed nerves and arteries and repair other wounds.

The two attackers were located after they used Mueller’s cellphone, which had been left in the vehicle.

Mueller, who testified in court against both teens, objected to the plea agreements that “didn’t hold them accountable for the gravity of the crime,” he said.

However Rivera’s defense attorney, Cynthia Aragon, explained that even if they were to stand trial on all the charges and convicted, because of their age they would still have been entitled to an amenability hearing.

“And if found amenable to treatment, the maximum they would get as juveniles is commitment up to age 21,” she said.