It took 26 years for a trial to occur in the case of a 13-year-old Albuquerque girl who was raped in her home after school by a masked man.
It took a jury 15 minutes Tuesday to convict Joseph Blea during the remarkable proceeding in which no witnesses appeared, the testimony was agreed upon by both sides and picking a jury took much longer than the trial or deliberations.
The case involved the rape of a girl who lived a couple of blocks from Blea’s home, near McKinley Middle School. The eighth-grader did not know Blea, who allegedly emerged from behind a bookshelf in her living room after she returned from school and while her mother was at work.
The assailant wore a ski mask and gloves and carried a knife. He raped the girl on the living room sofa, then used a telephone cord to secure the bathroom door to prevent her from escaping, according to the undisputed facts presented to the jury.
The girl, now about to turn 40, heard the front door close, was able to force the bathroom door open and escape to a neighbor’s home for help. Police investigated and the girl was examined at University of New Mexico Hospital, where a rape kit was used.
In 2008, the victim found out that a friend of hers with the Albuquerque Police Department had recently been assigned to the sex crimes unit and she asked what had happened to her case.
The detective discovered that the evidence had never been analyzed. A subsequent forensic analysis of the sperm cells collected from the girl led to a search warrant in 2010 for Blea, whose DNA was on file for a domestic violence call. He was indicted in the rape and has been in jail since.
In her closing argument Tuesday, Deputy District Attorney Lisa Trabaudo showed the jury photos of the home’s interior with the trailing phone cord and photos of the girl’s school and the respective distances to Blea’s home and the girl’s.
She emphasized that the facts were not contested. And she reminded jurors of the probability of finding a random match among Southwest Hispanics was 1 in 65 sextillion – 65 with 21 zeros following it.
According to Blea’s attorneys, he originally was willing to enter a conditional plea that would allow him to appeal several issues, including the legality of the search warrant issued in 2010, changes to the statute of limitations on rape and the constitutionality of statutes enacted after the crimes occurred.
Prosecutors resisted. Instead, he went to trial to preserve his appeal rights. In the case before District Judge Judith Nakamura, Blea, 58, stipulated to the facts and the exhibits and declined to be present for the trial.
Meanwhile, a separate case in which Blea is accused of raping another child is still pending before Judge Jacqueline Flores.
Blea’s attorneys, David Longley and John McCall, pointed out that a plea that might have taken an hour required two days of court time.
Jurors reached a verdict within 15 minutes of starting deliberations, not even waiting for the free lunch the court offers to jurors deciding a case.
A guard brought Blea, who had been waiting in a holding cell, to the courtroom after the verdict to discuss his sentencing, which is now scheduled for Monday afternoon.
He faces a mandatory 18 years in prison. He told Nakamura he appreciated her allowing the process to proceed as it did.
Longley and McCall said Blea has been actively researching the statute of limitations, which is a developing issue nationally as legislatures have extended or eliminated the time period during which someone can be prosecuted for a crime.
Meanwhile, Blea has been identified in the past as a possible suspect in the slaying of more than a dozen women whose bodies were found on Albuquerque’s West Mesa.