The New Mexico system of justice can be hard to understand, harder to always get right, harder still for those whose lives are forever changed – because a life was forever lost – to believe it works at all.
The cruel ineptitude of the system and the cold indifference of a killer are obvious in the disturbing case of Stephane Murphey, an adventurous young flight attendant who on April 15, 1999, was sexually assaulted and strangled with her own stretch pants in her Rio Rancho home. Her body was carted around for four days in the back seat of her Chevy Sprint and left in an Uptown Albuquerque apartment parking lot until a neighbor complained of the stench.
Because of the many missteps in the case, it was not until 2002 that her killer, David Bologh, a violent career criminal, was identified and not until 2006 that he was sentenced to 21 years in prison, the maximum allowed under a weak plea agreement for second-degree murder and other charges.
With nearly four years’ credit for pre-sentence confinement, that sentence was reduced to less than 18 years.
And with the state’s “good time” law not set to expire until three months after the murder, his less-than-18-year sentence was effectively slashed in half.
And so on Jan. 16, one of the most dangerous men in custody is expected to be released from a high-security unit at the Penitentiary of New Mexico outside Santa Fe, having served just eight years and eight months for one of the most gruesome crimes in modern New Mexico history.
Bologh, 50, is scheduled to appear before a parole hearing Friday, but under state statute his release is mandatory, subject to the parole board’s approval of a parole plan.
Which is to say that despite efforts by Murphey’s family to inundate the board with letters against his release – 80 at last count, far more than the average of seven letters per case – Bologh is almost certainly two weeks away from being a free man.
Parole board Chairwoman Sandy Dietz said the board intends to craft a parole plan that gives Bologh the best chance at re-entering society without endangering it. That could include intensive supervision, GPS monitoring, placement in a halfway house or structured program and psychiatric or rehabilitative treatment for the length of parole, which is two years.
It’s important to get Bologh out and on parole as close to Jan. 16 as possible, Dietz said, because for every day he remains in prison past his sentence he receives “day for day” good time on his parole.
“If he stayed in prison, he could be done with parole in a year instead of two and then walk out of prison with no supervision at all,” Dietz said. “All we have to work with is that two-year window. I don’t want to lose any of that time.”
With good reason. Bologh is a bad dude.
Court records describe him as having low-average intelligence and a lengthy criminal history of violence and burglary that began in his juvenile years. One of his earliest arrests involved the beating of an elderly man. In 1988, he was arrested on charges involving breaking into a young woman’s condo in Angel Fire and raping her.
His father, Cornell Bologh, told a judge at sentencing that Bologh suffers from schizophrenia.
David Bologh had been right under the noses of Rio Rancho detectives, residing two doors down from Murphey, 37, before her death. He had been married at the time to a woman who later told a detective she had been too afraid to leave him because he frequently threatened, abused and choked her. According to transcripts in the case, the wife told the detective that her husband was in and out of prison, couldn’t hold a job, disappeared for days, drank excessively, indulged in cocaine and methamphetamine and stole from her, including pilfering a grandson’s piggy bank.
But detectives hadn’t thought to canvass Murphey’s neighborhood initially, hadn’t noted the drops of blood in her bedroom, the pry marks on a window and the garage.
Three years passed without a break in the case, despite efforts of a private investigator hired by Murphey’s family and a $25,000 reward posted by the family along with Continental Airlines, where Murphey had been an international flight attendant. In May 2002 and at the suggestion of Murphey’s sister, detectives submitted DNA from semen found on a hand towel in Murphey’s car and a substance found under her fingernails to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, a database of felons. The DNA matched Bologh’s.
There were other missteps: A crucial statement made by Bologh to a detective was ruled inadmissible because Bologh had not waived his Miranda rights. Murphey’s car was crushed, losing key evidence. Detective interviews were not always recorded. Both prosecutors with the 13th Judicial District, which includes Sandoval County, and defense attorneys were threatened with sanctions by the trial judge for dragging out the case. Murphey family members say they were told that prosecutors chose to pursue a plea deal for second-degree murder rather than go to trial for first-degree murder because of concerns that jurors would not understand DNA evidence.
District Attorney Lemuel Martinez has said that the case was a complicated one, made more difficult with the loss of Bologh’s tossed-out statement.
Rio Rancho Department of Public Safety officials have said their investigation of the case was professional, with the department even switching detectives early on when the Murphey family complained.
Through it all, Murphey’s family and friends, most of whom have traveled here from out of state for every hearing since her death more than 15 years ago, have remained graciously angered over why such a beautiful and bright woman could be so brutalized both by a remorseless killer and a bumbling legal system.
With the latest twist in the case, the torture for them continues, the questions as to how a case went so wrong go unanswered still and the fear of a violent man in our midst again begins.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.